ST. JOHN’S, Antigua & Barbuda: The Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission’s (ABEC) chairman, deputy chairman and commissioner are on indefinite suspension, leaving only one member left on the body.
ABEC Chairman Sir Gerald Watt, deputy chairman Nathaniel “Paddy” James and fellow commissioner Lionel “Max” Hurst were informed by Governor-General Dame Louise Lake-Tack last week that they would be suspended pending the outcome of a tribunal that has been set up to investigate whether their conduct or performance warrant permanent removal.
David “Jack” Kelsick is the lone person on what should be a five-member commission since the other government-appointed commissioner, Agnes Blaize, has not been replaced since resigning in April.
In addition to find someone to fill Blaize’s shoes, Prime Minister Spencer must also choose a replacement for Sir Gerald – who was his pick for ABEC – while Bird has to submit the names of substitutes for James and Hurst, who were the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) nominees on the Commission.
Lake-Tack’s decision to suspend the trio, which she noted was allowed by the Representation of the People Act 2001, comes as a tribunal prepares to hear evidence on August 16. The three jurists chosen to sit on that body actually convened the tribunal last month, but adjourned until next month because they had no terms of reference for the probe.
The tribunal was set up by Lake-Tack after Spencer asked her to investigate Watt, James and Hurst, citing their failures in the last general election and the partisan behaviour of Hurst in particular.
Under Section 4 (4) of the legislation noted by Lake-Tack, “if the question of removing a member has been referred to a tribunal under this section, the Governor-General, after consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, may suspend that member from the functions of his office and any such suspension may at any time be revoked by the Governor-General after consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, and shall, in any case, cease to have effect if the tribunal recommends to the governor general that the member should not be removed”.
However, the suspensions have been denounced by Watt and the ALP.
Speaking on a local radio program last Sunday, the former ABEC chairman said the action made no sense coming more than a year after the last general election.
Bird has also criticized the suspensions, saying they are part of a conspiracy by the ruling United Progressive Party (UPP) to give it an advantage if elections must be held.
He said the recent amendments to the Representation of the People Act were also done to help the UPP’s cause, noting that if he does not identify replacements for Hurst and James, the amended law gives the Governor-General the power to make the choice.
Bird has urged foreign governments and organizations to condemn such activity.
“I call now on the governments and opposition parties of CARICOM to denounce this vulgar abuse by the UPP regime of the legal system in Antigua and Barbuda in order to try to keep itself in office,” Bird said. “I also call on the international community – including the Organization of American States and the Commonwealth – to recognize and act on this serious violation of the principles of political and civil rights embodied in declarations and charters to which they subscribe.”
Bird did not say whether he would name ALP replacements for the Commission.