Following less than four hours of debate from both sides of the Upper House on a motion to send the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) Bill to committee stage, the contentious bill was passed yesterday following a walkout by the opposition.
The already contentious bill saw even more controversy yesterday following a motion moved by Senator Joan Masssiah to have the Bill recommitted to the committee stage to reconsider its prior rejection. This sparked vociferous and tenacious arguments from the opposition bench.
But despite attempts by opposition members Lennox Weston, Samantha Marshall, Chet Greene, and acting minority leader of the opposition Arthur Nibbs, President of the Senate Hazelyn Francis eventually sent the motion through for consideration.
Weston’s contention, which was supported by his fellow MPs, was that when a bill is rejected from the Senate, it can only come back after being tabled from the start.
“You cannot pick up a committee stage which is totally completed. It is totally dead. It has to have new life by being re-introduced in a different session,” Weston said.
He said the constitution and standing orders also provide the opportunity for the government side to have a method of enforcing the legislation, one which involves declaring it a money bill, and then it will go straight through, or by allowing the Senate, on a newly introduced bill, to reject it twice and then they can still move on.
“The point I’m making is that no one should think the Senate is about stopping any programme that government has,” he said. “The government has the rules and the legal framework in which it can operate legally, so there is no reason or rationale to abuse our legal framework, jurisprudence or the practice of centuries or well received and documented practice worldwide.”
Weston added, “There is no reason for us to soil the name of Antigua and Barbuda when the method of getting bills passed is so simple and straightforward, in this case by simply calling it a money bill.”
The four opposition senators urged the president to seek outside, independent legal advice on the issue.
However, Leader of Government Business in the Senate Dr Errol Cort said that no one was seeking to contravene the laws of the country.
“I want to make it clear there is absolutely no attempt to contravene, violate, or in any way abuse any of the laws of this country, knowingly or otherwise,” Dr Cort said.
After hearing arguments from both sides, President Francis said she felt that a mistake was made at the last sitting, because the House did not send anything back.
She said she was not satisfied that everything that should have happened in the Upper House happened, and pointed out that there was no third reading of the bill, and it did not come to the House twice.
She subsequently ruled on Massiah’s motion to have the bill returned to the committee stage for consideration.
The bill was sent to committee, but opposition members all walked out at this stage.
After this, Marshall told Caribarena that the motion had been incorrect.
“As I understand the law… the bill is in fact rejected, and it is not to come back in this session, but rather to return in another session of Parliament to be re-tabled,” she said.
Previously, there were murmurings of a possible legal challenge to be taken in the event of the bill’s passage.
When asked what action the opposition would now take, Marshall said that was for the leader to answer. Browne, however, was unavailable for comment.
The bill was passed with no amendments yesterday.
The president, in closing, expressed her belief that she had done the right thing.
“I listened attentively, I did much reading on it from all of the documents people are reading, from including some that I have that they don’t have, so I have been well guided and I feel in my heart that I have done the correct thing,” she said.