By Elesha George
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has promised to uphold the legacy of Sir Vere Cornwall Bird, affectionately known as Papa Bird, by being at the vanguard of the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) – a party the late national hero led for more than 25 years.
Comparing his drive to develop Antigua and Barbuda to that of the late prime minister, Browne said he would prevent excessive malfeasance in public office and would not allow people who intend to act on their personal interests to permeate his party.
During his speech at the wreath laying ceremony to commemorate the life and contributions of the late “Father of the Nation” on Wednesday, Browne explained: ” From time to time we have comrades who may become ill focused, who may seek to put their personal interest above that of the institution. There are some who will put their ambitions above that of the institution, there may be some who may even seek to exploit public resources for personal use, personal gain but those are not the values of this great institution.
“No one is more powerful than this institution, not even Gaston Browne as your leader,” he said, adding that “as a consequence, we are likely to lose a few members, but I guarantee you that we would gain far more than we would lose”.
According to the prime minister, the labour party remains solidly united and perhaps better united notwithstanding the fact that “we may have lost a couple of members and may lose one or two more”.
Throughout 2020 the party has been rife with controversy and allegations of misbehaviour in public office.
In January, then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs, Dean Jonas, was suspended for six months after staff members protested his treatment of them. He was returned as the Minister for Social Transformation in May.
Later this year, St Peter MP Asot Michael called out Prime Minister Browne for being ungrateful towards his contribution to the party. He now has a case in the High Court to prevent the ABLP tribunal from taking any action against him for this and other comments he made in the public about the ABLP executive.
In 2018, the party claimed that Michael had resigned his ministerial post when allegations surfaced that he demanded campaign financing money in exchange for a securing a government contract for a British investor.
Just last month, Education Minister Michael Browne was relieved of his ministerial position after being charged with a criminal offence.
Coincidentally, Wednesday’s wreath laying ceremony corresponded with the opening and dedication of the People’s Place -– the new headquarters of the ABLP.
For decades, the party’s headquarters had been housed in the Antigua Trades & Labour Union building, at 46 North Street, but Browne is hoping that the new Old Parham Road location will expand the membership of the Party.
“By building our own home, we are not moving away from our roots; in fact our Friday executives will continue at 46 North Street. This beautiful edifice will be shared with the Antigua Trades & Labour Union so when they have their formal function, they will have access to the facilities here,” Browne told his members.
According to Browne, only 20 per cent of the new facility will be used by the ABLP Secretariat. The remainder he said will be rented for commercial activities and events.