“Bringing light to the dark” is the pledge of Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watts – one of several fresh new faces preparing to take their seats in Parliament next month.
Transparency in government dealings was a pivotal promise from the United Progressive Party (UPP) whose campaign for change resonated with voters, earning them five more seats in the January 18 general election.
Watts was among a number of first-time runners for the main opposition. Yesterday the radio personality and managing director of Observer media said he planned to use his new position to help end a culture of secrecy surrounding official documentation.
He said journalists had frequently “asked questions” about pertinent paperwork only to hit a wall of silence and that he now hoped to bring such matters before Parliament.
Speaking on Friday’s Observer AM show, he told host Dr Jacqui Quinn he also hoped his interest in agriculture would see him appointed as the sector’s shadow spokesperson.
Asked about his priority areas for St George, Watts said efforts were already underway to create community groups in a bid to give local residents more agency in the governance of their villages.
A meeting held earlier this week brought together people from across the constituency, he said.
“One of the things they are tasked with is to recruit other like-minded folk.
“This is bipartisan – as long as you care for your community and want to make an input you can be a part of this,” Watts said, adding, “This is not a red or a blue or a green or whatever; this is about the community and we have some capable, competent people who have put their hands up already.”
Watts secured 2,146 votes in the election – the highest of any of the 50-plus candidates – edging out ABLP incumbent Dean Jonas who got 2,005 and the DNA’s Benjamin Quinland who received 54 votes.
Also speaking on yesterday’s Observer AM show was fellow first-time politician, the UPP’s Kelvin ‘Shugy’ Simon who unseated St Mary’s South ABLP incumbent Samantha Marshall. Simon received 1,061 votes compared to Marshall’s 862 and DNA candidate Andrew Antonio’s 12.
Simon, a former professional guidance counsellor for youngsters, spoke of his passion for youths.
The Bolans born and raised father-of-one continued, “I’m a product of this community and I want every child to know that to dream big is not supposed to be something strange.
“Yes we grew up humble, we grew up hungry sometimes, not knowing where the next meal is coming from. But once we stay true to who we are and believe in God and believe in ourselves, anything can be attained.”
Simon said his aim was to give young people “hope”.
“I will be putting programmes in place to help strengthen that,” he added. “I want them to think of themselves not as a little country boy or girl but to aspire to be great.”
Simon’s electoral victory was not without some controversy. The ABLP has launched legal action claiming his nomination was illegitimate as he was a civil servant at the time.
Simon quit his position with the Ministry of Education a fortnight before the election. The Civil Service Act bans civil servants from taking office, but makes no mention of rules preventing nomination. While Simon has scoffed at the action and dubbed it a “waste of time”, the ABLP has said it wishes to clarify the matter to set a precedent going forward.
Banker and Antigua Grammar School alumnus Anthony Smith will also be a new face in the House of Representatives. He polled 2,022 votes over ABLP incumbent Michael Browne who garnered 1,461, and the DNA’s Anthony Stuart who received 44.
Smith said his priority was “to see an improvement in the lives of the people in All Saints West”.
He conceded that resources would be “scarce” but said “my people can feel assured I will be fighting for them”.
“I intend to seek out synergies within the private sector to help to develop the community which will also develop Antigua and Barbuda, so I will be working on multiple fronts,” he told Observer AM.
Members of the House of Representatives will take the oath of allegiance on February 17.