Leader of the Opposition on the No Confidence motion against the Speaker of the House
Feb 14, 2018 - 10:25:56 AM
Statement by the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Philip Brave Davis:
Today we bring the case of Halson Moultrie before this Parliament and ask the House to condemn his behaviour for the following acts:
A statement made to the House on 7 February in response to we do not know what;
The unlawful, wrongful, capricious, arbitrary and disproportionate suspension of the Member of Parliament for Englerston on 31 January
The wilful, malicious and personal attacks on private citizens in his statement of 7 February in the House
Attacking the staff of the House of Assembly
Disgracing the role and reputation of the Office of The Speaker of the House
The Reasons for bringing this resolution of condemnation and censure in a sense are more significant than the acts which led up to the events today.
The primary reason is that the Speaker has descended into the fray, into the mud pit and by doing so has irretrievably damaged the role of Speaker as we understand it in our Parliamentary democracy.
He is the enforcer of the rules. To do so, he must be impartial but more importantly seen to be impartial. His responses cannot be personal. They must be dispassionate. The Speaker is very much like a judge. In fact the position is quasi-judicial. He is the protector of the rights and privileges of the House, often described as ancient rights and privileges.
You will recall that when the House of Assembly opens at the start of the session, as her Majesty’s Representative comes to the House, the door is closed in the face of that representative and the representative must knock on the door and be granted entrance by the Speaker.
The Speaker is the first commoner of the land. He defends the rights of Members. He should not oppress members. The record will show that what the Speaker did in this instance was to compromise those fundamental aspects of his role. This makes his continuation in the role untenable.
Some have said, looking at the math which faces us, that this is an impossible hurdle for the Opposition to climb. That may be so on the plain of mathematics. However this is not about mathematics. I remind the House that we fight on a higher plain in some matters. There ought to be a consensus, an agreement on how we conduct our affairs. That social construct has been destroyed and broken by the actions of this Speaker and he ought to be condemned for doing so.
This is also not a personal matter of forgiveness as the Speaker seems to feel.
Instead of being silent having committed these grave offences against public order and decency, he did not have the good sense to be quiet but instead has doubled down to the point of intransigence and says he would do it again. How does he expect that going forward without one act of contrition, his position can be tenable? It is in fact the opposite as he himself admitted in a Tribune Article of the 9 February that operations of the institution (the House) will be affected moving forward as a result of what he said. It is profoundly untenable no matter the math.
Whether we win this vote or not, his head is forever covered in shame. He is deluged in iniquity. He has the mark of Cain on him. There will be a cloud over his brow in perpetuity.
The ethical moral high ground in this matter is that personal attacks are reprehensible, not allowed. He is not allowed to descend into the mud pit. He must remain calm and above the fray. The record will show that he did not do that.
On 7th February, the Speaker delivered a statement to the House. In that statement he called for the suspension of our colleague the member for Englerston. The calling of the suspension was to correct an error in the procedure of the House. The act of causing the Member to be named and suspended in the first instance for two days was wrong according to our rules.
The Rules required a motion to be made and carried for a member to be suspended. That motion to be moved by the Leader of the House or in his absence the member acting for him (88(10). The member must have committed any of the specified offences set in Rule 88(4). The member may be named and in naming the member must be informed of what offence is being committed. The Speaker then invites the motion and after the motion is made it is then put “forthwith” to be voted upon (R.88(4)). The disingenuous meaning given to “forthwith” as it pertains the Rule 88 is revealed upon a proper conjugation of the sentence in which it appears and the context in which it is used. Forthwith is irrelevant until there is a motion. No motion was made before the Speaker capriciously suspended the member of Englerston [Read transcripts if necessary]
The majority then stepped in to protect that wrong doing by supporting that act of wrong doing by the Speaker with no less a person than the Prime Minister compounding the travesty by calling the Member for Englerston dishonourable in her conduct.
We must not forget how it all started. It started because the Member for Englerston was standing up for the rights of two women fired by the Government for political reasons. That was her assertion, her profound belief and she stood by that belief. The Speaker was supposed to protect her right to free speech. He did not. Instead, he sided with the majority and struck the matter from the record. After that he was functus officio. Then he went further and created a situation of double jeopardy and sentenced the MP from Englerston a second time, by suspending her for two days. His actions were replete with procedural errors.
