Despite being presented with questions for written responses more than three weeks ago, Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence was granted a request to defer responding to them, after she said that her staff has been unable to do the requisite research to answer the questions due to being occupied with other duties.
The written responses to questions surrounding the Ministry of Public Health’s child morbidity and mortality committee, the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit at the Georgetown Public Hospital and the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Units around the country, which were asked by People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament (MP) Dr. Vindhya Persaud, were due for responses at Wednesday’s sitting of the National Assembly.
However, when the time came for Lawrence to table answers, she rose and requested that all questions standing in her name be deferred for a period as is allotted under Standing Order 22.
Speaker of the House Barton Scotland queried whether Lawrence meant only the oral questions or all questions and she clarified that she meant the latter.
The opposition’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira subsequently rose to the floor and requested an explanation from Lawrence.
“Mr. Speaker, the staff is presently working on their budgets and the questions asked are very, very lengthy, some of which they have to do some research to get documents to support the answers and so within the timeframe, sir, the answers could not be provided with the necessary documentation. So, that is why we are asking for an extension under Standing Order number 22,” Lawrence explained.
Teixeira then emphasised that the questions were submitted since July 13th and that the Minister has had them in her possession for more than three weeks. She said the opposition would not be supporting Lawrence’s request for a deferral.
The request was then put to a vote, where 32 members of the government side of the House voted in favour of Lawrence’s request, while 29 members of the opposition voted against.
Despite the outcome of the vote, Teixeira questioned whether the questions would be answered within the stipulated timeframe of 12 days since the National Assembly would be going to a recess until October.
However, Scotland explained that the Standing Order must be read in conjunction with another that “details what happens when the House is in recess.”
“Some of the standing orders do not allow for separate reading; they must be read with others that may impact with them. I repeat that Standing Order 9 and 22 must be read together. I understand what the Honourable Member is saying but in the absence of exceptional occurrence I would expect that at our next sitting, I will receive a report that the questions have been answered,” he explained.
Scotland also stressed that despite the House being in recess, the Parliament Office will still be opened to receive documents, which will then be directed to the relevant persons.
“This is as much as the Chair is prepared to say at this time,” he added.