By Anesta Henry
Attorney-at-law Corey Beckles is demanding an apology from Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Kirk Humphrey over his public comments that Government had no hand in the draft Elderly Persons Bill 2022.
The minister has distanced the Government from the draft which Beckles and a team from his firm presented to the public in a press conference last Thursday when he expressed the hope that the proposed legislation would make it to the Parliament for discussion and approval.
But Humphrey challenged the proposed legal draft, saying the process was not followed and key stakeholders were never consulted in its preparation.
He said last weekend during a walk-through in his St Michael South constituency that if anyone is serious about delivering legislation, the process is that the document must be presented to the concerned ministry to make sure that it is not flawed. He also stated that the Barbados Association of Retired Persons (BARP), which is the largest elderly representative body in Barbados, was not consulted during the drafting.
But on Monday Beckles hit back at the minister, accusing him of making him and his colleagues “enemies of the state” because they had not followed what he referred to as “the correct procedure”.
During a press conference at his Strathclyde, St Michael office, Beckles said: “The work that my colleagues and I have done is unprecedented. It is unfortunate that the Honourable Minister has used a failure to follow procedure as the reason for ignoring a comprehensive document which the relevant government departments can now use as a foundation to produce a bill which covers every aspect of protecting the elderly in Barbados.
“I now ask for the Honourable Minister to issue a public apology to myself and my colleagues as a matter of urgency,” Beckles said, while in the company of attorney Kaviar Calender and Executive Legal Assistant Anthony Hinds.
On Saturday, Humphrey said that while he encouraged protection of the elderly, it would not be fair to that vulnerable group for him to say that the draft bill is actually ‘Government’s” legislation.
However, Beckles argued that he reached out to Minister Humphrey on several occasions to discuss the legislation, and even reached out, on more than one occasion, to the Ministry of Elder Affairs to schedule a meeting to discuss it.
“My colleagues personally visited the ministry and informed them that we would like to have a meeting with the Honourable Minister. If I was the only person involved in drafting the said bill, I may be able to ignore the comments of the Honourable Minister, but this was not a solo effort. Mr Hinds and Mr Callender did not deserve to be treated in the way that the Honourable Minister treated them in his comments.
“Furthermore, not only did the Honourable Minister rebuke the efforts of legal professionals, the Honourable Minister refused to even acknowledge the mammoth effort of myself and my colleagues; not even a ‘thank you’, not even ‘well done guys’. Mr Hinds and Mr Callender never thought for one minute that the government would treat us in the way they treated us for making a contribution to the protection of the elderly in Barbados,” Beckles said.
Speaking on the Down to BrassTacks call-in programme on Monday, Minister Humphrey recalled that on September 26, 2022 he received a message from Beckles informing him that his firm intended to introduce the draft elderly protection legislation at a press conference and invited him to attend.
Humphrey said he responded to the message, informing Beckles that he could not agree to support the policy he had not seen. The minister said he questioned Beckles on why he had not worked with the National Assistance Board (NAB) in developing the policy and the lawyer reportedly indicated he did not want to “politicise” the work.
Humphrey said he did not hear from Beckles again until January 14, 2023 when he received a message from the attorney stating that had visited the ministry to schedule a meeting to discuss the proposed legislation. However, Humphrey noted that he again said to Beckles that he would have wished to see the legislation out of common courtesy.
“On January 17, he said his office was in the process of preparing a letter to send to my office containing his response to our conversation and attached to the letter would be a preamble of the legislation. I said; ‘address it to the PS [Permanent Secretary]’.”
According to the minister he received a message on January 24, stating: “Good evening minister, I hope that you are well. I would like to confirm that you received a letter from my office’.
“On February 2, there is a big article in the paper about this legislation and many people seem to have thought that it was the Government’s legislation,” Humphrey said.
The minister also stated that on February 3, he received an email from Beckles, indicating that attempts to send a copy of the draft legislation on February 2 failed, and he apologised for the quality of the draft document which had not been properly edited.
“This would now be February 2 that he meant to send it. We got it on February 3 after it’s in the press. Now mind you, I had asked to see this legislation, and he had agreed, since September.”
The minister said his comments about the proposed legislation was to alert the public, some of whom were asking for details, that the government could give none.
Meanwhile, Minister Humphrey said he was open to meeting with Beckles and his team, because “at the end of the day it is still about working out something for the elderly”.
“Therefore, if there is anybody that is interested in bringing legislation or any such thing, we would be glad to have them,” Humphrey said.
The draft Bill outlined, among other things, $25 000 fines or imprisonment for up to 10 years, for people convicted of elder abuse.