( Originally published in The Nassau Guardian)
16 March 2021
One of the principles of the Westminster system is that civil servants should remain anonymous. This anonymity is necessary to protect public officers from public ridicule and abuse when acting on behalf of the government. Cabinet ministers are supposed to defend and shield public officers by accepting responsibility for their action or inaction.
That is why I was shocked when I read the press statement issued on Friday by the attorney general, and government leader in the Senate, the Hon. Carl Bethel. In the press statement Senator Bethel, hopefully unintentionally, blames the Senate clerk, David Forbes, for not sending out the notice on time in order for the Senate to have the requisite quorum for the Senate to meet and transact business. This is most disingenuous and unfair to Mr. Forbes. The contents of the (press statement of the) Senate’s leader are evidence enough that the blame for the confusion was not the fault of the Senate’s clerk.
Senator Bethel admits that the Senate had been adjourned to Monday March 15, but that in the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday March 9, it was agreed that the meeting should be moved forward to Friday, March 12.
He also advised Senator the Hon. Kwasi Thompson who is minister of state for finance and who sits in Cabinet to stand in for him at Friday’s Senate meeting. Now if the good Senator Thompson was present in the Cabinet meeting when the decision was made to change the date of the Senate meeting, and he was asked by the Senate’s leader to stand in for him, why didn’t Senator Thompson attend the Senate meeting on Friday? Who is to blame for that?
The procedure for advising senators of Senate meetings is as follows: The Senate leader, Carl Bethel, is responsible for advising the president of the Senate, Dr. Mildred Hall-Watson, of the date and time of the next Senate meeting.
The Senate president will then direct the clerk to send out the necessary notice to senators informing them of the date and time of the Senate meeting. From what I heard, the clerk did not receive the instructions from the president of the Senate until after 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 11 and the requisite notice was sent out promptly after that. Who is to blame for that?
Senator Bethel attempted to shift the blame to the clerk in the press statement by suggesting that he sent a note since on Tuesday requesting that the date of the Senate meeting be brought forward to Friday, March 12, instead of Monday March 15. Who did he send the note to? Was it the Senate president or was it sent to Mr. Forbes?
Senator Bethel suggests that he sent it to the clerk and blames the clerk for not sending the notice out until 6:44 p.m. on Thursday. Mr. Forbes denies that he ever received a note from Senator Bethel on Tuesday.
Even though the notice was not sent out until Thursday evening there was sufficient time for the Senate to have had a quorum on Friday. All The government leader or the president had to do was direct the staff to contact the senators by telephone. I do not know if this was done. As a rule, convention, or just good politics the government should never depend on the opposition to make up a quorum.
Mr. Forbes is the clerk of both the Senate and the House of Assembly. As such, he is the clerk of the Parliament and the institution of Parliament ought to protect its clerk from political attacks.
That is why I was happy to hear the speaker as head of the legislative branch speak out publicly in the House on Monday in support of the clerk of Parliament.
All of the politicians involved including Senator Bethel, Senator Hall-Watson and Senator Kwasi Thompson should speak out clearly and apologize for the public perception that was created in the attorney general’s press statement.
They should do so in order that Mr. Forbes and his reputation do not remain under that proverbial bus where they were so callously and insensitively thrown.
— Maurice Tynes