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A moment for Minnis

Published: Jul 18, 2013

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The debate in the House of Assembly over the stem cell bill has captured national attention. It has evolved from being a mere debate regarding the science and morality of the practice to one over the relationship between a wealthy permanent resident, Peter Nygard, and the governing Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).

Most of yesterday’s debate centered on Nygard and accusations about whether he is a financial backer of the PLP or not. Leader of the Opposition Dr. Hubert Minnis has charged that the government is “rushing” the bill through Parliament because of Nygard and his interest in stem cell therapy. The PLP rejects this.

Minnis and Prime Minister Perry Christie had a heated standoff over the opposition leader’s refusal to withdraw comments he made about the PLP and PM after repeated requests by the speaker and several government ministers. The speaker eventually expunged the comments from the record and ordered that they not be reported.

Minnis was ordered to table proof to substantiate his claim or withdraw it. He refused. When he did not, Speaker of the House Dr. Kendal Major declared that Minnis would not be allowed to speak in the House until he withdraws what he said about the relationship between Christie and Nygard.

It is an extraordinary act to silence the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. The speaker has gone too far in this instance. He could have just struck the matter from the record and moved on. But, he is a member of the PLP and in The Bahamas, sadly, our speakers lean towards their sides rather than being dispassionate judges.

Minnis now has a test. He sat quietly last night after the speaker spoke to him. The opposition leader can continue to sit silently; or he can withdraw and apologize in order to keep the peace. There is another option, however. Minnis can show the strength his critics say he lacks on the floor of the House. This would require him challenging the speaker and the governing party through some form of ‘civil disobedience’ to the prevailing order of the day.

People watch men and women to determine if they have in them the will and tenacity to lead. They want to know, in a primitive sense, if they can follow this person into battle. When leaders bow easily to the pressures of the job, they disqualify themselves from these lofty posts.

Minnis is still in a virtual “probation period” as leader of the Free National Movement (FNM). His deputy, Loretta Butler-Turner, is at his heels. She wants to be leader of the opposition. The debate surrounding this bill has been contentious and has attracted much attention. The opposition leader has done well to help bring this Nygard connection to legislation to the public’s attention. It is insightful to know some of the origins of our laws. But now, having been ordered silent, he has to decide how he will respond.

The public and his party will be watching.

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