The Speaker is supposed to allow and protect the privilege of the right of access to the House. He did not. Instead he prevented by his order Mrs. Hanna Martin from returning to the House on Wednesday 7th February. That is the second violation of a privilege.
What is worse however, is that the Speaker compounded the issue not only in the vote which he called for wrongly, in our view, but he ignored the minority again when we asked to present the facts to show him the error of his ways.
The Speaker refused to recognise me. The record would reflect that immediately following the roll call of members – I stood to be recognise – the Speaker refused to recognise me – I stood to speak to the absence of the Member of Englerston and to seek to bring civility and sobriety to chaos caused by the actions of the Speaker in naming and suspending her contrary to the Rules. To demonstrate the error of his ways.
I remained standing to be recognised but he proceeded to recognised the Leader of Government business instead, the member for Bamboo Town. There was no doubt who rose first to speak. I should have been recognised and heard. Rule 8 of the 74 Rules specifically speaks to the fact that the member rising first should be heard – this is also provided for in Rule 33(3) of 2005 Rules. The speaker has no discretion as to whether to recognise me or not – once a member rises he has to be heard. Unless two rise at the same time.
On this occasion the Speaker fell into error again and thereafter acted in a capricious and arbitrary manner by suspending me and the other two members of the Opposition because we were walking out of the chamber. So the flipside of the coin of egress to the House is ingress and he violated yet another of the fundamental principles by suspending us arbitrarily.
Mr. Chairman, it got worse from there. The Speaker then piled on with invective from the protection of the chair, attacking private citizens, a member in that other place, attacked members in this chambers and staff of this institution.
Here is what he said about Maurice Tynes, the former Clerk of The House...
“I thought that the retired clerk was my friend. I remember when I was in third party politics as Leader of the Bahamian Freedom Alliance, the retired Clerk would call me all the time and provided me with material to attack the Ingraham administration……
I thought that he was championing the cause of good governance and democracy, but alas, he was only trying to help the PLP as he seemed to be doing today, while also attacking the acting and hopefully soon to be confirmed Clerk of Parliament……..
I had the opportunity of working with the apparently troubled former Clerk from May 24, 2017 through August 31, 2017 and I can say at this time, thank God for attrition……..
Imagine trusting, working and relying on the advice of someone who has now publicly expressed his innermost feelings and the kind of political venom directed at the Speaker in the letter to the editor. Thank you very much, Mr. Retired Clerk, may your soul rest in peace.”
Here is what he said about me and my wife …..
“I cry shame on the Member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador. Ordinarily, I would not respond to such nonsense but the honorable Member, and I wish that he was still present so I could address him directly; he has provoked the chair and forced the chair to defend my integrity…….
While I can give you more than 90 reasons why the Member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador’s allegation is absolutely absurd, I shall confine my response to the fact that I am married to a beautiful and wonderfully made Bain Town woman. And I want to emphasize to the Member … that my wife is an indigenous Bahamian woman and that I have had over those thirty-eight years, no reason for divorce.”
Here is what he said about the Member from that other place
“The member has allowed, in my estimation reprobates and perverts with track records of denying and hating women to insert such a ludicrous assertion into his press release. My name might begin with an M but the first three letters are Mou and not Mit. Don’t mix me up. I am not a soft, powder puff man. I am a real man.” (sic)
In each quotation, there appears to be some personal and misdirected animus.
Each of those persons deserve an unqualified apology and withdrawal of the words. In the case of the attacks on private citizens and the member from that other place, attorneys are exploring the use of a constitutional remedy to seek redress against the Speaker for the attacks.
In the case of the Member for Englerston, the House should by resolution reverse the actions of the Speaker. It is a blot on her record which must be removed.
The remedy and response on a whim and fancy to the Member for Exuma and Ragged Island is clearly disproportionate. The Speaker used a hammer when a fly swat would have done the work. In fact he needed take no action at all, since a member has the freedom to leave the chamber. The Speaker could not have known whether members wanted a bathroom break for example. And the only rule dealing with when a member may leave the chamber is when the Speaker is putting a Question [R.32(2)]
So it is possible that for going to the restroom, the Member was suspended. A member who has been in this place for only nine months and is amongst the mildest mannered and agreeable of members. The Speaker has whimsically and capriciously and injudiciously ruined his reputation.
