Members of the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament are calling on the Mia Mottley-led administration to cease and desist from continuing to “disrespect” the institution of Parliament.
Leader of the Opposition Bishop Joseph Atherley told reporters at a press conference Wednesday afternoon Government must immediately stop its last-minute presentation of proposed legislation for debate, especially those dealing with measures which have far-reaching implications for the people of Barbados.
Bishop Atherley, who was flanked by Opposition Senators Caswell Franklyn and Crystal Drakes, said he has been constantly complaining about this type of treatment being meted out to him in the Lower Chamber. He told reporters the same thing happened in Senate when Government introduced four bills related to its debt restructuring programme.
Referring to his experience some weeks ago, where he said he was handed a copy of the debt restructuring measure after debate had already started on it, Bishop Atherley said such “outrageous” practice did not allow for an informed discussion by him.
He also said despite complaints from Opposition and even Independent Members in both Chambers, the same Barbados Labour Party (BLP) which made a fuss about “everything” when in opposition, was now guilty of behaviour inimical to the public interest.
“I find it alarming therefore and very lamentable, that having come to office in such handsome numbers and with the Opposition reduced to such small numbers, they would find it necessary to adopt this type of practice whatever their motivation might be . . . but we call on them to stop it,” said Bishop Atherley, who was a member of the BLP up until the resumption of a new Parliamentary session in the wake of the 30-nil victory at the May 24 general election.
“This behaviour was repeated yesterday again in the Lower House when four bills were brought for the first time to my attention, to the attention of the Chamber just a couple of hours before debate was due to ensue,” the Opposition Leader said.
He identified those “pretty consequential” measures as the Dematerialization of Government Securities Bill 2018, the Savings Bonds (Amendment) Bill 2018, the Treasury Bills and Tax Certificates (Amendment) Bill 2018 and the Local Loans (Amendment) Bill 2018.
He said under the circumstances, eight Opposition and Independent Senators voted not to debate the bills on the grounds they would not be able to do justice to such serious issues.
Bishop Atherley said it was noteworthy the President of the Senate exercised his right to do a casting vote, so that the Senate debate could proceed.
The Opposition Leader said this was an unusual act for a presiding officer in the Parliament, considering that a person in such a position was supposed to protect the rights of the minority and be neutral.
“It speaks to the fact that the power of the Chair was used to bring into effect an opinion which obviously did not obtain majority numbers around the table over this matter,” he said.
He described the late notice from Government as not only disrespectful to Senators, including some of its own, but to the staff of Parliament who had to manage these processes.
In commenting on the developments, Caswell Franklyn, told reporters no explanation had been given by the Government side for the late presentation of the Bills.
He said he made representation to the President Sir Richard Cheltenham, QC, in the Senate Wednesday morning regarding his voting in favour of the Government.
“He favoured the Government . . . he is not supposed to favour anybody, he is supposed to be neutral, or as neutral as he can be,” said Franklyn.
Franklyn said while they were objecting to the debate going ahead was when copies of the four bills were handed to him.
His senate colleague Crystal Drakes, declared her support for the position taken against debating the bills at this stage.
Asked what their options were if the practice continued indefinitely, Bishop Atherley, said they could walk out, refuse to participate or continue to bring these matters to the attention of the public.