ALP leader makes request for tribunal termination

ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Friday July 30, 2010 – Opposition Leader Lester Bird is making another bid for the Governor General to terminate the work of a tribunal that is investigating the conduct of three members of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC), two of whom his Antigua Labour Party appointed.

He has already written to Governor General Dame Louise Lake-Tack expressing concern that the tribunal is unlawful. Now he’s trying another angle, arguing that the government has failed to provide the necessary documents for the tribunal to do its work and recommending that the panel should be disbanded and the suspended commissioners be allowed to resume their duties. 

Although the tribunal – comprising jurists from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago – met last month, it had to adjourn because witness statements were not ready.

In a letter written to Dame Louise, dated July 29th, Bird noted that although he remains opposed to what he described as “a costly and unnecessary exercise”, the government has failed to abide by the tribunal’s directions given since June 24th to provide the witness statements within seven days and serve copies of those statements and the terms of reference of the tribunal to suspended ABEC Chairman Sir Gerald Watt, deputy Nathaniel ‘Paddy’ James and commissioner Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst.

“Five weeks have passed, Excellency, since the Tribunal ordered service of witness statements on the Commissioners,” Bird wrote. “To date, no such witness statements have been filed and no request has been made to grant any extension. The suspended Commissioners were also granted 14 days to respond to those filed witness statements, after having been served. To date, no witness statements have been filed or served and thus no responses can be forthcoming.”

“The Government has evidently abandoned its pursuit of this troubling and costly exercise. The Tribunal set August 16th, 2010 for the commencement of hearings, and its timetable of service was premised on timely delivery of the witness statements, a reasonable time for responses by the commissioners, and the three Judges’ own readiness in order to ensure fairness and justice in this trial. The inability or unwillingness of those government officials to meet their paid responsibilities and the unfairness and the injustice that will befall the commissioners by the continued and inexcusable failure of those officials to file the witness statements, have seriously prejudiced the entire process,” Bird added.

He then proposed that the tribunal be terminated and the commissioners returned to their duties immediately. Bird even suggested a date for the Governor General to make the move – August 1st, Emancipation Day. 

ABEC has been under fire for its handling of the March 12th, 2009 general elections and Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer requested the tribunal to look into the commissioners’ ability to carry out their duties.

Bird’s nominees to the electoral commission, James and Hurst, along with the Prime Minister’s pick, Sir Gerald, were suspended pending the outcome of the tribunal.

The ALP leader has already put forward substitutes for James and Hurst – Reverend Charlesworth Browne and former teacher Anthonyson King – but Spencer has not yet announced who will replace Sir Gerald or Agnes Blaize, another commissioner who resigned earlier this year. However, local media reports indicate that the country’s Ambassador to Cuba, Bruce Goodwin, will be called back home to head ABEC while educator Juno Samuel will take up the spot left empty by Blaize.