Friday wants ‘barrier’ removed to facilitate debate by opposition
DR GODWIN FRIDAY Opposition Leader and DR.SIMONE Keizer-Beache, CMO
December 17, 2021
Friday wants ‘barrier’ removed to facilitate debate by opposition

Leader of the Opposition, Dr Godwin Friday has requested that the Speaker of the House of Assembly assists in setting up a meeting between the opposition members in the House of Assembly and the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) to discuss the House’s COVID-19 rules and the use of a barrier to facilitate members.

As he began his contribution to debate on the 2022 Estimates the opposition leader said, “Madame Speaker my colleagues and I have prepared to respond in a fulsome way, to the Estimates, and ultimately to the budget debate…” “It would be irresponsible of me, as the Leader on this side of the House… given the importance of the debate we have here and the subject matter, not to raise the matter with you again”.

The concern has to do with “…members on this side of the House being able to participate in the debate in the way that this debate warrants.”

Friday submitted that the current arrangement seems “completely oblivious to the concerns that were raised not just by honourable members here, but by members of the public with respect to the protocols guiding members’ contribution in this House.”

The COVID-19 rules of the House require members who are unvaccinated or have not declared their vaccination status to use a speaking booth from which to make contributions. When the protocols were announced in September, it was outlined that in order to allow entry into the Chambers, parliamentarians must present proof of being fully vaccinated or provide a negative PCR test result taken no later than two days prior to the sitting.

Some members of the opposition are yet to declare their vaccination status, and are choosing not to use the booth from which to make their contributions.

On Monday, the opposition leader and Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St Clair Leacock were the only members on the opposition benches who contributed from their positions, not having to use the speaking booth.

Friday reiterated that the protocols “simply do not permit” unvaccinated members, or those who have not declared their status to participate “effectively in this honourable House.”

“And for the life of me I can’t understand why that would be acceptable as normal business in this honourable House when we know that there are things that we can do – and people have been doing it all over the world as we move from the crisis of Covid to living with Covid for us to be able to continue to operate, following the protocols and be safe.”

He said that he was putting the matter on record, “because I had raised in this House when we had the last sitting” that a barrier be provided for each member where he or she speaks.

“That is done elsewhere and that seems to me to be the most practical and safe way of conducting
the business of this honourable House,” Friday noted.

The Speaker of the House, Rochelle Forde, asked if she could interject at that point, indicating that she had received the December 9 dated letter that Friday had written to her on Friday, December 10. She told him that she had responded by way of private letter concerning “the matters about which you now bring to the fore.”

“I am not sure if you are in receipt of the letter just yet, but certainly the letter has been dispatched, post-haste I must say, to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition where a response is contained therein,” she said.

Friday said that he had received the response that morning, but felt it was a matter which should be placed on the record in the House “that you have addressed the matter by saying that the Plexiglas shield or whatever barrier that we had requested, was not possible because of a weight constraint.”

He said that “honourable members raised this morning, I believe it was the member for Central Kingstown, the possibility of providing a mobile barrier so that members can speak from their seat. Because it is simply not practical to arise and go to the booth, not just to make your principal presentation but any time you have an interjection to make. It’s just not practical,” he added.

“Honourable member if I might one last time,” the Speaker noted, “the rules also give certain guidelines as they pertain to when a ruling is made in this honourable House and that ruling is not revisited just like that.”

She also informed the Member for the Northern Grenadines that “It is not for want of considering how best we can work this situation out, but there are certain practical limitations that prevent us from doing any better than we have done.”

“This is as best that we can honourable members, and I’m going to encourage the honourable Leader of the Opposition to continue with the debate on the Estimates,” she stated.

The Opposition Leader said that this could not be the final word on the matter, although it is hers, but that the matter should be revisited as circumstances change, with the Chief Medical Officer(CMO), Dr.Simone Keizer-Beache.

The Speaker responded that the CMO has been revisiting the protocols periodically, but the circumstances “as they obtain now” remain practically the same as when the protocols were developed.

“We’ll let the CMO decide that,” Friday replied, “it is a matter that I believe the members on this side of the House also, that we should have a meeting with the Chief Medical Officer because there are particularities about the exercise of our functions in this House that may be brought to her attention that perhaps have not.”

Forde said that she was sure the CMO would be happy to facilitate that.

Friday asked whether he should reach out or whether she was going to do that.

The Speaker told him to go ahead, and that he has her full permission.

“So the Speaker is not going to assist in resolving this matter?” the Opposition Leader returned. “Are you requesting that the speaker assists?”

Forde asked, to which Friday responded that he was.

“I certainly will have the Office of the House of Assembly make the necessary arrangements accordingly,” she told him.