Friday, 08 June 2012 02:30
By Everton Barnes
Antigua St John's - The credibility of the leader of the opposition Antigua Labour Party, Lester Bird, has suffered a severe setback following the revelation by Attorney General Justin Simon that an ALP parliamentarian approached the government seeking a withdrawal of the Motion of No Confidence in the government of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer.
Simon told radio host Serpent, on his Wednesday night programme, that just prior to the luncheon break ALP parliamentarian Asot Michael approached both him and PM Spencer seeking the government’s support in withdrawing the motion from the order paper.
“Let me say that representation was made to me in parliament, to myself as well as the Hon. Prime Minister, that it was the intention of the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the motion, and we went to the Standing Order. It was the Hon. Asot Michael who informed me that it was the intention of the Leader of the Opposition not to proceed with the motion and to withdraw it,” Simon stated.
According to Simon the government did not wish to join in such a move, and they made that point clear to Michael.
“I looked at the Standing Order to see the manner in which a motion may be withdrawn and recognized that for it to be withdrawn the House would have to vote for such a move. So for the motion to be withdrawn, it must first of all be stated by the person who brought the motion and the Speaker would have to seek leave of the House for there to be a vote on its withdrawal. After having consulted with the Prime Minister, we did not think that this was prudent and that under no circumstances that we on that side of the House were going to vote for any withdrawal,” he declared.
Simon’s disclosure calls into question Bird’s repeated public statements since the failed motion that he was exhausted and that this prevented him from returning to parliament for the debate. It also sheds doubts on his claim that he was unaware of the requirements of the Standing Order which gave him the right to deputize another member of his party to move the motion.
Caribarena.com has sought to get reactions from members of the ALP leadership on the issue. Both Michael and Bird have been unavailable for comments, but the member for St Mary’s North, Molwyn Joseph, confirmed that he was left in the dark when negotiations were taking place between Michael and the government representatives.
(Caribarena.com has learnt that three ALP members Bird, Michael and Gaston Browne caucused together at parliament when it is believed the discussions on withdrawing the motion took place).
“Nobody consulted me on the matter. In fact, on the morning when I arrived in the parliament chambers, I was re-assured by the Leader that the motion was going to be presented. I had no expectation that it would be withdrawn. I can say that whatever discussions took place, were not done with the entire ALP parliamentary group. The Leader must provide some clarity here. I was prepared! I was ready!” he reiterated.
Meanwhile, one of the ALP’s spokespersons, Lionel Max Hurst, said the Attorney General may have overstated the approach made by Michael to the government.
“I believe that Asot Michael approached the Speaker about postponing the motion as Mr. Bird had sat in parliament all day and may have been exhausted.
"My understanding is that the Speaker pointed out Article 30 of the Standing Order, which states that anyone wishing to postpone a motion must first have that motion placed in writing. He was also pointed to Article 31 which said that in order for a motion to be withdrawn, it required a vote of the entire House,” he noted.
Hurst said he spoke directly with Bird on the matter following Simon’s statement and that his view of the situation is completely different. “At no time did he want to withdraw the motion. He was seeking a postponement instead,” he advised.
The former diplomat said he recognizes that the conflicting accounts of what happened in parliament have done harm to the credibility of the ALP Political Leader. “We had assigned each of our members a specific role to deal with in the debate so we were looking forward to a lengthy and robust debate,” Hurst said.
He said the ALP will still seek to have the motion debated, and will also request a specific date and time for this to take place.