Thursday, 16 August 2012 02:31
By press release
Antigua St. John's - Former Prime Minister Lester Bird has refused to budge as political leader of the main opposition Antigua Labour Party despite attempts by his parliamentary colleagues to force him to step down.
Bird issued a strongly worded statement on Wednesday stating he has not been included in any discussion on the matter.
The Leader of the Opposition made it clear he would not be part of any such conspiracy or plot and warned of the effect such a move could have on the party ahead of the next general election, constitutionally due in 2014.
The following is the full text of the statement issued by the Leader of the Opposition:Bird’s Media Statement
I have read a story appearing today, Wednesday, August 15, 2012, on the CARIBARENA Website which purports to convey from “a reliable source” a plot by several elected members of the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ALP) to displace me as the Opposition Leader.
According to the CARIBARENA article, captioned “LESTER TO BE ASKED TO STEP DOWN”, I would be asked to remain Political Leader of the ALP, and some other ALP parliamentarian would become Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
There has been no such discussion with me, and I would not agree to any such arrangement. The Constitution of the ALP at Section 188.8.131.52 commands that “The Political Leader of the Party shall serve as the parliamentary leader…and [be] the person entitled to head any government formed by the Party…”
As the Leader of the ALP, I intend to exercise the duties and functions which the Constitution compels. I shall not conspire to weaken and to destroy my Party at any time, and certainly would refrain from any self-serving act less than 600 days before general elections are constitutionally due. The ALP is larger than any one member.
One of the reasons prompting this un-constitutional plan, which the CARIBARENA article cites, is my absence from the Parliament’s Chambers on Friday, August 20, 2012, during the OECS Assembly. Independence Anniversary celebrations, which many of us have not attended, are another of the events mentioned as the rationale for the unconstitutional act that is supposedly contemplated.
I did not intend to boycott the OECS Assembly, as several journalists have wrongly accused, and I did not boycott the Friday Assembly. My commitment to regional integration, both as Head of Government and as Leader of the Opposition, is without question. On June 18, 1981, I lent my signature to the organic document which created the OECS. My OECS “Thorn Bird” speech, has acted as my guide in regional integration, and still remains relevant today, years following its delivery.
Former Prime Minister Kennedy Simmonds and I, prior to Friday, did indeed express feeling slighted by the program executed last Friday which excluded completely those founding OECS Heads and Plenipotentiaries who are still alive today. I nevertheless published a statement last Friday, carried by CARIBARENA, which celebrated the coming into being of the OECS Assembly and repeating my commitment to regionalism.
There had been some discussion, more than two weeks ago, involving Opposition Leaders, regarding the possibility of having me deliver a statement on behalf of Opposition Leaders, last Friday. I spoke with the OECS Director General, Dr. Len Ishmael, indicating that an inflamed back would cause me to have to sit, should I be a spokesperson.
Nonetheless, because the host Prime Minister was sure to speak, one Opposition Leader insisted that his preference exclude Antigua & Barbuda’s Leader of the Opposition. He reasoned that Antigua & Barbuda would appear too dominant, if both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition spoke at Friday’s Inaugural Assembly. Not wanting to have the Assembly start on a contentious footing, I agreed that Antigua & Barbuda support that other Leader.
The question of sitting for an extended period was not very attractive, on Friday, August 20, 2012, since my back was inflamed and I could not stand for long periods on that day. Some days are better than others, since the operation on my back several months ago.
I chose, therefore, not to make an appearance on Friday, not to cause the Assembly to be off to a contentious start, and not to allow any flawed planning to guide my decision-making. It is surprising to learn that my selflessness could be interpreted as an act deserving of a pernicious and unconstitutional plot.
The ALP is facing a fierce and non-performing United Progressive Party (UPP) Government that has shown a willingness to gerrymander the boundaries of the constituencies in order to engineer an unwarranted victory. For the UPP to name as Head of the Boundaries Commission and Head of the Electoral Commission, men who seem to act on the instructions of Government, contrary to the law and the oath which each took on accepting the posts, is reason enough for the people to elect the ALP to govern.
The UPP has demonstrated that it does not intend to abide by internationally-accepted electioneering standards. It has failed to publish and to bring to Parliament the guidelines that are to be followed by the Boundaries Commission, and it has used the Parliament to weaken and compromise the Electoral Commission. It is the same UPP administration that unlawfully removed Sir Gerald Watt from the Electoral Commission and has stripped the Supervisor of Elections of her duties and responsibilities.
The battles which I continue to lead, in the courts, in the councils of the ALP, in the parliament and elsewhere, have caused countless electors to encourage me to carry forward this fight against this regime that does not respect the law. My leadership is unassailable, and I intend to continue to lead this Party for as long as my health lasts.
Conspiracies and plots that are intended to cause unconstitutional displacement of the duly elected leader are not to be entertained. The ALP will continue to lead the struggle against those who may place their personal ambitions ahead of the interest of the people of Antigua & Barbuda, as exhibited by Mr. Baldwin Spencer and other UPP politicians. The ALP will continue to strengthen its work in favour of the Antigua & Barbuda nation, and will not relent in its defence and rescue of Antigua & Barbuda from a rapacious and non-performing UPP.