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A matter of honor

FNM leader braces for House showdown
  • Member of Parliament for Killarney and Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis attempts to speak in the House of Assembly last Monday. TORRELL GLINTON TNG 2013

CANDIA DAMES
Guardian News Editor
candia@nasguard.com

Published: Jul 29, 2013

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In the 14 months since the leadership of the Free National Movement (FNM) was thrust upon him following the near annihilation of his party at the polls in 2012, Dr. Hubert Minnis has been struggling to find his footing.

A well-loved and hard working MP, he has sought to use his organizational skills to keep the FNM together and motivated.

This, of course, has not been an easy task, as many FNMs remain disheartened over the loss and the abrupt retirement of Hubert Ingraham, former prime minister.

Minnis has found nothing to propel him and gain him the level of respect to get many people to take him seriously as a formidable force for the eventual leadership of the country.

Even in the face of multiple slip-ups and fumbling by Prime Minister Perry Christie and his government, the FNM leader has not yet managed to grab the ball and take charge.

On the gambling referendum issue, for example, he gained a reputation as a flip flopper.

Some say, he just does not have that “it” factor needed for leadership. But he is trying.

August 7 could be a defining moment for him. Will he emerge as a leader who fought for an important cause or one who created a clownish distraction and started a flicker that fizzled away?

Has he carefully thought his current battle with the speaker of the House of Assembly through or is his repeated violation of the speaker’s orders sending a bad signal?

Has the point on which he has dug in his heels been substantial enough to justify his defiance, and what possibly could be the outcome?

Many people will no doubt be watching to see the result of what would likely be a showdown with House Speaker Dr. Kendal Major.

If you have been following this, you would know Major has repeatedly asked the opposition leader to withdraw certain comments he made about Prime Minister Perry Christie and his reported relationship with controversial Lyford Cay billionaire Peter Nygard.

Minnis has remained unmoved in the face of the speaker’s orders for him to withdraw the comments.

Why the opposition leader sees his unsubstantiated claim as a fitting issue to hang his hat on is, however, puzzling.

Why the Christie administration has allowed this matter to delay its parliamentary agenda is also bizarre.

Minnis has dug himself into a hole too deep to turn back, it appears. Whatever it is he had planned in Parliament last week, he is likely to pursue on August 7 when the House resumes.

He has said he is prepared to go to jail over the issue. He is prepared to be named.

Perhaps in his mind, a little drama would brand him as a tough guy and a strong leader — both perceptions not currently associated with him.

As a result of his refusal to take his seat last Monday, the agenda of the House is facing a setback of more than two weeks.

The call was made by Leader of Government Business in the House Dr. Bernard Nottage.

 

Stumble

Minnis stumbled into this controversy week before last after St. Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman concluded his contribution to the debate on the stem cell bill by making allegations about the Progressive Liberal Party and its dealings with Nygard.

After the speaker ordered that Chipman substantiate or withdraw his claim, Minnis shot to his feet, seeking to explain that there is evidence to support the claim (which has not been reported in specifics as it was later expunged from the House record).

While Chipman withdrew his remark and exited the discussion, Minnis essentially adopted it as his own and took it a step further, making a specific allegation against the prime minister.

Under parliamentary rules, expressions that are unparliamentary when applied to the individuals are not always so considered when applied to a whole party.

Minnis is using as “evidence” a 2012 affidavit from Nygard in which Nygard claimed he was a major financial backer of Christie and the Progressive Liberal Party.

Minnis has previously claimed that the government brought the stem cell bill to the House to appease Nygard.

Christie has said that Nygard approached him two years ago and said he would help attract experts in the field to the country if the government passes the necessary legislation.

As I opined last week, the prime minister ought to be concerned about the perceptions being fueled by the Nygard affair, and in politics, perceptions could be even more damaging than a bad reality.

But there is nothing in Nygard’s affidavit that proves the government is guilty of any criminal act. Even if Nygard had himself made such an allegation in his affidavit, it could not be held as proof of a crime.

There is no law that prevents politicians and political parties from accepting donations, in any amount, from anyone.

Whether there should be a law is of course another debate altogether.

Minnis is asking the speaker and the public to take the affidavit and hold it against Christie’s comments on Nygard to support his own conclusions on the matter.

This is a stretch.

If the opposition leader believes he indeed does have evidence to prove what he is claiming, nothing stops him right now from saying it outside the precincts of the House.

He is among the more technologically savvy MPs, so there is also the option of posting this “evidence” on his Facebook page or on the party’s website.

Is the opposition leader prepared to make his claim without the protection of parliamentary privilege?

That is a good test of his belief in what he is claiming.

 

Politics

The expectation is that Minnis will squeeze whatever political juice he can out of this.

He has branded his approach as a fight for democracy, and so he seems prepared to follow this through.

He has lashed out at the speaker over his order that he will not be allowed to speak in the House until he withdraws.

“I was sent to the House by the people of Killarney; I am the leader of the official opposition, who represents FNMs and at the same time, whose job is to maintain democracy,” Minnis has said.

“Whatever that requires me to do, if that means the speaker must send me to jail or whatever he chooses to do, then so be it, but I will be fighting for democracy, and the voice of the Bahamian people.”

While he might very well gain political points in some circles, and even energize some FNMs, the truth is he has no evidence to substantiate what he has said — or at least he has not yet shown where he has any evidence to substantiate.

Minnis has accepted responsibility for the rock Hubert Chipman threw into the crowd and seems determined to win some heroic glory.

Minnis has also said there is no reason for him to withdraw his claim about Christie because the speaker has already expunged it from the record.

But Major has said that while the decision to expunge addresses the comments being publicized, a withdrawal from a member displays a level of responsibility and respect for the chair.

He said parliamentarians must recognize one of the responsibilities of the speaker is to protect members on both sides from “scurrilous” comments.

The speaker insists it is a matter of honor — that the honorable thing to do is to withdraw.

It does not now appear that withdrawing is a part of Minnis’ game plan on this one.

And so, a showdown could indeed be looming.

Under rule 87 of the House Rules and Procedures, if a member uses objectionable words which he has refused to withdraw or persistently and willfully disregards the authority of the chair, he may be named by the speaker and suspended from the service of the House.

A member who is suspended under the provisions of this rule shall withdraw from the House and its precincts. The suspension shall last for up to two sitting days on the first occasion, for four sitting days on the second occasion and for eight sitting days on the third occasion or any subsequent occasion.

It is not clear what it is Minnis was seeking to say when the House met last week and the speaker recognized Golden Gates MP Shane Gibson.

But it seems clear based on Minnis’ statements the day before that he had no intention of withdrawing his remarks against the prime minister.

This matter has dragged on — unnecessarily so — long enough.

The stem cell debate has dragged on long enough. The parliamentary agenda appears now to be in limbo.

While we are concerned about this whole Nygard affair, Minnis and the government must find a way to move beyond this squabble.

It is time to restore order and focus to Parliament.

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