By anguillian July 18, 2014 09:36



Under the Anguilla Constitution the Executive Council and the Legislature (House of Assembly) have separate powers and they rarely come in conflict. But the meeting of the House on Friday, July 11, was anything but a fiasco.

The Leader of Government Business, Chief Minister Hon Hubert Hughes, stood to his feet not to move the introduction of the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and the Money Services Business (Amendment) Bill, 2014, but to give the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Evans McNiel Rogers, leeway to state his objections to the draft legislation. Mr Rogers reported that he was bombarded by telephone calls from members of the public expressing concern about the proposed Elections (Amendment) Bill. He was mainly concerned about the provision that if a voter refused to dip his or her finger in the electoral ink, the presiding officer may tear up the ballot handed him or her. He also had concerns about the Money Services Business (Amendment) Bill, (which he did not fully explain) and suggested that both Bills should be withdrawn and taken to the public.

Mr Rogers, having made his presentation, Mr Hughes unreservedly agreed with him, stating that his Cabinet Ministers and the Executive Council had failed to refer the two amendment Bills to the Opposition. In requesting the withdrawal of the draft legislation, Mr Hughes said the Bills should be deferred for “greater consultation” with the public. He spoke particularly about the Elections (Amendment) Bill, charging that voters were likely to have their ballots torn up if they refused to dip their finger in the electoral ink, and consequently be deprived of their right to vote.
The Minister of Home Affairs, Hon Jerome Roberts, was clearly angry about the withdrawal of the Bills, and there appeared to have been a veiled chiding of the Chief Minister by him for agreeing with the Leader of the Opposition. Among other things, Roberts said it was the responsibility of the Opposition to use the opportunity of the election campaign to bring the Elections (Amendment) Bill to the attention of the public. He further said that both Bills had already been gazetted for public information.

The fact is that the requirement for voters to immerse their index finger in the electoral ink is not something new. It was introduced in Anguilla for the 2010 general election when no one, whosoever, had any complaint or fuss about the provision. Every political party, candidate and voter, appeared to have clearly understood the reason for the electoral ink – basically to avoid persons from voting twice or even perhaps multiple times. And voters gladly showed off their blackened fingers to their friends and others. The sole purpose of the Bill is to legalise the use of the ink.

Whatever happens now to the two proposed amendment Bills is left to be seen. What is of some concern is that it appears that the Chief Minister, rather than first boldly putting forward his own views, told the Speaker of the House of Assembly that he wanted to be advised by the Leader of the Opposition as to what he should do. That seems to be ridiculous to say the least. The suspicion is that the Chief Minister used the Opposition Leader, with whom he may have had prior private discussions, to raise the objections to the Bills in the House.

As allegedly conniving as this may appear, it is perhaps understandable given the fact that the Chief Minister was part of the decision-making process with respect to both amendments in the Executive Council. If that is the case, it makes the situation look very foolish that the Chief Minister should wait until he goes to the House of Assembly to register his objections and concerns, when he could have done something about the matter. At the least, he could have involved the Opposition beforehand, as he acknowledged.

On the other hand, Mr Roberts, the Minister of Home Affairs, may have erred when he charged that it was the responsibility of the Opposition to take the matter to its political campaign. Rather, it is the Executive Council, and the Government, to ensure that the public is fully conversant with the laws of the island and the reasons for their creation and enactment.

At the same time, Mr Roberts should be commended for his differing views to those of the Chief Minister, and it is hoped that he would likewise stand up for what he believes is right when there is a need to do so. In the meantime, although there are separate powers between the Executive Council, and the Legislature, matters should be handled in such a manner that the conflict and fiasco that crept into last Friday’s House of Assembly are avoided in the future.

By anguillian July 18, 2014 09:36


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