ST JOHN’S –– In a peculiar move, Prime Minister Gaston Browne led government ministers on a “walkout of their own” budget debate to protest what he allegedly labelled “disrespect” from an opposition Member of Parliament.
All Saints East and St Luke representative Joanne Massiah, who is at the centre of the demonstration, told the Observer she was “shocked” and “confused” that the government members had taken such a position.
She said the incident that brought the House of Representatives to a premature and abrupt halt unfolded when she rose to make her maiden presentation.
“First the prime minister got up, and gradually, one by one, they all left, causing there not to be a quorum. The prime minister came back in and accused me of being disrespectful to my colleagues because I was not present,” the MP said.
He was referring to Massiah’s absence from Parliament just after lunch Wednesday and her late arrival (about 5 p.m.) yesterday.
She said that on a point of order, “I told him I take objection to his misrepresenting a situation to say I deliberately stayed away”.
The MP said her non-appearance was due to illness and subsequent medical tests yesterday, and asserted that she sent an excuse to Speaker of the House Sir Gerald Watt, QC, advising that she would have been late for Parliament.
“I expected to arrive well after lunch. When I walked in, the prime minister, his mic wasn’t on, but he said, ‘Yah nah talk in here tonight’. The opposition leader heard him,” Massiah told the Observer.
The MP of seven months said the prime minister did not have the right to dictate when “I am well or when I am unwell”. She also noted that since government MPs were absent from the House during the budget, it was clearly an “attempt to suppress” her contribution.
She recounted that what was to be a five-minute adjournment as indicated by the prime minister eventually became a waiting game for the opposition representatives who stood their ground.
The government parliamentarians eventually returned to the Lower Chamber “one by one” but only to collect their belongings, Massiah said. While she began the interview by saying, “I feel very important, quite frankly, at getting them to abandon their own budget”, the attorney-at-law admitted too that she was disturbed by “irregular things” happening in Parliament.
The lawyer added that she was “astounded” by the way in which the speaker eventually adjourned the House.
“In all my years . . . I have never seen the Parliament of Antigua & Barbuda handled so improperly, so disrespectfully and with such scant regard for its conventions and clear processes,” Massiah said.
The MPs were later told that the session would resume this morning at 9:30.
Efforts to reach Prime Minister Gaston Browne for comment were unsuccessful.