Grant: House Avoiding Critical Issues

Former Minister of Works Neko Grant yesterday questioned why the government would bring a resolution to Parliament requesting the establishment of a select committee to decide if parliamentarians need an increase in benefits and allowances.

The committee would also probe the feasibility of constructing a new Parliament complex.

Grant said while the present Parliament facilities and compensation to parliamentarians are lacking, there are more pertinent issues the government should focus on first.

“Mr. Speaker, people are hurting and we should be debating something more substantive,” the Central Grand Bahama MP told the House of Assembly.

“I believe the present murder count is up to 12 and that’s an average of one every three days and so sir, with the many issues that affect us today, I thought we would have been giving focused attention to the subjects I mentioned — the foreclosures, the unemployment and the continuous rise in crime.”

Grant said Parliament should focus on enriching the lives of the people its members were elected to serve and not looking to increase MPs’ benefits, given the government’s finances.

“At this time can the public purse afford an additional allowance for ourselves?” he asked.

“There are new hires that are continuing at exorbitant salaries, loyalist PLPs are being engaged on contracts, lofty contracts, retirees are being brought back at exorbitant salaries having received a handsome package on departure. I am told they continue to collect pensions.

“I’m being told that retirees are not being paid on time, so why, Mr. Speaker, are we giving focused attention on this resolution when we should be dealing with the challenges that face the people? For us to be debating this resolution is just unbelievable, it’s just unthinkable.”

However, MICAL MP V. Alfred Gray said the Free National Movement (FNM) spent more than $100 million upgrading roads, but is hesitant to support the present resolution.

“They begrudge this government because [Prime Minister Perry] Christie’s legacy may be laced with changing the face of Parliament,” Gray said.

He said the resolution was only meant to facilitate a discussion on increasing parliamentarians’ benefits and possibly building a new complex.

“The time is now to at least start the discussion,” he said. “Why should it be wrong for an MP to get assistance to travel to his constituency?”

South Eleuthera MP Damian Gomez said the country’s Parliament buildings paled in comparison to Gomez lamented the fact that there was no space for MPs to privately meet with constituents and he pointed out that the Parliament is not easily accessible for disabled people.

He said he hopes the committee would visit the Family Islands to see the challenges MPs who are elected to those constituencies face.

By Taneka Thompson
Guardian Senior Reporter