However, folks in the Caribbean are beginning to wonder if a new trend is being developed, given the recent cases, firstly here in St. Kitts and Nevis, and now in Antigua & Barbuda, where members of parliament have opted to vote against a Bill that was brought by their own ruling party.
Patterned somewhat off of the Citizenship by Investment legislation of St. Kitts and Nevis, the ruling United Progressive Party, UPP, in Antigua & Barbuda, last Wednesday, 13th February, 2013, was seeking to pass a similar Bill in their parliament. However, when the proposed legislation reached the Senate, four government senators voted against the Bill; thereby preventing its passage.
In St. Kitts, just a few weeks earlier, (on 29th January), two of the most senior ministers of government and parliamentarians, also voted against a piece of legislation that was tabled by their own government, led by Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas. This was the very controversial Increase in Senators Bill, which, despite the votes against by the two government members at the time, still managed passage, albeit by the smallest of margins 8-7.
In this case, the dissenting MPs were Mr. Sam Condor, at the time, the Deputy Prime Minister, and still the Deputy Leader of the incumbent Labour Party. The other was the former Senior Minister and still Chairman of the Labour Party, Dr. Timothy Harris. In the end, Condor eventually resigned from the Cabinet on Wednesday 30th January, 2013, and Harris days before, on Friday 25th January, was fired by the Prime Minister as a Cabinet member.
Now in Antigua, there are calls for that country’s Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin Spencer, to dismiss the four senators for their votes against the Citizenship by Investment Act.
A recent report in the Antigua media indicated that Antiguans are eagerly waiting for, as promised, the prime minister’s response “to the senators who stood up against his government’s Citizenship by Investment (CIP) Act.”
Like Condor and Harris in St. Kitts and Nevis, “the senators have been commended for voting with their conscience,” according to the Observer Media Group. While some political commentators are clamouring for the senators to be stripped of their positions, one former government minister in St. Kitts and Nevis, Mr. Dwyer Astaphan, is not in favour of any such move against the law-makers.
While being interviewed on Antigua Observer Radio’s current affairs program, Sunday, (17th February, 2013), Mr. Astaphan told his interviewer, “Spencer ought to be commended for putting persons in there who are willing and able to stand and say what they feel and to speak from a position of conscience.”
This was also Astaphan’s position when he defended his former Cabinet colleagues, Condor and Harris, when they spoke out in parliament in Basseterre against two important Bills. The first was a Bill to authorize the transfer or swap of 1,200 acres of government lands to the National Bank in the country, as part of a land for debt swap, for some 900 million dollars owed to the bank by the government. The other had to do with the recent Increase in Senators Bill; that is designed to increase the number of unelected senators, from 3, to 6.
It has been a matter of such importance and disagreement that Condor has joined the Leader of the main opposition party, Mr. Shawn Richards, of the People’s Action Movement, PAM, in a court case that is now being heard by the High Court in Basseterre, starting today Monday 18th February.
In further comment on the Antiguan issue, the Observer quotes Astaphan as saying that “Although nobody elected them (the senators), they still represent something. They were placed in the Senate because they were deemed to be capable to articulate positions and to represent the legislature in the highest possible way.”
Though Prime Minister Spencer has categorized the matter as urgent, he is not expected to provide his response until later this week when he returns from Haiti, where he is attending a CARICOM summit that is also being attended by Prime Minister Douglas.
Also speaking on the radio program was the well- known Barbadian political pollster, Peter Wickham, who is of a different view to that of Astaphan, suggesting instead that termination of the senators ought to be an option for Prime Minister Spencer.
“I don’t know that the dismissal of a senator requires the level of thought that one would put in to the dismissal of a member of Cabinet who has been giving trouble,” Wickham was quoted as saying by the Observer.
Astaphan, a former Minister of Tourism and National Security in St. Kitts and Nevis, is not in support of Wickham’s position, telling listeners to the radio program that if the senators are fired, it could lead to a fallout or other repercussions in the UPP.
One key area of concern cited by at least one senator is related to section 1, subsection 2 of the Act, which gives the Prime Minister the powers to preside over the granting of citizenship under the program.
The government is hoping to rake in some $32 million in revenue in 2013, from the Citizen by Investment Program.