Political analyst Arvel Grant said he hopes Education Minister Michael Browne and his other Cabinet colleagues take the principle of collective responsibility seriously and learn from the experience where a document containing the minister’s dissenting views on the Global Ports Holding (GPH) deal has been leaked to the public.
Grant said given what transpired even after the MP was warned when presenting the memo, he understands the prime minister’s position that there could be consequences for MP Michael Browne.
Over the weekend, the prime minister asserted he was surprised that the leak occurred even after warning the MP of consequences and instructing him to withdraw the document – which he did.
The political analyst said, “One of the things all of us have to operate on is once you have written something and you have committed it to paper and other persons have access to it, there is a real possibility that it will become public. My sense is that this is to reinforce the principle of collective responsibility and this one perhaps would have left Michael Browne in a difficult place,” he said.
Grant said the prime minister is also correct when he, in warning MP Michael Browne, told him and his other colleagues: “Do not bring anything into the Cabinet, discuss anything in the Cabinet, or make any decision that cannot stand up to public scrutiny.”
The social commentator noted, “When you are part of the Cabinet you have a collective responsibility to engage freely and openly and without constraints or fear of repudiation as long as that exchange of free expression stays within the confines of the Cabinet.”
It is not yet known whether the prime minister will take action against his namesake. But in recent days he revealed to the public that, “The Minister was forewarned. He was told in Cabinet that in the event that this paper was to be released and, based on the language that was used in a way which it ridiculed the Prime Minister, ‘it may have consequences for you’.”
Grant said it appears as though the education minister did not intend for the documents to be leaked, but he should have known it was likely to happen and it has since happened.
He said it is no surprise to him that the prime minister has now revealed that he had forewarned the MP.
“I think the prime minister is trying to control the dialogue. It is better him saying that than somebody else saying it and I have become quite accustomed to the prime minister being quite open about what is on his mind and being quite frontal about it and addressing things in that kind of direct way,” he said.
He added that PM Browne must have calculated that the political risks are insignificant compared to the political benefit of appearing to be open.
In instances such as this, he said, there is a need for prime ministers to exert very low tolerance for people who breach that collective responsibility.
MP Michael Browne has been completely silent where defending himself is concerned, so it is not known whether he still stands by the position he outlined in the memo – that the GPH deal is a bad one that will impact generations to come.
What is known from his memo, published in full on March 19, is that back in November 2018 he wanted the government to revisit the 30-year concession agreement with GPH for exclusive management and operation of all the country’s cruise ports – two of which are in mainland Antigua, the other on the sister isle of Barbuda
Michael Browne contended then that “the awarding of concession by [the government] to a subsidiary of GPH for thirty (30) years on an exclusive basis, incorporating both cruise, retail and related services at the Ports currently owned and operated by the SJDC and APG, with an extension option for an additional 10 years, is grossly disproportionate as it obtrudes
and the Nation’s long term sovereignty interests and prosperity for a short term immediate financial benefit.”
The deal of which he wrote, has since caused alarm in the cruise industry, with over a dozen cruise ships being pulled out from the upcoming 2019/2020 winter season.
There has also been dissent from taxi drivers, merchants and many other residents who say they are furious over the likely implications for their businesses.
Since then, the government has since said it will seek to have the agreement amended in respect of the exclusivity period being reduced to 10 years instead of 30.
The overall term of the contract will not change, according to the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Lionel “Max” Hurst, only the exclusivity aspect.
It is at this time not clear if GPH has indicated willingness to accept such a significant variation of the already signed contract, but Hurst also told us that the GPH matter would be discussed in Parliament this coming Thursday.
The drastic (two-thirds) reduction in the exclusivity period now being sought by government could be one of the matters addressed – not to mention the possibility of Michael Browne deciding on that occasion to finally break his silence about the leaked document.