Senators representing the United Progressive Party (UPP) and the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) were denied entry to the Parliament Building this morning, October 29, and, hence, could not attend the sitting of the Upper House.
First to arrive at the Department of the Legislature on Queen Elizabeth Highway was UPP Senator Damani Tabor, reports say. It was he who confirmed to his colleagues that, unless they showed their COVID-19 vaccination cards, they would not be allowed into the building.
In a letter dated October 28, the five Senators advised Senate President Alincia Williams-Grant that they would not be providing proof of their status on a directive from House Speaker Sir Gerald Watt, who had declared that “no Member of … the Senate who are unvaccinated against the Corona virus will be permitted to attend a Sitting of … the Senate.”
Citing Standing Order 91 from the Standing Orders of the Senate, the Opposition Senators reminded Williams-Grant that “The President shall be responsible for the general direction and control of the precincts of the Parliament.”
Accordingly, they wrote, “we question the authority of the Speaker of the House of Representatives to issue directives to Members of the Senate.”
With respect to the presentation of vaccination cards – which Watt had further decared the Senators should do – the five advised Williams-Grant that the Regulations published in the Official Gazette clearly list the categories of public-sector workers who are required “to provide proof” of inoculation.
“Members of Parliament are not public sector employees,” they wrote. “Accordingly, there is no legal basis for compliance with the Speaker’s request, and as such we would not comply.”
The letter is signed by Senate Minority Leader Richard Lewis and Senators Shawn Nicholas, Johnathan Joseph, and Damani Tabor, as well as BPM Senator Fabian Jones.
They note that the letter from Watt was simply contained “within the bundle of papers” for today’s Sitting of the Upper House, and there was not even a cover letter on the matter from the Senate President, herself.
According to Senator Tabor, the Opposition Members’ protest is actually in support of Williams-Grant, whose authority they consider has been usurped – although she appears not to recognize that.
Meanwhile, UPP Political Leader Harold Lovell says the Senators’ action “is consistent with the position of the Party. The Antigua Labour Party must respect the rule of law or else we will slip into dictatorship and one-man rule,” he warns.