‘Rookie move, Mr Speaker!’ Opposition questions 10-minute rush to close budget debate during their absence
By Kamal Haynes, BVI News Staff
Some members of the Opposition have said they believe the recent decision by the Speaker of the House of Assembly to close last Friday’s budget debate session without having an actual debate was ‘amateur’.
Others suggested that the Andrew Fahie-led government, of which the Speaker Julian Willock is a supporter, may have had malicious intentions against the Opposition at the time.
The five-member Opposition made their sentiments known during a media conference on Monday, December 16. The conference was reportedly aimed at ‘bringing clarity’ to what transpired in the morning session of the budget debate where four Opposition members were absent.
Realising that the majority of the opposition was absent, the Speaker closed the debate within an approximate 15 minutes of opening it. Third District Representative Julian Fraser labelled the Speaker’s actions as “rookie”.
“Procedurally, the Speaker did everything right. However, I consider it to be a rookie indiscretion by closing down the debate for something as important as the budget, and knowing the challenges that we went through with the budget process, it was wrong to have done what they were trying to do,” Fraser stated.
“The reason I used the term rookie is because I’ve been there, and I’ve seen similar instances. I’ve been there where I’ve seen a former speaker in a budget situation recess to the following day because the Leader of the Opposition wasn’t there … The government knew exactly what we were doing. The government could have done exactly the same thing that this [previous] government did by deciding to recess the House to the following day so that everyone can participate.”
Many other options were available
Agreeing with Fraser, Opposition Leader Marlon Penn said he believes there were many other courses of action which could have been taken by Speaker Willock.
According to Penn, the budget debate session for the 2020 fiscal year began around 10:50 am. He said by the time he arrived in the House 10 minutes later, the debate was over and had advanced to the private ‘committee stage’ of the proceedings.
“I thought the Speaker acted in bad taste in rapping up the process. Several things could have happened. He could have called a recess, especially after I personally called the Speaker in the morning telling him of my intent to be there because I had a hospital emergency, and I said I would not be there no later than 11 o’clock and I was there 11 o’clock on the dot.”
Speaker failed to inform members of late arrival
Penn further said that it was later brought to his attention that Speaker Willock did not inform the other members of the House of his intended late arrival. He said he believed the debate session may not have closed without the parliamentary Opposition’s input if Premier Andrew Fahie was made aware.
“I believe if the Premier knew that, he would have not allowed that to happen … because I don’t see him being so irrational or irresponsible in the process and the fact that the Speaker knew that and never communicated that to the Premier was very unfortunate from my point of view. So it suggests to me that something sinister was afoot in the entire process,” Penn stated.
“… Especially after we waited for three-and-a-half hours on Thursday for the members of the government to show up [and] for the very Speaker who wasn’t present until three-and-a-half hours later and he couldn’t wait 10 minutes for members of the Opposition,” Penn added.
Hidden agenda by government/no ministers spoke
Meanwhile, Fourth District Representative Mark Vanterpool said he believes the government had a hidden agenda in its ‘rush’ to get the debate process concluded without any government minister actually speaking on their respective ministries.
“It is not only the Opposition who should debate the budget. The ministers, especially in government, should explain what the budget is about as it relates to their ministries, and the backbenchers need to be involved also. So, to open a budget debate on Friday and close it immediately without the ministers elucidating what the budget speaks to the ministries really suggests that there was something sinister,” Vanterpool stated.
He further said that had the Opposition not taken the stance to get the debate session reinstated, the public would not have heard from the various ministers during the budget debate.
“Once the Opposition members spoke, all of a sudden, all ministers could speak. Why is it they couldn’t speak before the budget was closed down. So it tells you that they may have been something sinister, in my opinion,” Vanterpool reiterated.
Following the end of the morning session, the House reopened and Premier Fahie moved a motion to reinstate the budget debate session to allow the Opposition to make their contributions.
Penn said he later discovered that Speaker Willock had been adamant for the debate not to be reinstated to accommodate the Opposition members.
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