The same can be said for the Member for South Andros who said and did nothing on that day to have warranted that slap at his reputation by the whimsical, arbitrary, capricious and injudicious actions by the Speaker.
So notwithstanding the math, today we seek to make a cogent and air tight case for the removal of this Speaker. He cannot be allowed to continue. If he were a man of some grace, he would have stepped down on Monday. The country expects him to do the right thing.
The side opposite was faced with this ethical dilemma before and in the face of that Sidney Collie as Minister for Local Government now Ambassador Sidney Collie did the right thing and resigned. That was a much lesser offence than the grave personal assaults in which the Speaker has engaged.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Members opposite instead of suspending the House when the Speaker determined to go down this vile personal track, enjoyed what the Speaker was doing and supported it. They revelled in it. They supported it even though the Speaker cast aspersions on some of them with homophobic slurs, attacks on divorced people and attacks on those with foreign wives.
The Government of the people’s time banged on the table and laughed and joked as the Speaker engaged in homophobic slurs, in attacks on a member’s wife and personal family affairs, on the reputations of the House staff and in seeking to mount a defence made a most egregious attack on a retried public servant.
One member went so far to give comfort and aid to wife beating through her clumsy language.
Yet the Speaker now says to the press instead of being quiet that all is forgiven and we can move on, No sir we cannot move on. What you have done is unpardonable and inexcusable. You have embarrassed, debased and desecrated the office of Speaker. The majority should not protect or cloak you in your error and buffoonery. They should assist you in finding the exit. That is the right thing to do. This is not about mathematics. This is about the right thing to do.
It is about voting with your conscience, today, not against it. Will you vote to keep a man in office who has so desecrated the office? It is on a day like this I wish we were not compelled by the straight jacket of our party system.
This is not about PLP and FNM. This is about the right thing to do.
Those who know me know that I always advocate for the pursuit of things that make for peace. And this I did. Had the government harken to a voice of reason we will not be where we are today. I obtained the transcript of the proceedings. I noted that Englerston was right that the Speaker had misquoted her, casting an unfavourable light on her. The Speaker's quote appears to be his interpretation of what she said rather than the exact words said – even though he attributed exact words to her. The question that would have arisen, then, was whether it was a reasonable interpretation. The discourse never got there. This is why I intervened at the time I did, hoping to right the debate.
My intervention commenced at the point where the Speaker was at the height of his broadside of Englerston, which I was pointing out to be unfair. He took ubrage to this and ordered that I take my seat and continued the broadside, ignoring any intervention by the opposition. We left the chamber then and he named and suspended her. At the next sitting of the House, Englerston accompanied the rest of our Parliamentary Team. She was told by the Sergeant-at-Arms that he was instructed by the Speaker to prevent her entry.
In pursuit of peace, I met with Leader of Government Business for at least two (2) hours to determine a solution to avoid further chaos. I gave him the transcript, pointing out that it appears to be a matter of interpretation. Once that matter was resolved, everything else should fall away. I opined that Martin was telling the Speaker that she had the right not to withdraw and he the power to expunge; and, if this was correct then it was all a complete misunderstanding.
He was amenable to my suggestions and promised that he would arrange a tripartite meeting with the Speaker to discuss a resolution. That was Monday. I waited that Monday afternoon until after 6pm and got no call. I then spoke to the AG, reiterating my thoughts and recounting my meeting with Wells. He undertook to speak to Wells and to get back to me. I never heard from him. On Tuesday, not hearing from either AG or the Government Leader in the House, I called the Prime Minister shortly before 10. I reiterated my conversations with them and he, the Prime Minister said that they will get back to me.
Next I heard on Tuesday evening by way of text message received from the Leader of Opposition Business in the House, indicating that the Government intended to move the motion to suspend Englerston and to debate two Bills.
If he were in the civil arena outside this Parliament, he would have been sanctioned for libel and possible criminal libel for what he alleged on 7 February. If he were a judge, actions would have been taken for his removal from office.
The High Court of Parliament is being asked to try this case. The Court of Public Opinion is called upon to condemn the Speaker’s conduct which they are doing.
