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.
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.
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