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In pictures: A final farewell to Obediah Wilchcombe

The solemnity of mourning overwhelmed the Christ Church Cathedral on Thursday morning as Cabinet Minister Obediah Wilchcombe was laid to rest following his unexpected death as Minister of Social Services, Urban Development, Information and Broadcasting nearly two weeks ago.

As the coffin was transported to the church, a traditional procession of saddened parliamentarians and family members, marched behind the coffin, drawing scores of onlookers in a vast expression of grief and gratitude as they bade farewell to a man whose life as a public servant helped define journalism and politics in the country.

Prime Minister Philip Davis remembered the beginning of their friendship when Wilchcombe served as a rookie court reporter and Davis, a lawyer.

During his speech, he said Wilchcombe, who once served as Tourism Minister in Perry Christie’s administration, was “surprised” when he was given the portfolio for Social Services in 2021 when the Davis administration won the election. Since the governing party’s ministerial swap last month, Davis remembered Wilchcombe was “full of enthusiasm” when Broadcasting and Information were added to his portfolio.

Opposition Leader Michael Pintard remembered his smile and style, and praised him for easing the tension in the House of Assembly during fierce debates.

During a career that began in 1994, Wilchcombe served as a senator before serving in his ministerial posts.

It appeared he suffered health challenges over the years. He was 64.

                    

Photo credit: The Free National Movement, Oracle Media Consultants

‘He was funny and thoughtful’: Parliamentarians grieve Obediah Wilson, 63

Following the unexpected death of Social Services, Information and Broadcasting Minister Obediah Wilchcombe early Monday morning, Prime Minister Philip Davis and parliamentary colleagues sought solace in his legacy, and service to the Bahamas and his political party.

“Obie was a stalwart of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and his voice resonated as a beacon of progressiveness within the party,” Davis said while mourning Wilchcombe’s death.

“He was funny and thoughtful, with a great sense of our place in history.

“His articulate discourse and thoughtful insights were profound and often shocked the conscience of the Progressive Liberal Party, leading to meaningful deliberations and impactful resolutions.”

Since the PLP’s win at the polls in 2021, during his run for West Grand Bahama and Bimini, Wilchcombe was initially given the portfolio for the Minister of Social Services, and just three weeks ago, he was granted an additional portfolio to include Information and Broadcasting.

“His favourite phrase, ‘One Love’, exemplified his worldview, symbolizing unity, compassion, and a deep love for humanity,” Davis said.

Wilchcombe started as a journalist at the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas in 1975, and was first elected to parliament in 2002 for West End Grand Bahama and Bimini, as the Minister of Tourism in the Christie administration.

In addition to his current ministerial profile, Wilchcombe was the leader of government business in the House of Assembly where he often butted heads with the Opposition.

“Even amidst the heat of passionate exchanges, he conveyed his goodwill through his warm smile or an unmistakable laugh, reassuring everyone that, on his end, all was well,” Opposition Leader Michael Pintard remembered.

“He had an unparalleled skill for placing topics in a historical context, weaving in his personal connection while at the same time touching the hearts of his listeners. He was a formidable opponent and everyone knew it.

Pintard reminisced on his “signature smile.”

Pintard’s last interaction was an installation service for Rev. Dr. Philip McPhee as the President of the Bahamas National Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention. “We were sitting near each other. We followed the preacher’s instruction to turn to our neighbour and exchange a greeting. Little did I know that this would be our final interaction, in a place where divisions are bridged, and the essence of what truly matters becomes crystal clear.”

Wilchcombe passed overnight Sunday but it was not publicized until 10 Monday morning.

“This is a shocking development for a dedicated, energetic and vibrant public servant,” said party chairman Fred Mitchell who Wilchcombe once challenged for the position.

“Our party is reeling this morning (Monday).”

Davis reshuffles cabinet in midterm move: What you need to know

As was expected after Prime Minister Philip Davis prorogued the House of Assembly last month, he announced a major reshuffle of his cabinet on Sunday evening, less than two years after taking office.

The changes affect a few ministers and several state portfolios, and are aimed at improving the performance and efficiency of the government as it faces multiple challenges.

According to Davis, the reshuffle was based on consultations with his ministers and an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. Davis said he wanted to ensure that each minister was in a position to best serve the country.

