Expanded budget for renovations at House of Assembly

By Khrisna Russell

Deputy Chief Reporter

krussell@tribunemedia.net

RENOVATIONS and technology upgrades are planned for the House of Assembly in the upcoming fiscal year, according to Speaker Halson Moultrie.

He was asked by The Tribune to explain a notable increase in the budget for Parliament outlined in the government’s draft estimates of revenue and expenditure 2019/2020.

The House of Assembly is set to receive more than $6.5m, when it only received a little over $2.2m in the 2018/2019 budget year.

This expanded budget will be used to upgrade the old and outdated Hansard system, renovate the ground floor of the Senate building to accommodate new offices for the speaker and his deputy and the establishment of a library and research division at the House.

New flat screen monitors are also to be installed for real time playback during sessions to ensure accuracy when there are disputes in debates.

However, none of the increased budget will go toward fixing accessibility issues for persons with disabilities that are evident at Parliament.

Speaker Moultrie explained the building is simply too old to do this.

“The first is the Hansard equipment, (it) needs to be upgraded. Right now, we’re still in analogue mode and so we’re moving to digital mode and we’re also intending to put up some flat screens so that the members can actually examine what they have said,” Speaker Moultrie told The Tribune.

“For example if a member gets up and accuses another member of something, we’re trying to put a system of instant replaying - similar to what they have in basketball and football and so on - so that an immediate reference can be made to the statement as opposed to the system that we have now, where the complaint would be filed based on a member denying an allegation and then we have to go and get the Hansard record transcribed and that takes days, so sometimes we don’t get the response in four to five days, or into the following week and by that time the story is dead. It has already been printed in the newspaper and if the member was wrong, the retraction doesn’t do justice.”

He continued: “And then the other area is we’re looking at renovating the ground floor of the Senate building. The speaker’s office which is now in the Bay/Parliament building right across the road will be moved to the ground floor of the Senate building.

“There will be a new office for the deputy speaker. Right now, there’s no office for the deputy speaker, as well as some of the staff will be moved.

“We’re seeking to establish a library and research division so that members, when they are seeking information, we have a staff (member) identified who will be able to send them the information directly during the session.

“And so, some of the increases that you may see will also be for additional staff that will be required. Also, what we’re seeking to do is to get the Parliamentary Channel on 24-hour programming.”

To do this, officials plan to produce new parliamentary shows.

“We’re planning to put some shows together. For example, round table discussions with speakers and former speakers, ladies of Parliament, this week in Parliament and so just a number of different shows we’re trying to put together, some educational aspects, historical information, so that the channel can be more educational as opposed to just seeing the live broadcast of the sessions and then we revert on the channel to death announcements.”

Regarding accessibility issues in the Parliament building, Speaker Moultrie said it really boils down to needing a new facility. As it stands, Parliament only has a wheelchair ramp that allows access to the ground floor of the House of Assembly and Senate. However, there is no wheelchair accessibility to the second floor of the buildings.

“Now I am recommending really, and a number of other members of Parliament are all of the view that we need a new Parliament building because it is almost impossible (and) impractical to convert this structure that we have in any way, particularly, except for the outside ramp to make it more accessible for the disabled.

“It’s almost impossible - practically impossible - to do anything with the staircase coming out and the structure is so old it just wouldn’t be economically feasible to renovate it that way,” he said.

As for the host of other changes, Speaker Moultrie said officials plan to use the summer recess to complete much of the plans.