UPP holds People’s Parliament—debating among loyal supporters

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Images from Thursday night’s debate (Photos by Robert A Emmanuel)
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By Robert A Emmanuel

[email protected]

If the first debate in December by Parliamentarians from the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) was a debate among one’s colleagues, then the United Progressive Party chose to one-up the government and hold a debate among their own supporters.

Taking what is one of the few times representatives of opposing parties are able to share their own vision for the fiscal year to come, and clash on policy ideas with a little politicking on the side, both Parties have moved to a partisan show of commentary.

Last month, the ABLP held its version praising each other for the work done for the past year, appraising people of future plans, and criticising the Opposition for failing to show-up to a debate, never mind that the Opposition was claiming that it was not given enough time to prepare for a meaningful debate.

On Thursday, the United Progressive Party (UPP) held their People’s Parliament at the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) Headquarters, Freedom Hall, in a room full of Party supporters and leaders.

Outside the hall, a television was set up for those who could not find seating inside.

Starting with a roundtable with senators who questioned government’s policies and taxation plans, including the two percent ABST increase, LIAT, and the lack of a national census or a labour-force survey, the offerings and exchanges were robust and well-researched.

“In a nutshell, I think the budget is lacking, it did not address the concerns of what is happening from an economic standpoint, and what is likely to come in Antigua and Barbuda, and changes in the environment,” Senator David Massiah said during the discussion.

“If we are doing so well, why do we need the different taxes, why hit the hotel sector, why hit the common man in his pocket?” queried Senator Alex Browne.

For much of the Party’s supporters, the People’s Parliament seemed like a blessing—a chance to hear their own side without interruptions or antics from the other side.

However, just like in the December debate, the Opposition’s questions to the government about its policy could not be answered immediately by the government.

Leader of the Opposition Jamale Pringle derided the government for numerous failures including infrastructure, economic development and public works.

“I am urging you as we hold this government accountable for what they have spent and continue to spend,” Pringle highlighted.

Pringle also continued to attack the government on the lack of resources given to the maintenance of the Leader of the Opposition’s office located on Market Street, St John’s.

“[This] is going to be the year of change and adjusting the treatment that they give the Opposition,” he remarked.

He also attacked the Minister of Health Molwyn Joseph, and Minister of Works Maria Browne, for the poor maintenance of the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre, and questioning the company selected to undertake remedial work on the operating theatre at the hospital.”

“My question is a matter of fact, how was this company selected…was it by the Tender’s Board or was it handpicked by the Minister, what is the timeline for completion, and how much is it going to cost the taxpayers?” he queried.

Meanwhile, his other Opposition colleagues attacked various other sectors of the government with the only notable absentee being Independent MP Asot Michael.

Sherfield Bowen, St Philip’s South MP, spoke directly to the lack of statistics to address poverty and employment; St George’s MP Algernon Watts spoke to agriculture; St John’s Rural West MP Richard Lewis focused on education and the need for better fiscal responsibility; All Saints West MP Anthony Smith Jr spoke to tourism, and St Mary’s South MP Kelvin Simon attacked the government for what he considered the lack of focus on sports and sporting infrastructure in the country.

Meanwhile, Barbuda MP Trevor Walker—representing the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM)—attacked the government for its approach to Barbuda affairs, revealing that a US$500,000 donation “was given by Spain via a diplomat” in relation to the Hurricane Irma recovery effort.

As the Opposition members closed off their speeches, they left to a rapturous rounds of applause from their supporters, with the Speaker and the attending audience giving them a wholehearted show of appreciation and support.

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