Pringle leads walk-out of Opposition as Gov’t forces three readings of an amendment, for which no notice was given

MP Jamale Pringle led a walk-out of his United Progressive Party colleagues from the Lower House of Parliament, this morning, protesting the disregard and disrespect meted out by the House Speaker and the Government Bench.

“We are not starting the session on this note,” Pringle declared to REAL News, following his side’s exit.  “This is the first sitting and it is   too early for the Government to be going down this road.”

The road to which the Leader of the Opposition refers is the Gaston Browne Administration’s practice of suspending the Standing Orders requiring notice and forcing through all three readings of a Bill in a single sitting. 

Pringle and Barbuda MP Trevor Walker – who were the only members on the Opposition Bench in the last parliamentary term – have been protesting this practice for years, and even the House Speaker, Sir Gerald Watt, himself, had objected to it.

In this particular instance, Browne, the Member for City West, asked that the House suspend the Standing Orders since there was a matter of urgent public importance.  He then moved a motion to have an amendment to the Port Authority Act go through all three readings immediately.

Pringle stood on a point of order, noting that the requirements for notice had not been met – and given the fact that the Bill touched on matters related to maritime law, the Opposition Bench was asking for time to caucus and consult its legal counsel.

Instead of replying to MP Pringle, however, Sir Gerald allowed the City South MP, Steadroy Benjamin, to respond, and then MP Sir Molwyn Joseph, the St. Mary’s North representative, to chime in with a point of elucidation. 

Following these interventions, Browne, the mover of the Bill, resumed his introduction of the Amendment. 

Only when Pringle appealed to the Speaker again did Watt respond to his point of order.  Sir Gerald then reiterated what Benjamin had said – minus his English history lesson – and said he would allow the matter to continue.

At that point, Pringle gathered up his papers and, followed by his colleagues, left the Chamber, as MP Browne mocked them.

The Barbuda MP and the Independent Member of the Opposition were not present at the time.

The matter at hand has to do with the Administration’s plans to sell the Alfa Nero, a yacht reportedly owned by a Russian oligarch, which had been detained for months in Antigua and Barbuda’s waters.

According to a March 2022 article in  Forbes, the Alfa Nero – a 269-foot super yacht valued at US$81 million – was owned by Andrei Guriev, said to be a Russian oligarch.  The Browne Administration is planning to retain the proceeds of its sale.

Based on today’s Cabinet Notes, it was only yesterday, March 15, that “three lawyers from the Legal Affairs Division [were invited] to reflect on an amended law governing the Antigua Port Authority.

“The amendment will make clear the ability of the Government to sell by auction a vessel that appears sanctioned, or falls under the Proceeds of Crime Act,” the Notes say.

As Pringle underscored to REAL News, the yacht has been detained in local waters for more than a year.  In all that time, he asks, did the Government Bench not consider the legal ramifications and investigate what was needed to facilitate the sale.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet claims the Alfa Nero “poses a threat to other vessels and to the harbour where it is moored.”

Local observers believe the rush to amend the Port Authority Act stems less from environment and safety concerns and more from the fact that the United States has put the Browne Administration under heightened scrutiny for allowing nationals of Russia and Belarus to apply for citizenship under its CIP.

Others say that Finance Minister Browne is “desperate to get his hands on the money” the yacht’s sale would bring his government – much like the windfall it received from the Lazarenko matter.