Weary Prime Minister Vows To Change House Rules
On a Saturday morning in June last year, Members of Parliament dragged themselves out of the House of Assembly as the sun rose over the city of Nassau.
They were noticeably weary, many of them red-eyed. Minutes earlier, others could not even manage to keep their heads from hitting their tables after meeting almost non-stop since the Friday morning before.
It was then that they vowed that such grueling, tedious debates would never happen again.
The promised new House rules were reportedly drafted in some form, but were never tabled.
As a result, this year was another year of unconscionably long debating.
It was clear that while House members for instance sat through part of the debate that stretched into the wee hours of Friday morning, few of them were alert enough to follow intently what was being said.
As Mount Moriah MP Keod Smith spoke up until the two o’clock hour last Friday morning, some colleagues downstairs prayed aloud that his contribution would come to a quick end.
Many of them, including the prime minister, were noticeably drained after listening to the former prime minister for more than five hours. Even backbenchers had spoken for two to three hours.
Outside the chamber, many members grumbled, “We cannot allow this to happen again.”
De ja vu?
It was pretty much what they had said last year after another marathon debate.
When Prime Minister Perry Christie presented his budget communication to parliament on May 26, he saw it as a departure from tradition.
“My objective, in seeking greater brevity and conciseness, is to facilitate the widest possible understanding and reception for the main issues in the budget,” Mr. Christie said at the time.
His communication lasted 90 minutes – a real record breaker. It was termed the shortest communication in a post-Independence Bahamas.
But few members of the House followed his lead.
“It doesn’t happen anywhere else like this,” an exhausted prime minister told the Journal last Friday night.
He admitted that he was wiped out and needed to get some rest.
“We have been promising to put rules in the House where the speeches will be severely curtailed,” Mr. Christie added. “I tried to set the pace by having a departure from the normal budget communication, by dropping it down to a 90-minute communication and really with the intension to making it shorter, succinct, to the point.
“But members decided that they would want to present every detail of the function and operation of their ministry. It is not followed sufficiently by the Bahamian public because the attention spans are really not that long. We don’t get the kind of publicity and public relations from it as members of parliament that we ought to if we had a more contained debate.”
Mr. Christie predicted that long debates are a tradition, which has finally come to an end.
“You would find that we will move with the new rules and speakers will have to conform to a different process of dealing with debates generally and most certainly the budget debate,” he said.
Only time will tell if another year passes without new rules becoming a reality.