By Robert A. Emmanuel
Opposition MPs walked out of parliamentary proceedings yesterday, supporting Leader of the Opposition Jamale Pringle in his displeasure at not being given enough time to read critical proposed legislation.
An amendment to the Port Authority Act seeks to strengthen the government’s legal standing as it prepares to auction Russian-owned superyacht, Alfa Nero, left languishing in Falmouth Harbour for more than a year.
The controversy arose when Pringle took issue with the short notice given to MPs about the Bill that was presented to them yesterday morning and which he argued should have been sent at least two days prior.
Pringle also took issue with the suspension of the parliamentary standing orders, which allowed the government to force through all three readings of the Bill in a single sitting.
“We arrived at Parliament this morning to meet a Bill to be looking at the government moving to take over the Alfa Nero and that is a critical issue.
“We cannot debate a Bill without having an opportunity to discuss with persons within the maritime industry so we can get a clear understanding,” he told Observer media.
Pringle thanked his colleagues for supporting him in his walkout as it proved, according to him, that they agreed with his stance.
Meanwhile in Parliament, government MPs criticised the opposition MPs.
Charles Fernandez, MP for St John’s Rural North, said, “There is an issue of national importance and before you hear what is…you get up and walk out…and some of the members seemed as though they were prepared to sit and listen but [the Leader of the Opposition] got up [and left]. It is a sad day for their constituents and a sad day for the nation.”
Prime Minister Gaston Browne stated that, “If it is that the members on the other side are serious about forming the government and displace us, then they have to step up and have to show their mettle in this House.”
Speaker of the House, Sir Gerald Watt, voiced his own displeasure with the walkout, stating, “I am so distressed…an amendment of this importance and you don’t wait to hear anything about it and what saddens me is not that the Leader of the Opposition says he is not supporting it…as a person who has been a boat owner, there is nothing more dangerous than a boat without power.”
At the post-Cabinet press briefing earlier that day, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Lionel Hurst told reporters that the amendment will ensure that the government will not have any legal case brought against it due to the sale of the superyacht.
He said the 267ft vessel has racked up debts in excess of $500,000 for fuel supplied by the Antigua Yacht Club Marina to keep it running.
Meanwhile, the five crew members still aboard the Alfa Nero—a reduction from 41 crew when it first arrived—have enough money left for just two weeks to buy food, Cabinet notes said.
Although the Chief of Staff stated that monies were also owed to the crew in terms of salary, he did not have an exact figure but noted that they will be paid with monies procured from the sale proceeds.
Auctioning the vessel, alleged to be owned by US and EU-sanctioned Russian oligarch Andrey Guryev, has been in the forefront of the government’s minds for weeks with expectation that, upon passage of the amendment in the Senate, details of the auction will be published in both local and international newspapers.