The decision by House Speaker Sir Gerald Watt to shut down discussion on the local situation involving stranded West Africans has come in for criticism, including from former Speaker D.Gisele Isaac.
In an interview on Progressive FM on Tuesday morning, Isaac said that Watts’ interpretation of Standing Order No. 76(3) was too narrow, on one hand, and the Appropriations Bill, 2023, was severely lacking in content.
During Walker’s presentation, on Monday, March 13, Sir Gerald ruled that his references to the West African debacle – as some describe it – were “irrelevant” to the Bill.
When Walker sought to show how his remarks were relevant, quoting the Standing Order, the Speaker insisted that the debate be restricted to “the general principles of Government policy and administration as indicated in the Bill and Estimates.”
However, Isaac says the Bill, itself, failed to lay out the Browne Administration’s policies for this year. She points out that Finance Minister Gaston Browne, himself, announced that his ministers would be articulating the Government’s plans and programmes when they rose to debate.
But to add further to that irony, Isaac says, most of the ministers have elected to speak after the members on the Opposition bench – forcing them to “debate” without the benefit of having heard the policies.
With respect to Walker’s aborted arguments, the former House Speaker says that it was Browne who introduced the matter in his presentation.
At the time, the Member for City West heaped scorn on residents’ concerns about the purported Antigua Airways being part of a migrant-trafficking ring, and went on to declare that locals should get used to having the West Africans around since it is Africa’s time now.
Accordingly, Isaac says, Walker had every right to discuss the situation on the ground. She notes that it has implications for national security, immigration, and tourism – as well as for the Citizenship by Investment programme and the economy, since CIP passports were involved in the scheme.
Isaac says that shutting down Walker gives the appearance of collusion among the Government side and the House Speaker to keep the West African matter out of the national debate, and she is wondering why the Browne Administration wants to avoid any light being shone on the issue.
Meanwhile, Isaac is also reacting to a quip made by Sir Gerald – that the West Africans are “showing Antiguans how to work.”
She says she is affronted that he would insult locals in this way, and notes that – long before mass immigration changed the landscape – it was Antiguans and Barbudans who built Antigua and Barbuda.
Isaac adds that the statement was colonialistic and sounded like it came from a “massa.”
Other nationals are also bristling at Watt’s statement, telling REAL News that it was “not nearly funny” and paints locals with a very negative and unjustified brush.