Two more parliamentarians on the government side have tested positive for COVID19 infection, resulting in the suspension of today’s Budget Debate.
The Budget exercise began yesterday afternoon with finance minister, Camillo Gonsalves delivering his four-hour presentation in Parliament. But less than 24 hours later, the finance minister tested positive on a rapid test along with minister of Urban Development, Senator Julian Francis.
“A train of circumstances has put us in a position where I think that all we can do today at this Honourable House is to suspend the sitting until tomorrow morning at 9 o’ clock for the speech by the Honourable Leader of the Opposition in response to the Budget address by the Honourable minister of finance, delivered last evening,” Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said in Parliament this morning, more than an hour later than the intended start this morning.
He said Gonsalves and Francis both tested positive on the rapid test that is required under recently revised protocols of the House, in order for members to enter the Chamber.
These two positive cases are in addition to agriculture and education ministers, Saboto Caesar and Curtis King, who tested positive for COVID19 over the weekend, ahead of the beginning of the Budget Presentation yesterday.
The prime minister also indicated that two other government parliamentarians; Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel and Senator Keisal Peters were both absent from the House due to “digestion problems”.
Opposition leader, Dr Godwin Friday was scheduled to deliver his response to the Budget when the House resumed this morning at 9am.
Friday indicated in a press conference just after midday that he did not do so, as he felt that the situation had become untenable and he, and other members on the opposing side of the House felt that it was not safe in the Chamber.
“I can understand the Leader of the Opposition not wanting to deliver his address either in the absence of the minister of finance, or the prime minister or deputy prime minister but I think it is fair and reasonable in all the circumstances to not continue today because the rules make it plain that after the minister of finance speaks, the leader of the opposition must speak the next day. And though there was nothing to have prevented him from speaking, because we are not taking any issue of quorum, but I understand why he chose not to speak,” Gonsalves said in Parliament this morning.
The prime minister indicated that he had had no intention of being in Parliament this morning as he had other matters to attend to.
He added that some officers on his security team had come down with COVID and had to be tested, so it was advised that all persons at the Prime Minister’s residence who interact with each other, should be tested.
Gonsalves said he returned a negative result after being tested this morning, hence being able to enter the HOA.
“We’re in a fluid situation with COVID and I say Madam Speaker, that what happened at this workplace called Parliament is happening across workplaces all over St Vincent and the Grenadines and everyone has to have understanding and forbearance in this matter and we have to gather to do our work,” Gonsalves said.
Should the Budget Debate continue tomorrow as intended, Gonsalves said he does not foresee much time being lost, given that the four government ministers will not be able to make contributions in Parliament for the duration of the debate.
“It would mean therefore that the prudent thing for me would not to speak before the conclusion of the debate as a whole and therefore, in my allotted four hours as prime minister, I can at one and the same time, do my own contribution and wrap up to the debate itself,” he said.
He also indicated that the COVID19 positive ministers will likely share their talking points with him so that he will also be able to touch on the issues they intended to speak about during the debate.
“I may say further that my role in that regard would come to an end, if in my goings and comings that I am also tested positive for COVID at any subsequent time. So I see my spiritual brother, an Anglican lay preacher, at least formerly, the honourable minister of the Public Service [Frederick Stephenson] that he knocked wood just now and I’m with him on that,” the prime minister said.
Parliament has been suspended until tomorrow morning, January 12 at 9 am.