Here are some of the notable changes:

Jomo Campbell who was serving as Minister of State for Legal Affairs, will become the new Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources. He will replace Clay Sweeting, who will take over the Ministry of Works and Family Island Affairs from Alfred Sears.
Alfred Sears will move to the Ministry of Immigration and National Insurance, where he will succeed Keith Bell. Davis praised Bell’s leadership and said he will now head the Ministry of Housing and Urban Renewal, which was previously under JoBeth Coleby-Davis.
JoBeth Coleby-Davis will become the new Minister of Energy and Transport. Coleby-Davis will also oversee the newly created portfolio of Minister of State for Aviation, which will be held by Basil McIntosh.
Pia Glover-Rolle, who was hailed as a “bright star” by the Prime Minister for her role as Minister of State for Public Service, will be promoted to Minister of Labour and Public Service. She will take over Labour from Keith Bell.
Zane Lightbourne will become Minister of State for the Environment.
– Davis also said there will be some changes in other ministerial portfolios, but he did not provide any details. He said he will announce them later.

Why the shuffle?

Davis’ timing on reshuffling his Cabinet comes after he suddenly prorogued the House of Assembly on August 14. Political observers then highly anticipated that he would reshuffle the Cabinet during this time.

The Opposition, weeks before the prorogation, called for the resignation of Immigration Minister Keith Bell and Works Minister Alfred Gray who were ensnared in controversies in their perspective ministries. Though Davis has not publicly announced his reasoning for the reshuffling, he noted that it is “my halfway point before we move into what I call election mode.”

Typically, a reshuffle happens when a prime minister’s popularity decreases and when Cabinet ministers act out of order and drifts away from the prime minister’s agenda. Though it is not abnormal, it is an opportunity to reshuffle post-election.

It is his responsibility to replace low preforming ministers in high priority portfolios.

What the Opposition says?

Opposition Leader Micheal Pintard called the reshuffle “lackluster” and and indication that Davis knows his government’s popularity is decreasing with the public.

“The names attached to the government plate may be different, but little has changed.”

When the House was prorogued, questions tabled by the Opposition in regard to Keith Bell’s dealings in his ministerial portfolio and government’s procurement act remained unanswered.

“When these ministers finally return to work, there will still be over one hundred unanswered questions on the desk from the Opposition,” Pintard reminded them.

 

Did Davis prorogue the House to cover up scandals?

Prime Minister Philip Davis is facing accusations that his unexpected decision to prorogue the House on Saturday is an attempt to cover up the controversies and inadequacies in his government.

On Saturday the Police Commissioner Clayton Fernander read the proclamation in a surprise ending of the current parliamentary session.

Though the government boasts of ending its legislative session claiming to pass over one hundred bills, Free National Movement Opposition Leader Michael Pintard said 199 questions tabled by the Opposition, remain unanswered.

He believes the Davis administration is attempting to evade accountability.

“We believe that we witness a desperate and a feeble attempt by the Davis-Cooper administration to escape the undeniable truth that they are failing the Bahamian people despite benefiting from the rebounding world economy, pent-up demand, and business returning to the pre-pandemic levels,” he said at a press conference on Sunday.

“We also find it astonishing for the government to embark on a two-month hiatus from parliamentary activities precisely when the nation faces dire challenges on multiple fronts. They reek of negligence and indifference.”

This comes amid rape and assault charges against North Abaco MP Kirk Cornish and Immigration Minister Keith Bell’s scandal in the issuance of citizenships in “unorthodox” moves and with failure to follow the law.

The timing of prorogation is questionable.

Former House clerk Maurice Tynes questioned why Davis did not seek to publicize his decision to prorogue the House.

“We have to demystify this issue of prorogation,” he said.

“It’s not supposed to be so mysterious and private. Governments are supposed to let Parliament know in six weeks, we’re going to end our legislative agenda. It isn’t supposed to be a secret. In Britain, they prorogue, I think, every September. Everyone knows it’s coming. People like to keep things close to their chest when it ought not to be that way.”

Davis prorogues Parliament. What exactly does it mean?

The spotlight was on Parliament on Saturday as Police Commissioner Clayton Fernander read a proclamation from the Governor-General on the advice of Prime Minister Philip Davis, proroguing Parliament until October 4—a move that would kill all tabled questions and unfinished business, and expire all legislation.

The move comes two days after North Abaco MP Kirk Cornish was charged with five counts of rape, assault, and threats of death against a former girlfriend; and the Opposition continues to question Immigration Minister Keith Bell over his issuance of citizenship without due process.

Calls for Cornish and Bell’s resignations have gone unanswered and Davis remains mum over the controversies.

What does it mean to prorogue Parliament?

Proroguing the government means all sessions have ended. The legislature is prorogued by the Governor General, on the advice of the prime minister.

The move kills all bills and no committees are allowed to sit during a prorogation.

Proroguing Parliament can be a standard practice often used by political leaders to cancel existing legislation sitting before the House and set a new government agenda. It can also be used by political leaders to strategically prevent certain businesses from happening.

