Antigua hopes to regain investor confidence

ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Thursday October 28, 2010 – Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer says yesterday’s Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal ruling that confirmed his and two colleagues’ election victories should provide the impetus for investors and the private sector to regain confidence in the economy.

His hope that business would be revived was expressed in an address to the nation following the ruling that put an end to the political limbo the country has been in since challenges were mounted by the opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP) to the United Progressive Party (UPP) wins in three constituencies in the March 12th, 2009 general elections. 

In March 31st this year, High Court Judge Louise Blenman ruled that the victory by Prime Minister Spencer, Dr Jacqui Quinn-Leandro and John Maginley should be declared null and void but the appeal saw that overturned.

“The court challenge of the election results by the ALP served to place the country in a prolonged state of uncertainty and contributed to a significant measure of political and economic instability for more than one year. The prevailing situation no doubt affected investment decisions by some private sector persons and groups, even as others moved ahead with their business start-up and expansion plans,” Prime Minister Spencer said yesterday.

“We thank those investors who displayed confidence in our nation despite the political situation that prevailed. The way is now clear for renewed investor and private sector confidence in the economy.”

The Court of Appeal’s decision in this electoral matter is final, and Spencer said that with legal recourse in the matter now exhausted, the country could finally return to a state of calm and certainty. That atmosphere, he said, would be conducive to charting “a positive course towards greater levels of national development and economic progress”.

PM: This should never happen again

However, Spencer said his government would take steps to ensure that deficiencies in the electoral process, which gave rise to the legal challenge in the first place, are corrected.

The problems included the breakdown of equipment on Election Day and the late opening of polls, the blame for which Justice Blenman had put squarely on the shoulders of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission.

The Prime Minister said that should never be allowed to happen again.

“In this regard the government has already taken some bold steps to address policy and operational weaknesses at the Electoral Commission. We are committed to seeing these reforms and improvements through to the end. This is being done in the interest of building a modern, efficient electoral system, the integrity of which is beyond question,” he said.        

The ALP was admittedly in shock at the ruling of the Court of Appeal, having predicted since the appeal hearing ended in July that Chief Justice Hugh Rawlins and Justices of Appeal Janice George Creque and Ola-Mae Edwards, who presided over the matter, would uphold Justice Blenman’s decision.

ALP leader losing faith

Shortly after the ruling, a disappointed party Chairman Gaston Browne said the ALP had lost the battle but not the war.

“I do not see it as a total loss, but as a situation where we lost a small battle and it may defer the time in which we would have taken over the government of this country but I have no doubt that ultimately that victory is assured,” he said. 

But for ALP leader Lester Bird, the loss had a much wider impact. He told a local radio station that the ruling shook his faith in the regional judicial system and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

He said he had “serious reservations about the justice system in Antigua and the Caribbean, and it therefore brings into consideration the question as to whether the Labour Party would agree in any referendum to have the CCJ as the last court of appeal”.

The ALP had been hoping the Court of Appeal would confirm Justice Blenman’s ruling in order to force the country into general or by-elections and give the party another shot at forming the government.

Had Spencer, Dr Quinn-Leandro and Maginley lost their seats, it would have meant that the ALP would have had seven seats, the UPP six and the UPP-aligned Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) one, in the 17-seat House of Representatives.

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