I wish to read the words of the Nassau Guardian in extenso and adopt them as my own from their editorial of 12 February. As you know The Nassau Guardian has been an adoring ally of the FNM and here is what they said under the headline, The Speaker Went Too Far:
A speaker in a democratic House of Parliament should be an impartial judge. He should seek in his actions, rulings and utterances to ensure the rules and dignity of Parliament are maintained.
In democracies, Parliament is a place where social conflict should play out absent of violence. Different interests, ideologies, parties and people should clash with the hope that good governance and good policies emerge.
It’s the speaker’s job to manage all that. In the most developed democratic parliamentary traditions, though speakers are from particular parties, once elected or selected they no longer caucus with their side. This is to further the notion that a speaker is an impartial custodian of Parliament.
Speaker Halson Moultrie embarrassed himself and demeaned the Office of Speaker and the House by his actions on February 7. He went on a tirade from the chair directed at former Clerk of Parliament Maurice Tynes and Leader of the Opposition Philip Brave Davis.
He called Tynes a troubled man who executed a politically motivated attack on him. Tynes, who retired last year, wrote a letter to the editor recently, saying he was “disturbed and alarmed” by Moultrie’s decision to name and suspend Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin.
“I had the opportunity of working with the apparently troubled retired clerk from May 24, 2017 through August 31, 2017 and all I can say at this time is thank God for attrition,” Moultrie said.
“Imagine trusting, working with and relying on the advice of someone who has now publically expressed his inner most feelings and the kind of political venom directed at the speaker in the letter to the editor. Thank you very much, Mr. retired clerk, may your soul rest in peace.”
Davis, Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper and Mangrove Cay and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes gathered their belongings and exited the chamber as Moultrie rambled. The speaker asked them to sit. When they didn’t, he suspended them for two sittings.
All four of the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) members were suspended.
It got worse.
Moultrie added homophobia and xenophobia to his rant. He said he is a “real man”, not a “soft, powder puff man” and accused Davis of allowing “reprobates and perverts who deny and hate women” to insert “ludicrous” allegations into his press statements.
He was trying to attack a PLP member by suggesting the person is gay. There is nothing wrong with being gay, of course. We don’t know if the person is or is not. Our society, however, is very homophobic. Moultrie wanted to demean this PLP by his suggestion.
Moultrie made allusions too, in criticism, of the leader of the opposition’s wife being foreign born, without naming her.
“While I can give you more than 90 reasons why the member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador’s allegation is absolutely absurd, I shall confine my response to the fact that I am married to a beautiful and wonderfully made Bain Town woman for the past 38 years,” he said.
“And I want to emphasize to the member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador that my wife is an indigenous Bahamian woman and that I have had over those 38 years no reason for divorce.”
Moultrie’s tone was petty and immature. That he sat and considered these words, prepared them and read them demonstrates he is not fit for the position of speaker.
It is disgraceful that a Speaker would read from the chair a 40-minute statement filled with bitterness, homophobia and xenophobia. And, the suspensions of Davis, Cooper and Forbes were not justified. They were an abuse of power.
Moultrie and Miriam Emmanuel, the Free National Movement (FNM) MP for MICAL, embarrassed their party on February 7. As she praised him for naming and suspending Hanna-Martin, Emmanuel said her father taught his daughters that if they approached their husbands disrespectfully they would get “manhandled” and suggested there may be some circumstances when it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife.
After being criticized for the remarks, Emmanuel apologized that evening.
Moultrie and Emmanuel gave the opposition ammunition. This was unfortunate. The PLP is a party on life support after the last election.
The FNM caucus seemed to support the speaker in the House. That’s a disgrace. Whether or not it was right to suspend Hanna-Martin is a separate issue. She has been an obstructionist throughout this Parliament. Sensible FNMs should not support what Moultrie did, however.
We do not know how this matter will be resolved, but we certainly have no confidence in Moultrie to continue as speaker. He cannot separate his emotions from decision making. The chair should be occupied by someone who can.
Mr. Halson Moultrie, the member for Nassau Village has brought the office of Speaker in odium, disrepute and public contempt.
Four Members of Parliament for the Opposition Progressive Liberal Party will speak to affirm this motion.
The motion reads as follows:
I so move.
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