Has it happened before?

It was used in August 2021 as Former Prime Minister Hubert Minnis called a snap election, amid a spat with House Speaker Halson Moultrie who attempted to hold an “open parliament” in the square, accusing Minnis and his Cabinet of “unconstitutionally” shutting down the Parliament for an “unprecedented period” of time.

Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham reportedly prorogued the House every two years and Former PM Perry Christie prorogued the House in 2006 to reshuffle his Cabinet.

‘Answer the Questions’: The Government Is Dodging Accountability

The government’s attempt to yet again delay the Question period is an attempt to dodge questions.

Wednesday was set aside for the Opposition to ask the government pressing questions as designed for the 2nd Wednesday of every month. But Leader of Government Business O.B Wilchcombe, decided to go through the motions of laying bills on the table instead, although he promised Opposition members on Tuesday that he would go forward with the session.

His attempt to defer questions to February 20 and Speaker Patricia Deveaux’s attempt to adjourn the House until then, is a brazen dodge to be held accountable.

“Let’s stay in the House and do the people’s work,” a fiery Pintard protested.

“Why waste time? Why are you not honoring your word?” he questioned from the other side of the House.

Opposition members have been seeking answers to questions for some time now, and were hoping to put forth questions on Wednesday during the Question period. Among the questions were:

  1. Will the government provide all expenses, receipts, and donations toward the trip to Bermuda that was made by Prime Minister Davis and the delegation to attend the convention of the Progressive Labour Party?
  2. Can the Minister with responsibility for Housing confirm the purpose why Bahamians were evicted from the domes in Abaco?
  3. When will the government disclose the amounts paid out to the Financial Secretary and others to settle cases of matters related to administrative leave and redeployment?

The House of Assembly rang out with chants of “Answer the questions” as Pintard and opposition members banged on the desk and held up a folder containing eight pages of questions prepared for the session.

Deputy Leader Chester Cooper though, proceeded with tabling the government’s bills amidst the commotion and protest as Deveaux led the charge before the House was adjourned to Feb 20th.

The ‘Question and Answer Period’ holds the government accountable and the government must commit to being answerable to the people.

The exercise is to glean information that the executive may not want to reveal to the public.

It should be a key part of our parliamentary democracy.

The government should be moving toward more transparency and accountability. We demand accountability from our elected officials. Knowing what our legislators are doing in our name is a cornerstone of our democracy.

The government needs to stop trying to skirt and hide its actions from the public.

 

Photo credit: The Tribune

Bain and COI Members Strike $1500 Bail 1 Day After Chaos Erupted in Parliament Square

Lincoln Bain, leader of the Coalition of Independents and eight members of his party were charged and released on bail following a clash with police in Parliament Square on Wednesday.

The group was reportedly detained overnight in jail and was charged before the Magistrates court on Thursday morning, facing a litany of charges including unlawful assembly, obstruction, assault, disorderly behavior and resisting arrest.

The group pleaded not guilty then was released on $1,500 bail.

They walked out of the front door of the Magistrates Court where they were greeted by cheering supporters. Bain and the eight accused were seen embracing the happy crowd which  shouted, “Freedom is a must.”

Bain and some members of the group showed up in Rawson Square on Wednesday to give parliamentarians a copy of their immigration proposal and wound up in a fight with officers after Bain was asked to move from the steps and work within the precincts of the square. 

A senior officer physically removed Bain from the steps when chaos erupted and he was eventually carried away in a police vehicle.

They will return to court on December 1.

They were represented by Maria Daxon and Donna Dorsette Major, both members of the COI.

 

 

The House Speaker Is a Bully. She Tramples Decorum in Parliament

Patricia Deveaux is quickly becoming parliament’s most controversial House Speaker, outpacing the past Speaker Halson Moultrie, whom many opined lacked decorum when he served in the position.

Deveaux’s recent tirade has thrust her back into the spotlight during the 2022-2023 Budget Debate when she attacked NEMA’s Captain Stephen Russell from her seat, saying that since he was absent from the Bamboo Town constituency in the aftermath of tornadic activity, he must have been “home, busy watching the game (NBA) last night.”

She then suggested that Russell find a day job. “These people, if they want desk job from 9-5, give them their desk job…You tell Mr Russell for me, if he is listening, you need a 9 to 5 job,” she said.

Opposition Leader Michael Pintard later cautioned that comments against Russell should be carefully considered since he was a private citizen and was not in the House to give a response.

Her anger accompanied by neck twirls, finger-pointing, chest-thumping, and a condescending tone, was on full display when she later addressed St Anne’s MP Adrian White after he suggested she read the House’s rule book.

