CHIEF MINISTER DECLINES TO PRESENT FINANCIAL BILL AG: Amendment Political, Not Legal
The Anguilla House of Assembly met briefly on Thursday, March 15, and passed the Bills of Exchange (Amendment)Bill 2012 giving the legislation its first, second and third readings.
It is understood that the passage of the Bill, at one sitting of the House, was to meet urgent requirements of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank which governs the operation of commercial banking inAnguillaand the other member territories.
The Bill was expected to be presented by Chief Minister and Minister of Finance, Hubert Hughes, but he declined to do so. The Speaker, Mrs. Barbara Webster-Bourne, explained that the Chief Minister had previously made it clear that the only Bill he would present would be the Appropriation Bill (dealing with budgeting) and that any other Bills would be presented by someone else knowledgeable in law.
Mr. Hughes said that he had informed the new House of Assembly, from its inception, when his Government came to office, that “the rules had changed”. Opposition Leader, Evans Mc Niel Rogers, had no problem with the Bill being given its three readings at one time, but he questioned the Chief Minister’s refusal to present it to the House in his capacity as Minister of Finance. “This is a new development in my experience, Madam Speaker,” Mr. Rogers commented, adding that he would research the matter later in relation to other regional parliamentary rules and regulations.
After briefly hesitating, Attorney General, James Wood, moved the reading of the Bill. “It amends the existing Bills of Exchange Act which is a piece of legislation which extends across the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank region, so it is a standardised piece of legislation which applies in all the member states and territories,” he explained. “It is, as I understand, in place in perhaps all but one of those member states at the moment; and of course that is the need for the expeditious approach being adopted this afternoon.”
Mr. Wood said the majority of the amendments were “almost word for word, exactly the same as those in the other territories”. He stated that the Bill sought “to amend the Bills of Exchange Principal Act in order to allow cheques to be presented at an address in Anguilla specified by the paying bank in the Official Gazette; to enable cheques to be presented for payment by notification of their essential features by electronic means, or otherwise, rather than by physical presentation; to render inapplicable section 52(4) of the Principal Act (which concerns the duties of holders of bills), to cheques presented as provided by section 45B; and to allow a certified copy of an unendorsed cheque to be accepted as evidence of receipt of payment.”
The Attorney General said all of the provisions had been clearly considered by the Central Bank and the legal departments of the member territories with a view of expediting banking processes within the region.
The Chief Minister, with the help of the Attorney General, said the only suggested change to the legislation was “to insert the words ‘subject to negative resolution of the House of Assembly’ after the words ‘the Minister may make regulations’ and before ‘for giving effect to the provisions of this Act.’”
The Attorney General said that as a matter of law there was no difficulty in making such amendment. “However,” he went on, “the point should be made that this change does not certainly, in my view, arise, and make constitutional difficulty with the existing wording of the Bill and I must make that absolutely clear. It has not been my advice that the current drafting of the Bill, is in any way defective or contrary to any of the constitutional provisions. In effect, I understand that the change, agreed by the ECCB, is a matter of policy. It is a political decision and not a legal one. I must stress that because the suggestion for that amendment has not arisen from the Attorney General’s Chambers.”
It is understood that the suggestion for the amendment was made to the Attorney General’s Chambers by Mrs. Lolita Davis Richardson.
Recently the Chief Minister recommended in the House of Assembly that she should be assigned to the Attorney General’s Chambers to review draft Bills before they were presented in the House where “parliamentarians are not lawyers.”