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Legislators should have full disclosure on all bills

Gerard Farara

Queen’s Counsel and former Acting High Court Judge, Gerard Farara wants a policy to be implemented that makes it mandatory for legislators to be fully furnished with documents relating to all bills introduced in the House of Assembly.

Farara made the appeal on Tuesday while referring to the recently passed Recovery and Development Agency bill.

A considerable number of legislators from both sides of the political divide said critical information on the bill was initially withheld; a claim Premier Dr D Orlando Smith denies.

Farara believes the bill was too important for legislators to have been kept in the proverbial dark.

“There should have been early on, full and complete disclosure to every single member of the House of Assembly – including the Opposition – of every document of importance that pertains and impact upon that issue and this particular bill,” Farara said during the Honestly Speaking radio programme on Tuesday.

“The House rules should provide for it in the future,” the Queen’s Counsel added.

Don’t coax members

In the meantime, Farara underscored that the Premier should allow elected members to vote without being coaxed.

Premier Smith was openly seen and heard soliciting votes from legislators for the bill.

“Members should never be cajoled, corralled in some sort of an almost demeaning way to say that ‘you must do this’ and ‘you must do that’; particularly with an issue of this importance,” Farara said.

“Members must not only vote their conscience but vote based on their information,” he reasoned.

Include Opposition

Farara added that the parliamentary Opposition should not be left out at this critical juncture of the territory’s recovery.

“This is the golden opportunity to bring the Opposition together from the very inception right after the devastation hit us. Bring them on board where they can make a contribution in a meaningful way that we all are together in digging ourselves from the hole that Irma and Maria put us in.”

Happy members spoke out

The attorney then praised legislators speaking out and openly objecting to the bill.

Government backbenchers were not shy about voicing their grievances in relation to the Premier’s so-called secretive conduct, and about the conditions of the bill.

“In many respects, I was gratified and encouraged to see the extent to which the members of the House were prepared to speak on issues of importance in that debate.”

Farara said elected representatives have the right to ‘speak their mind’ on any issues presented in parliament.

He added: “It is not unusual in a democracy to have some elements of the government side not voting with the government.”

The bill had to be approved so the BVI can benefit from the United Kingdom’s offer of a £300 million loan guarantee to help fund hurricane recovery.

Following spirited debates in parliament, the bill passed on March 27 with a majority 10-2 vote.

Of the 13 legislators in the House of Assembly, only Opposition member Julian Fraser and government backbencher Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull voted against the bill.

Delores Christopher was absent for the vote because of illness. However, Christopher said she would have also voted against the bill.

Copyright 2018 BVI News, Media Expressions Limited. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.

13 Comments

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  1. Sam the man says:

    Get real they just want a one page summary – they wouldn’t read it all, it’s hard enough getting them to the HOA on time …in fact according to Delores it’s laborious sitting in the HOA which is why she cried off “sick” at a crucial vote – with that sort of ap—c and l–y attitude this would be unnecessary – at least the Premier appears to have really stepped up a bit lately which is great to see! Shame about the whinging younger members – they have a lot to learn….

  2. Albion says:

    I have great respect Gerry Farara, but some of these comments confuse me.

    The executive branch of Government will always hold documents which are confidential to the executive and which should not be disclosed. Who decides what is privileged to Cabinet and what must be disclosed to the full House? He cannot be suggesting that the Opposition should be entitled to see all the confidential workings of Government.

    The suggestion that no legislator should be “cajoled” assumes that they are like children with no independence of mind. They are elected legislators, and should be strong enough to make up their mind without protection. We operate on the Westminster Parliamentary system – in Westminster they have political officers called “Whips” whose sole job is to rally party support for bills.

    • @Albion says:

      Are you saying that a matter of such public importance as the RDA should have documentation which are cloaked with privilege even for the members of the House? Huh? Really? Why should any member have to make a public outcry for disclosure as Andrew did? Each member of the House was being asked to vote on a matter of extreme public importance and your are telling me they are not entitled to be FULLY INFORMED??? Please listen to the programme again and read Gerry’s quotes IN CONTEXT…PLEASE.

      …and while your 3rd paragraph comment speaks to what are ideals…Gerry is speaking to the **reality of the situation**. Gerry is right…

  3. Diplomat says:

    Undoubtedly, members (government and opposition) should have access to all relevant information on any bill on the floor of HOA. How can members make an informed decision and cast a responsible vote on a piece of legislation without all the information? Yes, there are confidential, secret, proprietary…….etc information that should be protected. Do not the HOA have rules that deal with confidential, secret or proprietary information, ie, information can be viewed behind close doors and cannot be discussed otherwise? See and do not see. There should be penalties for violating information security rules.

