By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
TENSIONS mounted in the House of Assembly yesterday after the Speaker, Dr Kendal Major, went against senior Progressive Liberal Party members and allowed an “intervention” by opposition leader Hubert Minnis into the “judicial interference” matter surrounding embattled Cabinet minister V Alfred Gray.
In trying to prevent Dr Minnis from making his contribution Bain and Grants Town representative Dr Bernard Nottage stood on a point of clarification and asked the Speaker to verify by what ruling he was allowing Dr Minnis to make his comments.
“The chair had made a ruling and had indicated that the member on suspension a motion would be given the opportunity to give an intervention, to give a contribution of national importance,” Dr Major said.
“The requirement is that the chair should receive a copy. The chair denied the member the opportunity because the chair did not have a copy. The chair has received it now.”
Dr Nottage informed the Speaker that, for such a ruling to stand, the House would have had to be presented with a motion of suspension.
Dr Major asserted that the House had not been suspended and explained that he made a ruling that granted permission to the Leader of the Opposition to present his statement.
The Speaker informed Dr Nottage that he was operating under the purview of rule 48 of the House’s rule book.
That response prompted both Deputy Prime Minister, Philip “Brave” Davis, and MP for Central and South Eleuthera, Damien Gomez, to stand on a point of order, indicating that under rule 48 Dr Major still did not have grounds to grant statements by Dr Minnis.
The MPs claimed that rule 48 gave the Speaker the power to make such a ruling to allow for House debate, but not statements.
Dr Major said: “After listening to both sides, if there is one thing that is critical to me as I serve in this chair is that the overriding principle that keeps me here in this chair is that I must always scrupulously guard the rights of the minority. This is not a vote, this is not a debate.
“The chair has made a ruling that has allowed members on both sides to make statements followed by responses and that is the end of the matter. The chair didn’t tell the member that he is moving a motion for debate, the member is making a statement. I have the statement.
“The members on the governing side will have a chance to respond to that statement and that becomes the end of the matter. That was the intention. This is the position I hold. I am a creature of the rules, but more importantly I am a servant of this House,” the Speaker added.
In an effort to further allow the comments by Dr Minnis, Dr Major said: “If I am going to do right by the Bahamian people, it has to appear that I am being fair to members on both sides to speak to an issue that has been topical, important and critical.”
With those words, and amidst PLP uproar, Dr Minnis stood. “Mr Speaker, I rise to make a communication to this honourable House on a matter of grave public importance,” he said.
“It was as a result of the efforts of this, the official Opposition, that the alleged troubling abuse of power and unconstitutionality on the part of Mr Alfred Gray, MP for MICAL was brought to the light of day.
“The record is clear. Mr Gray, member for MICAL, publicly admitted that he had spoken to the said local magistrate in that magistrate’s conduct of a judicial matter. The member for MICAL says he was merely offering what appears now to have been, unsolicited legal advice.
“The member has been openly contradicted in this day’s newspaper by the said magistrate, who stated categorically that he had been ‘ordered’ and pursuant to the order had released the prisoner. Not released him on bail, but released him unconditionally; and after the prisoner had been sentenced previously to a term of imprisonment.
“The government must require the immediate resignation of the member for MICAL, Mr Alfred Gray, from Cabinet forthwith. Nothing else will do. Nothing else will suffice.”
Mr Gray, in his resignation letter addressed to the Prime Minister said, “in order to uphold the integrity of the investigative process, I hereby invite you to kindly consider causing the portfolio of the Department of Local Government, to be transferred from my ministry”.
Dr Minnis had earlier told reporters outside the House that the Prime Minister had “insulted both the Bahamian populace and Parliament” with his handling of the matter.
He claimed that there were grounds for Mr Gray’s immediate dismissal and suggested that if he was in his administration this matter “would have not been an issue”.
“Mr Gray would have resigned and, if not, would have been fired,” Dr Minnis added.
The FNM leader suggested that the idea of a member of the executive being able to “influence or impact” members of the judiciary not only sets a bad precedent but sends a bad message to the international arena.
“Individuals would feel, especially investors, is their money safe here in the Bahamas when the executive can interfere with the judiciary? What message are you sending out to the criminals when we are plagued with high levels of crime?
“The message you are sending out is that if you are my friend or you know me then we can interfere and we can stop any legal process you are being hindered by. That is a bad message. We demand - and we will continue to demand - that Minister Gray should be fired and Prime Minister Christie should show leadership.
“The weak leadership that he has shown in his previous administration has continued to spill off into this administration. This is unheard of and we demand that the government dismiss Mr Gray immediately, not in a half pregnant state. Either you are pregnant or you aren’t. In this particular case Mr Gray was pregnant so undo the pregnancy.
Mr Gray has been under fire since the Free National Movement (FNM) accused him of abusing his power after he contacted the Mayaguana island administrator last week to offer what Mr Gray has called “legal advice” regarding a young man convicted in his constituency.
Although Mr Gray has confirmed that he did contact the island administrator, he has strongly denied that he in any way attempted to sway the course of justice.
It was claimed by the FNM that following a phone conversation between Mr Gray and administrator Zephaniah Newbold, the latter granted the release of the man he had convicted days earlier. Mr Newbold is a local magistrate.
On Monday Mr Gray dismissed demands made by the FNM for him to resign or be fired. He insisted that the official Opposition was using him to stay “relevant” in national news.