By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORT Charlotte MP Dr Andre Rollins quit the Progressive Liberal Party last night, explaining that it was obvious he was no longer wanted in the party after government members made several attempts to block him from contributing to the budget debate in the House of Assembly. Dr Rollins said that while he had had no prior intention yesterday of resigning from the party last night, he “would be a fool” to call himself a PLP after the “way I was treated in here tonight”.
He added that based on the PLP’s current trajectory, the party had no chance of winning the next election. It was one of several scathing critiques from Dr Rollins about the PLP’s performance in office over the past three years.
His departure from the governing party has come a little more than a week after Marco City MP Greg Moss quit the PLP, citing leadership issues at both the party and executive level.
Dr Rollins denied growing speculation that he had plans to form a new political party with other disgruntled backbenchers. While he did not say if he would join the Free National Movement, he stressed that this country needs a strong opposition to keep the government’s feet to the fire.
“There is all of this speculation about me being interested in forming a new political party,” he said. “I want to dispel that idea out right, sir, and I also want to say for the record that I had no intention of coming in here tonight to offer any resignation.
“Our country’s future, Mr Speaker, is too important to me to entertain any thought of experimenting with a new political party. It is clear to me and many Bahamians, I believe, that this government needs a strong and focused opposition to ensure that the interests of our country are protected. We are reaping this poor harvest in part because the government does not fear the opposition and does not feel threatened by them. Hence it is behaving with the arrogance of a dictatorship, doing as it pleases without any accountability or transparency.
“This government needs a unified political opposition if it is to have any chance at effectively governing our country between now and the next general election. It means, Mr Speaker, that egos must be checked and those who really mean this country well must put their differences aside and become a unified force if this country is to become the strong country we need it to be.
“This country will not be well served by a divided and weak opposition, faced with a government prepared to run roughshod over dissenting voices and opposition groups.
“In closing Mr Speaker, to quote the great William Shakespeare, ‘parting is such sweet sorrow, that I should bid goodnight ‘til it be ‘morrow.’ I resign as a member of the Progressive Liberal Party, Mr Speaker, because it is clear to me that there is no interest in having me be a part of the Progressive Liberal Party and I would be a fool to come back in this place and say that I’m a member of the PLP after how I was treated in here tonight. So thank you to the people of Fort Charlotte for allowing me to serve, and may God bless the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.”
During his speech, Dr Rollins attacked the government on several fronts, accusing it of being undemocratic and not aligned with the views of young Bahamians.
He said PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts previously told him that he and Mr Moss would not receive a nomination from the PLP.
“My response is simple, Mr Speaker, the PLP on its current trajectory stands zero chance of being re-elected as government. Only the ignorance of Mr Roberts’ arrogance could prevent him from recognising his role in the PLP’s declining popularity.”
The drama began earlier in the session, when Deputy Prime Minister Phillip “Brave” Davis raised a motion to close the budget debate, meaning Dr Rollins would not have been able to make his contribution.
At first it appeared as though Mr Davis was about to make a speech and Dr Rollins said he did not stand earlier because he did not want to disrespect the more senior member.
However, Mr Davis said he was not going to speak and that it was within his right to move for the vote to close the debate because “all of the minority members of the House of Assembly have spoken” and Dr Rollins’ intentionally missed his opportunity to speak.
Dr Rollins then accused the government of attempting to stifle freedom of speech and said that they were all afraid of what he had to say.
He then invited Prime Minister Perry Christie to “release him as a member of the PLP” so he would be able to make a contribution.
Mr Christie then rose to his feet and denied that he was attempting to interfere with Dr Rollin’s freedom. In fact, Mr Christie said Dr Rollins was given an opportunity to speak earlier but decided “he would do it on his time.”
Mr Christie said he would not let the government be held “hostage” by Dr Rollins.
After about 20 minutes of back and forth with several other MPs rising to their feet to argue the point, House Speaker Dr Kendal Major decided to take a recess to make a decision.
Nearly 30 minutes later, Dr Major allowed Dr Rollins to make his contribution saying, “his heart would not let him stop a member from speaking.”
“We have had 40 hours and more of debate, the member (Dr Rollins) has chosen to absent himself without notice,” Dr Major said.
“On the face of it the member certainly may be requesting unusual privileges in this regard, however the rule, as I mentioned speaks to what the member can do and I am a bit constrained to the extent that within the precedent and status quo of this session, unless there is violation of the rules of this House I have taken the view that every member has a right speak in a debate and so I am uncomfortable denying any member who is present, willing and able to speak.
“In my heart I could not be comfortable denying the member to speak and yes I am constrained by the rules however my heart says if I do not allow the member, it may be abuse. So I am not going to allow any member to tell me I can be constrained by any rules at this time. I will not allow it. I will allow the member to speak.”