Opposition lawmaker Andrew Fahie has moved to have the Court of Appeal make certain declarations regarding conditions under which members of the House of Assembly are allowed to conduct private business with central government, as well as statutory boards such as the BVI Health Services Authority.
He has written to Attorney General Baba Aziz, asking him to seek Cabinet’s permission to have the Court of Appeal make at least four declarations as it pertains Section 67 of the Virgin Islands Constitution.
That Section – among other things – outlines the circumstances under which members of the House of Assembly may do business with Government.
The main bone of contention is whether lawmakers should seek permission from the House of Assembly before they undertake such commercial deals.
The government, supported by the attorney general, has interpreted the constitution to mean that lawmakers don’t have to get approval before conducting business with Government. But the parliamentary opposition disagrees.
Up to last month, Opposition member Fahie raised concern about some Government legislators continuing to do business with Government allegedly without approval from the House. They are Myron Walwyn and Alvera Maduro-Caines.
When Fahie last tried to raise questions about the matter in the House, he was shut down by Premier Dr D Orlando Smith as well as Speaker of the House Ingrid Moses-Scatliffe.
Following that apparent stalemate regarding the issue, Fahie announced that he wants the Court of Appeal to intervene.
He, yesterday, explained: “Our efforts for full compliance with Section 67 of the Constitutional Order has not received the correct and wholesale response that it deserves. We will continue to strive to gain some certainty in this regard.”
“On the 4th January of this year, I have written to the honourable attorney general requesting that he seek approval from Cabinet – under Section 3 (1) of the Attorney General Reference Act Number 17 of 2011 – and seek the opinion of the Court of Appeal on the correct interpretation of Section 67 [of the constitution],” added Fahie, who also is Chairman of the Opposition Virgin Islands Party and representative of the First Electoral District.
Four main areas of concern
Fahie went on to explain that, if Cabinet gives the attorney general permission to seek the Court of Appeal’s interpretation, he would like the court to make four main declarations.
“First, I have asked him (attorney general) to seek the court’s opinion under what circumstances members of the House of Assembly can do business and contract with the Government of the Virgin Islands. Second, what are the necessary declaration and procedure to be adopted before such member [of the House] can be considered to be protected under the law.”
“Third, under what circumstances does a member who has a private business interest with a company or firm that engages in business with Government becomes a party to a contract with Government. Fourth, whether a member who has a private business interest with a company or firm which engages in contract or business with a statutory body of the government engages in a contract with Government, and therefore is subject to Section 67 [of the constitution] restrictions,” added Fahie.
He said he is also allowing the attorney general to formulate any other question that he believes may be appropriate to refer to the Court of Appeal.
Matter of sufficient seriousness
Fahie, in the meantime, stated that the matter is sufficiently serious and should not be left up to the sole interpretation of the attorney general, who is the government’s lawyer.
“Our hope is that Cabinet, in a timely manner, will recognize the importance of this matter, and utilize the law that they as members of the House of Assembly has put in place to resolve important questions of law. In a spirit of resolution, which New Years are meant to usher in, we hope for Cabinet’s approval, and for the attorney general to obtain the opinion of the Court rather than relying on his own interpretation of the section [of the constitution].”
“Whilst we respect the opinion of the honourable attorney general, his opinion is not the law. And this is a matter of sufficient seriousness that the opinion of the court should be obtained so as to guide members’ conduct and protect the reputation of both individual members and the House on a whole,” added Fahie.
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