Friday, January 11, 2019
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
FREETOWN MP Dionisio D’Aguilar leads his parliamentary colleagues with the most recorded House of Assembly absences since the Free National Movement took office in 2017.
According to House attendance records from 2017 and 2018 obtained by The Tribune, the Tourism Minister has missed 22 sittings. This puts him on pace to possibly exceed the absences of his predecessor, former West End and Bimini MP Obie Wilchcombe.
Mr Wilchcombe, former Tourism Minister under the previous Christie administration, did not attend the House of Assembly for 48 sittings in the 2012-2017 session of Parliament.
Chief clerk David Forbes explained that an absence is recorded once any member does not cross the bar of the lower chamber.
It would mean an MP does not have to remain for an entire sitting to be marked as having attended.
Asked about his record, Mr D’Aguilar said he was surprised to learn from this newspaper that House clerks recorded him as having 22 absences. His attendance could also suggest the MP has been travelling more than the former minister. Government travel and the costs associated with it was a major political point of contention for the FNM while in opposition.
“I had to go over to the House to check because I was surprised to learn I wasn’t there 22 times,” he told The Tribune.
The minister said there were four times he did not attend the House of Assembly for personal reasons and vacation to visit his “foreign relatives” and graduations.
Another four absences were attributed to aviation matters while the remaining, he said were visits to core tourism markets.
So far, there have been 71 sittings this session - 26 in 2017 and 45 in 2018.
Central and South Abaco MP James Albury was not too far behind Mr D’Aguilar with 18 absences.
Mr Albury, who lives in the constituency he represents, is parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister in Abaco.
He attributed his record to not only having to commute to the capital to attend sittings, but said there are times when he gives some events taking place in the constituency precedence over the House of Assembly.
He said the cost to travel to the capital was not a factor, noting there was a system in place for reimbursement of expenses.
Eleven other members of Parliament had absences in the double-digits.
St Anne’s MP Brent Symonette was among them with 16. He said in the past 18 months, apart from taking a vacation, the majority was travel to countries, including Switzerland, on government business. Mr Symonette is Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration.
South Beach MP Jeff Lloyd, who is Minister of Education, missed House meetings 14 times according to the records.
Mr Lloyd said: “Every single time I have been absent has been for government business.”
He did note, however, there was an occasion when he was in hospital after having surgery.
Darren Henfield, North Abaco MP and Foreign Affairs Minister, is recorded as having 13 absences and told this newspaper his portfolio required lots of travel.
Elizabeth MP Dr Duane Sands had the same number. The Health Minister explained his absences were due to a mix of government business and vacation.
Bain and Grants Town MP Travis Robinson also had 13 absences and seemed to suggest this was not significant considering the House met 71 times.
“You mean 13 times out of 71?” Mr Robinson remarked when he was contacted. When he was told most members of Parliament with major absences were being called, the MP further explained in his former role as parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Tourism there was much travel. He said he was at times required to travel on behalf of Mr D’Aguilar on trips where government presence was required.
East Grand Bahama MP Peter Turnquest had 11 absences. He explained these absences by noting as Finance Minister he was required to travel to the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank and European Union meetings.
Long Island MP Adrian Gibson, however, when contacted about his 10 recorded absences said he would speak to the chief clerk about it.
Meanwhile Yamacraw MP Elsworth Johnson was recorded as also having 10 absences. He said he was most certain they were all work related and pointed to even attending the House one time despite having surgery done relatively close to when Parliament was meeting.
Marathon MP Romauld Ferreira with 15; Fort Charlotte MP Mark Humes, 10; and Central Grand Bahama MP Iram Lewis with 11 absences could not be reached for comment up to press time.
Marvin Dames who represents Mount Moriah and is National Security Minister, Southern Shores MP Frankie Campbell and Pinewood MP Reuben Rahming each did not attend the House nine times, while North Eleuthera MP Ricky Mackey was not in the House eight times.
Seabreeze MP Lanisha Rolle, who is the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, was not at seven sittings.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, Killarney MP; Desmond Bannister, Carmichael MP and Works Minister; Marco City MP Michael Pintard, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources; Miriam Reckley-Emmanuel, MICAL MP and West Grand Bahama and Bimini MP Pakesia Parker Edgecombe all had six absences.
Reece Chipman, Centreville MP, has five as well as Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin and Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP Philip “Brave” Davis.
There are six members of Parliament who have not attended the House four times. These included Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells, leader of government business; Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine; St Barnabas MP Shanendon Cartwright; Shonel Ferguson, Fox Hill MP; Picewell Forbes, Mangrove Cay and South Andros MP; and Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper.
Vaughn Miller, who represents Golden Isles, was absent three times.
Central and South Eleuthera MP Hank Johnson and Golden Gates MP Michael Foulkes each did not attend twice.
Garden Hills MP Brensil Rolle; Carlton Bowleg, North Andros and Berry Islands MP; and Tall Pines MP Donald Saunders have the best records with one absence each.