Monday, 25 February 2013 02:30
By Delana Isles
Antigua St. John's - Public opinion seems to weigh in favour of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer’s decision to sack Senators Colin Derrick and Anthony Stuart following their vote against the controversial Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) Bill on February 13.
During the call-in segment of the Snake Pit on Observer Radio, one caller opined, “You can’t disrespect the boss when the boss done give you the ultimatum.”
This sentiment was repeated by many other callers, and overwhelming opinion suggested that the senators had other recourse to air their issues with the Bill, rather than killing it in the Senate, effectively thwarting its passage during this sitting of the House.
However, Senator Stuart, in a pre-recorded interview with Observer Radio, noted that he had raised his concerns in another forum with leader of government business in the Senate, Dr Errol Cort.
“With this Bill here, the CIP Bill, there was no intervention, and the Bill went for a vote and you know that in my deliberations, I had certain concerns which I raised at our caucus... and I raised them with my leader, the Honourable Dr Cort, and a representative Mr Radford Hill that was also there,” Stuart said.
He added, “I raised the concerns, the full concerns that I have with the Bill; those were raised. But (what) I am saying is the custom is it never went to a vote or maybe that would have been defeated too, with senators on our side voting against it, but it was returned.”
Stuart said the protocol, as he knows it, is to have caucuses for the senators where they would report concerns to their leader.
“I have never had to report a concern on a Bill directly to the Prime Minister in my nine years there,” he said. “Only if we, as a joint parliamentary team in the upper house and the lower house, meet together on a Bill; but we met separately.”
He noted that the four concerns he raised entailed the payment of the monies into a special fund, whereby he would - as should the rest of the country - want it to be paid into the consolidated fund instead.
“That is a major, major concern of mine, and I hope when the Bill comes back, even if I am not in the Senate, that they correct that, because all monies should go into the consolidated fund. Thirty-two million dollars should not go into a special fund that is managed by the finance minister and some other person,” Stuart said. “It should be managed by the accountant general, and oversight by the auditor general.”
His other concerns relate to the second avenue/option for citizenship, whereby applicants can obtain land. His suggestion was that the government should ensure it has a pact where only a certain amount of acreage will be given. His other issue was with the the agent, as he contended it should not be left to the whims and fancies of just one person from the CIP unit to decide who this person will be.
“I was dealing specifically with the failure of the Bill in these specific areas, and of course the last one was where the Bill, when it passes us there, that would be the last time the Senate would see it. In a true democracy, that should not be,” Stuart said.
He said he stands by his decision because he believes his vote is in the interest of the country.
“I do hope that my government... because I am still part of the United Progressive Party, I don’t think the prime minister has thrown me out, because it can’t be done like that. He has the power to move me from the Senate. But I do hope that the government would take the concerns of senators and address them... if they are moving forward with the programme to make sure that that Bill is so airtight in those areas and that the people of Antigua and Barbuda can benefit,” Stuart said.
The prime minister, in his address to the nation on Friday, pointed said the actions of the four government senators constituted a fundamental break with the government’s policy.
“What is worse is that their actions came as a bolt from the sky. At no time was I, as head of government and the mover of the Bill in my capacity as prime minister, informed or advised (whether formally or informally) of their deep and fundamental disagreement that would have led them to kill the bill, and by so doing, pull the rug from under the feet of the government,” the prime minister said.
He further advised that as the pilot of the Bill in the Lower House, he was charged with presenting the views of the country’s Cabinet, and by extension speaking to the implementation of a declared policy decision of the government, and that the actions of the four senators were in effect a vote against the government’s own policy directive.
“In our Westminster system of government, when government officials can no longer support the policies of government, especially at the parliamentary level, and demonstrate that by voting against a Bill, then the expected and right thing to do is to resign,” the PM said.
The other two senators - David Massiah and Malaka Parker - according to PM Spencer, sought an audience to explain and apologise for their actions, and offered their resignations from the Senate.
“With respect to the other two senators, Colin Derrick and Anthony Stuart, from whom nothing has been heard since that eventful Wednesday, 13 February, 2013, decency, fairness and correctness demand that I advise the governor general to revoke the instruments of appointment of Colin Derrick and Anthony Stuart and to declare their seats vacant,” the PM said.
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