“Don’t do that to me. Don’t insult the intelligence of this Chair…Let me remind you, that I am an adult, one that is older than you. And I have a 25-year-old daughter…So you don’t tell me about being an adult and having children. I fully know how to be that. I know my job, you learn yours,” before jerking her neck and twirling in her seat.

Deveaux, like Moultrie, lacks decorum, and though it is her duty to take charge of debates and keep order in the House, her actions are overbearing and without demureness, the dignity of the Chair which she represents.

Serving as the 55th Speaker of the House of Assembly, she is the second woman to sit as Speaker, following Italia Johnson who served from 1997 to 2002. Johnson was remembered for her gracious and stately approach to the high office.

Deveaux is a bully, using the Speaker’s chair to display unwanted and aggressive behavior and seeking to denigrate the Opposition while throwing her weight around, taking advantage of the power imbalance in the House.

And, the manner in which Deveaux delivers her commentary is troubling. She is ill-tempered, harsh in her language, and possesses a bad attitude.

In 2020 while serving as the PLP’s National Vice-Chair and as a senior executive secretary in the Ministry of National Security, she made headlines after making an ethnic slur at a PLP rally when she said her party has only “nice-looking people” and not a “bunch of darkies all over the place, heating up the place”. She later apologized.

Deveaux simply does not have the temperament required to be a good Speaker.

House Speaker Berates White for ‘Wrong’ Color Necktie: Don’t Come Back Here in That

In the middle of the 2022-2023 Budget Debate, House Speaker Patricia Deveaux scolded the Member of Parliament for Montague, Adrian White for wearing the “wrong color necktie” in the House of Assembly.

White was making contributions to the debate when Deveaux argued an earlier comment made by White in his speech.

“He’s getting out of hand today. And I ain’t even pick on him cause he ain’t even wearing the right color tie today,” she said to FNM Leader Michael Pintard who stood up to request more time for White.

House Speaker scolds Adrian White Montague MP because of his color choice in neckties.

She then turns to White, “Don’t come back here in that–[It’s either] black, grey [or] blue.”

White responded, “My tie is in accordance with the rules, Madam Speaker.”

Deveaux retorts, “It ain’t. Oh no.”

White then emphasizes that the House rules speak to the wearing of “dark color suits” only.

Deveaux seeks clarification from the House clark and then reiterates, “Dark colors, okay.”

Fort Charlotte MP Alfred Sears then stands to his feet to support Deveaux while reading from the rule book:

“Rule 93 says the dress of the members of the House including the Speaker at sittings shall be dark suits with ties for men and dark business suits or dress for women provided on state or formal occasions.”

He added, “The tie must be consistent,” before sitting down.

Defending himself, White said other ministers were seen wearing yellow ties in the past to which Deveaux said, “Not in here. Not under my watch. Now you cut it out.”

Montague MP Adrian White is seen buttoning his coat suit.

She then impressed upon White to button his jacket.

At the conclusion of his speech, he showed Deveaux an image of a PLP member wearing a yellow necktie.

 

The Sticking Points in the 2022-2023 Budget Communication

Prime Minister Philip Davis presented the Budget in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, which Opposition Leader Michael Pintard believes lacks sufficient details.

Davis promised that the new budget will focus on economic growth, and job creation; assist Bahamians with the cost of living; and will highlight the home and border security.

What Prime Minister Davis says:

  • The new budget provides salary increases for teachers and nurses, including monies owed.
  • The minimum wage will increase incrementally, beginning in July 2022
  • His government will restore funding for elite athletes and programs, and it will provide $1 million for the hosting of the Carifta Games, Bahamas Games and Relay Games.
  • The PLP government will provide a 10% increase in grants for the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture.
  • $500,000 will be allocated for Urban Renewal–education and community programs.
  • Churches, trade unions and burial societies are exempted from property tax.
  • The Davis administration will provide funding for renewable energy and is set to increase its fleet of electric cars.
  • $6 million will be provided for vessels of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
  • $10 million will be provided for catastrophic healthcare.

What Opposition Leader Michael Pintard says

Michael Pintard says the new budget should have been about growth. In a press conference following the Budget reading in the House of Assembly, Pintard with other members of the Opposition asked how will the government sustain and pay for many of the things mentioned in the Budget.

He said Davis should have addressed the challenges the country faces and layout a plan to face the challenges.

Pintard wished that there was an emphasis on price inflation, tax policies, the youth population and their concerns, crime and violence in the country and the Disaster Reconstruction Authority with more focus on Grand Bahama and Abaco following the destructions left behind by Hurricane Dorian.