Wednesday, 27 February 2013 02:30
By Delana Isles
Antigua St. John's - Attorney General Justin Simon has sought to clear up a few misconceptions concerning the Citizenship by Investment Programme Bill, its rejection by certain senators, and the prime minister’s right to dismiss two of the four senators at the centre of the controversy.
Speaking on Observer Radio’s morning show yesterday, Simon first clarified that the Bill was indeed rejected in its entirety at the committee stage.
“Normally what you would have is that there would be amendments made or suggested by the Senate, and on that basis the bill would have been returned to the house with a letter of transmission or message of transmission which would have indicated the various amendments or recommendations which would have been made by the senate body for consideration by the house in its subsequent deliberations,” he said.
He added that what he has proposed, and believes will happen, is for the parliamentary caucus of the government members of Parliament and senators to have a thorough discussion of the provisions to get an idea of the specific concerns in respect of the provisions.
Following this, he said, the Bill should be going back to the House for debate.
“Now let me clear something up, because I know that there is, there has been talk that the bill cannot return in this session, and it has to wait on another session. That is not so,” he said.
Simon explained, “The constitution does make provisions for the House to ignore or override bills which have been rejected by the Senate.”
It specifically indicates that with money bills, the senate powers are very limited in respect of that, and in respect of other bills, what is provided in the constitution is that if a bill is rejected twice by the senate, then the House in the next session, once it passes the Bill, can then override the negative vote of the senate, and send the bill over to the governor general for signing into law, he clarified.
That, he added, has to happen in two successive sessions, and there must be a three-month interval between sittings.
“This is not the case as I've explained, because the senate has only rejected it on one occasion, so that problem or issue does not arise. I do not see it as the case,” Simon said.
He said the senators, apart from the independent ones, would certainly have to represent the views of the appointee.
“Now we would expect a certain amount of independent debate by the senators, and I think they have enjoyed that type of debate which people have come to listen and recognize,” Simon said, “but at the end of the day, the government senators would be expected to follow the government policy, just as the opposition senators would be following the general policy as laid down by their opposition leader or their party.”
However, he said this does not prevent them from expressing their concerns, but there is a provision which allows the senate body to return the bill with its recommendations and suggestions. Concerns
Simon noted that the senators had the chance to discuss their concerns.
One such occasion, according to the AG, was the caucus of the government senators held on the Monday just before the senate debate began. Others, he noted, included when the bill had been before members of the public and the senate, from as far back as October 2012.
“One would have expected that any expressions of concern would have simply been made to the prime minister in the case of the government senators, and I believe that is where the issue has arisen,” he said.
According to him, it is not an issue of the senators expressing their independence, but the manner in which it was done, and the resulting rejection which occurred without the leader of government business recognising or realising that this was the intention of the government senators, and without any word to the prime minister.
“Let me say that there are some of us in the lower house, the House of Representatives, who had our concerns also, and we did not behave in this manner,” he said. “We actually indicated, and when the bill came through for the second time before the House, a number of amendments which I consider to be important amendments had actually been made before it was reintroduced.”
He said because of this, they had some consensus going forward.
As it relates to the National Development Fund being a special fund and one separate from the Consolidated Fund, the AG offered clarification of this as well.
“The special funds are allowed not only by the constitution, but also by the Finance Administration Act,” he said. “They are in a sense part of the Consolidated Fund, but they are monies which are devoted for specific purposes and therefore not mixed with the Consolidated Fund where salaries are being paid, and from which matters like Public Works and other general government expenditures are utilized.”
The reason for this, he said, is very simple: “It’s to allow for those specific purposes to be addressed quite separately from the general Consolidated Fund."