by Bria King
A COVID19 positive government senator has been replaced by someone who is negative, to ensure that there is a quorum in the House of Assembly today, which will allow for the passage of Budget 2022 by the close of this work week.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves announced in Parliament this morning that Senator Rochard Ballah’s appointment as government senator had been revoked and former government minister, Rene Baptiste had been sworn in, in his place this morning.
“Madam Speaker, eight persons here constitute a quorum of this House and in the absence of the Opposition, and given the necessity for the passing of this urgent matter, the appropriation bill and the public sector investment bill, I did not want as Leader of the House and Leader of the Government to await possibly, the return of the honourable minister of education or anyone else today. And Madam Speaker, we had set ourselves the objective of finishing the bill before this weekend was out,” Gonsalves said this morning.
Ballah was among eight government MPs who tested positive for COVID19 this week, leaving only six members on the government side able to attend Parliament.
And with the Opposition deciding to stay away from Parliament for the rest of the Budget debate, there would not have been sufficient members in the House to pass the appropriation bill otherwise.
The Prime Minister said this nation’s constitution “is written in a manner to permit precisely what we have done here today, in the circumstances”.
“I will not tarry on the Government’s business, particularly where large sums are involved for new monies for the people, the working people, the poor, the vulnerable and the nation as a whole. I will be irresponsible if I were to do that,” he said. “There is one other senator who tested positive and I can act in that regard also under the Constitution but there is no necessity to do so now because we have before us a quorum and hopefully it would be added to this evening, if all goes well with the honourable minister of education in respect of the test.
Agriculture and education ministers, Saboto Caesar and Curtis King respectively were the first two ministers to test positive for COVID19 infection over the weekend.
As both are fully vaccinated, protocol dictates that they spend only five days in isolation once they are asymptomatic.
Gonsalves had hoped that both lawmakers would have tested negative on their sixth day and be able to return to Parliament today but it appears only Caesar was able to meet the requirement in time for this morning’s resumption.
“We’re happy to welcome back the honourable minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural transformation, the honourable Saboto Caesar, who tested negative yesterday and is back here with us today. We welcome him and look forward very much to this presentation on his ministry,” the prime minister said.
“Sometime today Madam Speaker, if we get that far into the afternoon or the evening, I believe after 5 or thereabouts, the Honourable Minister of Education and National Reconciliation would be taking his test so that we will see whether he will be able to join us if we are still here.”
Former government minister, and now Senator Rene Baptiste gave brief remarks in Parliament this morning before the official resumption of the debate.
“When I received the call to service, I was a bit silent and then I told the Leader of Government Business in this Honourable House, the Honourable Prime Minister; certainly. He then asked if I was tested and I had been tested. I said Monday, I was tested. I’m negative and I planned to take a second test today,” she said.
Baptiste disclosed that she had tested negative on both PCR and rapid antigen tests this morning.
The former Cabinet member entered active politics in the early 2000s and was successful in securing the West Kingstown seat for the ULP in the 2001 General Elections.
She retired from active politics in December 2010.
“I thank him for considering me to be able to continue this service in the interest of the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Sometimes, Madam Speaker, things will happen and you have to be like a good soldier, always ready when called upon to give service and to do the best in the circumstances,” she said.
The newly sworn in senator added that she was looking forward to whatever time she spends in the House, to participate in the debate and be able to “bring to bear the experience that I have had almost 10 years serving in an elected capacity as a representative of the people and also as a senior member in Cabinet, to be able to give my advice to my fellow member of Parliament”.
The Prime Minister has made clear his intention to wrap up the Budget Debate by tomorrow latest, so that the Bill can be assented to by the Governor General and gazetted by Monday, January 17.