By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff
While pointing out that the case is still before the court, Premier Andrew Fahie has hinted that the legal fees for Speaker of the House Julian Willock in the ongoing legal battle with Mark Vanterpool are being paid with taxpayer dollars.
The Premier made that suggestion while answering questions from Opposition Leader Marlon Penn at Friday’s sitting of the House of Assembly.
The essence of Penn’s questions was: what is the estimated cost of the aforesaid legal fees and the amount billed and paid by Willock so far.
In response, Premier Fahie made it clear that Penn’s questions were “valid”. He then promised to provide detailed answers “upon completion of the matter in the courts”.
“This is in keeping with section 17.1 (G) VI: of the Standing Orders which states quotes “A question shall not be asked about any matter pending before any court of justice; or which reflects on the decision of the court of justice,” Premier Fahie explained.
Penn then noted that an aspect of the case was already completed because the matter is now being appealed in court. On that premise, Penn reasoned: “Part of the question asked is if the government is paying for it. At least that part should be answered.”
The Premier, however, responded: “The matter is not through as yet, there is an appeal and a stay on the case which has held up any decision on it.”
Penn then questioned whether “the people will have to wait a few months to see how their monies will be spent”.
The Premier did not respond.
Will tax dollars fund appeal?
Penn then proceeded to ask whether government will be funding the Court of Appeal leg of the matter. However, Premier Fahie maintained that the information being sought by Penn will be furnished after the completion of the case.
“This case will not be heard for a few months, I understand that already some $80,000 have already been spent by the Opposition, so the people of this territory deserve answers,” Penn asserted.
Fahie then replied: “With due respect to the Leader of the Opposition, I never told him that the taxpayers will not hear how much money is spent. But we cannot have the rules of the House and break them so easily because a few people, well — more than a few, want to know.”
“The Standing Orders of the House are very clear and as soon as the matter is properly disposed of before the court if it is 10 cents, $10, $100,000, $200,000 I will come to this House and tell the taxpayers how their money is spent. Whatever the public needs to know about their monies, I will tell them.”
Penn, in response, said: “Premier, I thank you for confirming that taxpayers are paying the bill.” to which Premier Fahie made no reply.
Did Premier talk to Speaker about case?
In the meantime, the Opposition Leader queried from the Premier whether he has had any discussions with the Speaker about his decision not to swear in Vanterpool in light of the initial High Court ruling.
“If so, could the Honourable Premier tell this Honourable House what is his position on the matter and whether it was shared with the Honourable Speaker?” Penn asked.
In answering that question, the Premier said: “With due respect to the Leader of the Opposition, you will know that nobody in this House can direct the Speaker of the House.”
“However I will state that given the nature of this and how the question is phrased I must repeat for the member that his question is valid and the information the member is seeking will furnished to this honourable House in detail upon completion of the matter in the courts. The member would have known that the Speaker has appealed the case, and there is a stay on the matter.”
Should Speaker preside over matters relating to himself?
Meanwhile, government legislator Carvin Malone questioned whether Willock, who was sitting as Speaker while the questions were being fielded, should recuse himself since the questions were about him.
“Shouldn’t the Deputy Speaker be presiding at this time? I might be out of order, but I’m just asking,” Malone said.
Speaker Willock then responded that he has no problem recusing himself if that was the wish of the House. No member raised any objections so Willock remained.
Opposition legislator Julian Fraser later rose to state his discomfort of having the Speaker sit through questions. But by that time, the questions had just concluded.
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