Fear is not one of the reasons that Parliament has been postponed from this Thursday, September 9 to Thursday September 30, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has indicated.
“I informed the Speaker of the House (Rochelle Forde) today (September 3), having had a conversation with her, that we put Parliament to the 30th of this month. If we need to do two days, the 30th is a Thursday, we can do the 30th of September and the 1st of October,” the Prime Minister explained on NBC radio last Friday.
This move comes amidst plans by the Public Service Union (PSU) to have protests in capital Kingstown on September 8 and 9 to coincide with industrial action by their members and nurses to take place between September 7 and 10. There has been disagreement about the protests between the PSU and the police, as the police, enforcing what they have interpreted as sections in the Public Order Act, are seeking to impose conditions on the processions, namely the route taken. They have suggested an alternative ie between Highway Trading, Arnos Vale and the Sion Hill intersection on Thursday, September 9 between 10 am and 4 pm.
The police’s awakening in enforcing sections of the Public Order Act has occurred following what some have dubbed as an “anti-vaccine” protest in the capital on August 5. On this day, while the House of Assembly was about to reconvene in the evening, fires were set at White Chapel road near the prison, and the Prime Minister was concussed by an object thrown by someone in the crowd and had to be taken to the hospital.
“I know what they would say, I ‘fraid to hold Parliament. I look like I’m afraid to hold Parliament? I love Parliament, you know? Any time we have Parliament if anybody has any doubts about the quality of the Government, you see it on parade compared to the Opposition, people see it month in, month out,” the Prime Minister commented last Friday.
“So that’s not…and in any event I see the Commissioner of Police has restricted the extent of meetings and procession in the city because he assesses the security situation and he say no to that,” he continued.
The first reason the Prime Minister outlined for the change in dates concerns the physical state of building where Parliament is held.
An inspection showed that “Where their offices are, the clerk and the staff, the offices have deteriorated,” he explained, to the extent that the individuals cannot work there.
In June of last year, an Act was passed which authorised the Government to borrow US$20 million from the Republic of China (Taiwan), in order to effect the refurbishment of the historic Courthouse building where Parliament is held, and construction of a modern parliament building and court complex.
Last Friday, Gonsavles informed that the temporary Parliament building project in Calliaqua is about to start, and that the contract has been awarded. He said their intention is to finish this, and move everyone out there temporarily.
“…We have tried to patch up the Parliament building. We fix up this, we fix up that, but sometimes, you can’t patch it no more, patching life is coming to an end…,” he said.
A house in the residential community Villa has been identified to be the Clerk and staff’s office, and any business will be conducted there.
However, “We can still go inside of (the Courthouse building), for the time being, until out there is fixed up, hopefully, and have the Parliament in the Chamber, but the people can’t work where their offices are – deteriorate too badly.”
“It’s gonna take about 20 days, according to the report that I got, to retrofit the place, to put it in order, and we moving at full speed,” the Prime Minister informed.
Additionally, in relation to the postponement, the questions posed by the Opposition came in, he was advised, on Wednesday, September 1.
He said that a question was posed to the Minister of Finance, and since the current Minister Camillo Gonsalves, is out of state, he is acting of Minister of Finance.
For this question the Prime Minister said he has to consult with the civil servants, “But it’s just not possible. I got it today, this afternoon, Monday and Tuesday are holidays, then there’s Wednesday alone, I have Cabinet on Wednesday.”
“…Generally the questions, given the holiday period, it’s going to be difficult for the public servants to get everything together,” he noted.