PM Browne dodges questions by directing Opposition Leader Pringle to request answers via the Freedom of Information Act

Prime Minister Gaston Browne reportedly has come up with a new way of avoiding the questions put to him by members of the Opposition bench.

On Thursday, May 18, during the sitting of the Lower House,

PM Browne dodged several questions by advising Opposition MPs to obtain the answers through the Freedom of Information Act.

When the Government side enjoyed a 15-2 majority in the Lower House, Browne was extravagant with his responses during the “Questions to the Prime Minister” period.  

However, his answers and temper have grown significantly shorter since the January 18 General Election, which resulted in a one-seat majority for the Government side.

On Thursday morning, Leader of the Opposition Jamale Pringle asked Browne when he would bring to Parliament the details of the agreement between Elite Island Resorts and the Government concerning the refurbishment of the Jolly Beach Resort.

In reply, Browne said he is unaware that the Government has any parliamentary obligation to file an agreement between the Executive and the principals of the hotel chain regarding the formerly defunct resort.

However, the City West MP suggested that if Pringle truly desired to get the information, he could request it under the Freedom of Information Act and the details would be forwarded to him.

The prime minister similarly redirected the Opposition leader on the matter of a US$12 million loan the Government accepted – more than a year ago – from the Peace Love and Happiness (PLH) investors on Barbuda.

Browne, who appeared to be quite annoyed, told the All Saints East & St. Luke MP that the sum was not the proceeds of a loan, but part of a trade-off arrangement.  He also suggested that the information, or the agreement would be shared only through a written request via the same Act.  

According to all reports, however, there is no Information Commissioner in place and that office is not functioning.

Meanwhile, in addressing why Pringle had not been part of the national delegation attending the King’s coronation in London two weeks ago, Browne said the Palace had not extended an invitation to His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

Ironically, Browne could not say, definitively, how many nationals had attended the event – only that he and his wife, as well as the Governor General and his wife, had been invited by the Palace.

Browne, the minister of finance, claimed the trip had not cost local taxpayers any significant sums, since only these four officials had been funded by the Treasury.  He claimed that he and his wife’s airfare cost US$10,000, while they received per diems in the region of EC$6 or $7,000.

The other persons in the official contingent were part of a supplementary team that was put in place by the Governor-General, and their trip was sponsored, he said.  

However, Browne refused to identify the sponsor when asked by Barbuda MP Trevor Walker, noting that the Office of the Governor General had arranged their travel and the Executive had had nothing to do with the arrangements.