    Nevertheless, hard press to grasp what is confidential or secret on setting up legislation establishing an agency to monitor and manage projects using the UK £300M loan guarantee. How is national security compromised by releasing the terms and conditions of the legislation and agreement? Is the information over classified?

  4. Laughing says:

    Absolute rubbish! The recent happenings in HOA shows that BVI elect people based on popularity and not competence. Having your own mind is one thing but the foolish ramblings especially of those that were against were just mind boggling and made no sense whatsoever. No concrete reasons just peddling fear and talking nonsense. We are totally f–ked in this little place.

  5. Chris says:

    I agree with Gerry. What secrets can we have in this small society. Yes if we had an army and were planning to invade STT that should be kept secret as lives could be at stake. That is the only reason I can think of for our elected representatives to have secrets they wish to keep from us. It is our money they are pledging to pay back this loan ,not theirs. The police have a duty to keep secrets as again lives could be at stake but who believes there is any danger to anyone if we know what the terms of a loan are.
    The problem we all have is that secrets are a matter of trust and imply that there is something to hide from us in the public. Of course we could have this all backwards and the British Government were really the ones concerned about the tax payers in the UK finding out the details of the loan.

  6. Mandingo says:

    This is the problem with the BVI. We respect no one and no body. Hon. Farara is a Queens Counsel and a sitting Judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and gives his verdict on the matter. I am not saying that because he is Judge he knows everything. But the disdain in which some of you comment here is mind- bogglying.

    Of course confidentiality to cabinet is ok. But do not bring a bill that comes with certain long term ramifications to the people of this Territory and withhold pertinent information that is germane to that bill. The Political whips referred to in an earlier comment is interesting but confusing as well. My take is the despised backbenchers are the ones who were acting as political whips.

  7. Capt. Obvious says:

    I agree with Farara. The quality of the legislation derived from the current process gets an F. The bill is now with the Governor (really the UK) for a yes or no decision and we the people are out here like sheep, clueless, bickering with each other with no facts, and just waiting to be lead here or there. What if the UK says no to whatever was just passed by the HOA? Then what? I guess that is when we will find out what ‘was’ in the bill.

  8. Run away says:

    Gerry you are speaking without having all the facts I believe. And if you think politics is about fancy talk like you have then you have another thing coming. I see you almost everyday with your head up in the clouds. Keep it up there! Anyone can tell that you are the one s——g support to encourage you to … All of a sudden now you’re on talk shows, making sure your voice is carried at meetings etc. So you must s—– support for you to run but the Premier can’t try to convince his colleagues to vote a particular direction? … You were playing this game for the last two elections now but you’re afraid to lose that’s why you … But you should run. You will learn a lot.

  9. Interested says:

    My dear Gerry,former school mate,I have the utmost respect and admiration for you,but from past experience,I am wary of lawyers turned politicians who speak so eloquently before election,and after they are elected,produce very little. I hope that if you do decide to enter the political arena,that I am proven wrong.
    All the best to you.

  10. Reef Shark says:

    Gerry you are a fine lawyer but your knowledge of politics is abysmal: how do you think that political greats like Lyndon B. Johnson. JFK and others passed important laws other than pressing and cajoling colleague Legislators into consensus? These great leaders passed laws to advance their country and were not interested in petty politics
    Again I urge you to stay in your lane – law – but then you have already gotten that advice from the recent survey!

  11. Democracy says:

    I am appalled at some to the comments regarding Mr. Farara’s opinions. This is a democratic right of every citizen to voice their opinions on political matters. Whether they are doctor, lawyer, dishwasher or streetsweeper, it makes no difference. As long as you will cast your vote, and even if you don’t as some people refuse to, you still have a right to express your opinion as a citizen. So why all this negative vibes against Mr. Farara? If he runs for political office, that’s his perogative. If he only wants to share in public discussion, that’s also his perogative. So just chill, you all. Let the man have his say.

  12. Time for change says:

    Hon Farara. You are so called because what you say is right. All of this secrecy happened under the nose of the Speaker of the House who should have stipulated that nothing will be voted on until properly brought to the table and debated on. The legislature as it standd is incompetent to introduce or amend laws. Due to obvious abuses,there should be clear separation of powers and the legislative branch of government should comprise Hon QC’s like yourself, business minded individuals and one or two members from each district who are elected to represent the views of the people. Let the politicians deal with the politics and remain in the executive branch only. Time for change.

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