Spencer fired the two senators because of their vote against the government’s Bill to introduce a Citizenship by Investment Programme. Mr. Spencer has also disclosed that two other senators have since apologized to him for the embarrassment caused to the Administration, and in so doing tendered their resignations.
Upon his return from Haiti where he attended a CARICOM meeting earlier in the week, the Prime Minister took to the airwaves to deliver a nation-wide address, to outline his course of action to get past the recent setback.
Since the vote against the Bill by the four government senators, there were many calls for them to be either fired or to resign, while other observers of developments in Antigua were suggesting that no harm should be brought to the parliamentarians for voting according their conscience. Prime Minister Spencer, however, had other ideas and as he stated in his address, it is not an action that neither he, nor his government could have allowed, because of the impact on his government’s developmental and revenue generation agenda.
The full text of Prime Minister Spencer’s address is shared below, without further comment, for public information.
Fellow Citizens and Residents of Antigua and Barbuda
Over the past several months, the United Progressive Party Administration has been committed to adopting a Citizenship by Investment Programme as a means of strengthening and maintaining the gains achieved through our homegrown National Economic and Social Transformation Programme.
Having carried out some eighteen months of investigation and examination which included a continuing review of the pros and cons, the merits and possible demerits of introducing such a programme, and consultations both locally and with experts and governments involved with similar progammes, a Citizenship by Investment Programme Bill was tabled in Parliament and passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month.
A first Bill had been introduced in and passed by the House of Representatives in November 2012. The second Bill represented a marked improvement on the earlier Bill with significant changes to ensure the security and integrity of the Programme along with full disclosure to Parliament upon implementation and continuing.
It is your government’s belief that the operationalization of the Citizenship by Investment Programme will result in significant economic gains for Antigua and Barbuda and its people.
In fact, government’s 2013 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure (The Budget) included a projected income of 32 million dollars from the Citizenship by Investment Programme and was passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
In my New Year Message to the Nation, I dedicated a considerable amount of time in explaining that the Citizenship by Investment Programme will assist in driving economic growth, create meaningful jobs, generate much needed revenue to assist in maintaining and enhancing our social programme, improve our infrastructure, educate and train the population, provide decent and improved healthcare and promote healthy lifestyles through sports, recreation and the pursuit and advancement of our cultural heritage.
I emphasized that the three main pillars of the investment programme would be real property, business, non-profit projects like sports, education, culture, and the environment, and public-private partnerships sponsored by the government.
I am fully conscious of some of the concerns that have been expressed by members of the public, and having taken these onboard, I am equally and even more convinced now that all the necessary mechanisms and safeguards have been put in place to allay these fears and concerns.
It is not a perfect world, but we have structured the Investment Unit, placed qualifications for Agents and Service Providers, declared who would be ineligible as applicants, provided for Cabinet approval following a due diligence process, provided for vetting and performance criteria by the Antigua and Barbuda Investment Authority, allowed for deprivation of citizenship in certain circumstances, allowed for a review process by a Ministerial panel, and mandated that a detailed report be laid before Parliament every six months.
In other words, all the requisite precautions and due diligence exercises will be undertaken to protect the independence, integrity and viability of the programme, and the good name of Antigua and Barbuda. We have ensured that the risks to this country’s good name on the international platform are minimal.
Over a week ago, the Citizenship by Investment Bill which was passed by the House of Representatives was up for debate in the Senate. Prior to that, the leader of government business in the Senate, Dr. the Hon. Errol Cort held a caucus meeting among the government Senators to discuss the Bill along with the amendments proposed by the House.
This was an opportunity given for the government senators to informally discuss the Bill, address their concerns, and obtain greater clarity in respect of its provisions. Not all of the Senators attended.
On Wednesday, February 13, 2013 the Senate failed to pass the Bill.
Significantly, this failure was due to four Government senators siding with the Opposition and voted against the Bill in its entirety. This action by these four government senators constitutes a fundamental break with 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.
As the one who piloted the Bill in the Lower House, I was charged with presenting the views of the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda and by extension speaking to the implementation of a declared policy decision of the Government. The four Senators who voted with the opposition, in effect voted against their 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 actions of the senators in question are the clearest indication and which could only be capable of one interpretation, and that is they defeated a government Bill in the Senate.
Our Constitution provides for every citizen to enjoy freedom of thought and freedom of expression. I must make it very clear – Government Senators have the same right; however with those rights comes an equal right to act responsibly. Where those rights are exercised in clear conflict with the interest of the people of this nation whom the government serves, the time is also right to resign.
Our Constitution also provides for the appointment of Government Senators on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The right to recommend the recall of such Senators also rests with your Humble Servant.
In fairness to two of the Senators involved, David Massiah and Malaka Parker, they did seek and received an audience and sought to explain their actions, apologized for what their said actions would have done to the government’s policy on this issue and expressed their regrets for the embarrassment caused to both myself and the government and offered their resignation from the Senate.
Let me publicly commend these two individuals for their laudable gesture under the circumstances.
With respect to the other two Senators, Colin Derrick and Anthony Stuart, from whom nothing has been heard since that eventful Wednesday 13th 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.
I will in short order, advise the Governor-General of the names of persons to be appointed to the Senate pursuant to section 28(2) of the Constitution.
This decision was not taken lightly. These are individuals I have known and worked closely with over the years. I have appreciated their contributions and support.
Much agony and pain accompany this decision, but in the final analysis, personal sentiments cannot override the compelling and irresistible need to act decisively in this instant case.
Thank you very much for listening and may God continue to bless this nation.