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"Ready for the fight: Leading from the Front"
Statement to the Nation
By
Hon Lester B Bird MP
Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda
On Wednesday, 28th May 2003


Fellow Citizens

Let me first inform you that I have been given a clean bill of health by the doctors who tended to me at my annual medical check up in the United States last week.

I gather there has been much speculation as to whether or not government money was spent in this exercise. Let me make it clear, let me make it pellucid; not one cent of taxpayers money was used to make me have this annual check-up. This is totally a private matter and therefore I have not utilised any taxpayers funding.

I have returned to Antigua and Barbuda refreshed, rejuvenated and reinvigorated. I am fortified in my commitment to attend to the nation's business, and I intend to do so with all the required vitality, verve and vivacity.

I know that while I have been away, much discussion has centred on a Motion of "No Confidence" in me, as Prime Minister, that Mr Sherfield Bowen has publicly indicated he wishes to move, and propose for debate, at the next sitting of the House of Representatives.
Let me make it clear that while Mr Bowen has stated that he shall move a vote of "no confidence" in me as Prime Minister, it is, in fact, the entire government at which his motion is directed.

A few examples will suffice to make the point.

In his motion, Mr Bowen says:

"Whereas the Prime Minister has not done enough to combat corruption within his administration".

What that statement says is that there is corruption within my administration. It says that Ministers and other members of my administration in the House of Representatives and the Senate are corrupt.

Consequently, anyone who supports Mr Bowen's motion will be accepting his claim that Ministers and other members of my administration in the House and Senate are corrupt.

Mr Bowen's motion, therefore, is not simply a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, it is an indictment of the members of my administration, and an acceptance that his allegation is valid.
In his motion, Mr Bowen also states:

"Whereas the Prime Minister has failed to debate the Prevention of Corruption Bill and the Integrity of Public Life Bill".

But, every schoolchild knows that one man alone cannot debate, and certainly in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Prime Minister alone cannot debate a Bill. It takes all the members of the House and the Senate to debate any Bill, including Ministers of the Government.

Mr Bowen's motion, therefore, is not simply a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, it is an indictment of the members of Parliament, including Government Ministers, who will be accepting the notion that they deliberately chose not to debate two bills which might have an adverse affect on them personally.

The two Bills were not debated as the Attorney General advised that the Organisation of American States had engaged Justice Monica Joseph to prepare draft legislation for the OECS Countries. A seminar to discuss the legislation was held in St. Lucia. This seminar was attended by the Attorney-General , Leader of the Opposition Mr. Baldwin Spencer, Senator Sam Aymer and Ms. Jose Laurent. At the conclusion of the seminar the OAS Legal Adviser undertook to circulate to all participants copies of the legislation as amended by Justice Joseph. At the time of prorogation of the Parliament in March 2003, the amended draft had not been received.
In the interim in March 2003, I tabled a Resolution which was approved by the House of Representatives for ratification of the OAS Convention against Corruption. Many of the clauses and ingredients in our Bill are enshrined in the OAS Convention against Corruption which we have ratified.

In his motion Mr Bowen states:

"Whereas the Prime Minister and Senator Asot Michael, Junior Minister of Finance and Minister of Public Works, have recklessly and wantonly spent in excess of $60 million during the year 2002 without legal authority".

I should draw to the nation's attention that since 1973 when the Progressive Labour Movement PLM formed the Government, there has been spending by Public Works over and above the budgeted allocation. Indeed, in 1999 the over-expenditure was greater than it was in 2002. Why, therefore, has the year 2002 been selected? The over-expenditure was not unusual, and was certainly not the biggest for twenty years.

What is more, every member of Cabinet and every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate knows that both the PLM government and previous ALP governments had spent over the budgeted sums for public works.

In this connection, anyone who supports this motion of no confidence will be supporting the denunciation of every member of this Government and all previous governments going back to the PLM administration which did the same thing in order to provide services to the public.

In his motion, Mr Bowen states further:

"Whereas the 2003 Budget was not designed to address the pressing problems facing this nation".

What this portion of Mr Bowen's statement means is that:

  • the Budget should not have reduced taxes to the hotels and the business community, which it did;
  • it should not have been tax-free, which it was;
  • it should not have been adamant in refusing to dismiss 4,000 public servants from government employment, which it was;
  • it should not have undertaken to reduce corporation tax from 40% to 35% if companies expanded and employed more people, which it did; and
  • it should not have committed to spending more on education, health and roads, which it did.

And if employing as many people as possible is not a pressing problem in this country, then nothing is.

If stimulating the tourism and commercial sector by lowering taxes is not a pressing problem in this country, then nothing is.

If giving our old and sick better health care, and our young more educational opportunities is not a pressing problem, then nothing is.

Mr Bowen's motion, therefore, is not simply a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, it is an indictment of Government Ministers, who took the conscious decision that being part of the Antigua Labour Party administration meant preserving the jobs of the people before anything else.

Those who support a motion of no confidence would be condemning the Labour Party government and the fundamental principle for which the Labour Party stands.

Mr Bowen's motion states further:

"Whereas the Prime Minister has frustrated efforts to investigate the sum of US$350,000 paid into the Government forfeiture fund on July 18th 2001, and which said amount was not reflected in the audited accounts of the said year".

This statement is utter nonsense and is easily disproved. The facts are that Mr Bowen had a relationship with a money launderer and drug dealero robbed a Church organisation of millions of dollars, some of which he laundered through a bank in Antigua. US$350,000 of that money was forfeited and paid into the Government's Forfeiture Fund which is administered by the Office of National Drug Control and Money Laundering Policy (ONDCP).

The reason why the money is not reflected in the Government's audited accounts is that it was not paid into the Treasury, and only Treasury Funds are accounted for in the national accounts.

Under the laws of Antigua and Barbuda, forfeited funds have to be paid, not into the Treasury but into the Forfeiture Fund administered by ONDCP. Any good lawyer in Antigua and Barbuda would know this simple fact, but it appears that Mr Bowen, though he is a lawyer, does not.
ONDCP has publicly revealed that the cheque which Mr Bowen wrote as forfeit of money laundering funds was deposited to the Government forfeiture fund at the Bank of Nova Scotia.

It is within the purview of the Director of Audit to audit the Forfeiture Fund. I have written to the Director of Audit requesting that an audit of the Forfeiture Fund be conducted as soon as possible.

The allegation in Mr Bowen's motion therefore shows both ignorance and malice, and is unworthy of any support.

Mr Bowen's motion also states:

"Whereas the Prime Minister has failed to provide transparency in his administration's activities".

Well, what does that mean? My administration's activities are divided among several Ministries headed by Ministers who run the activities of those Ministries. Is Mr Bowen saying that Ministers have not been transparent, and that I have failed to make them transparent?

This is a notion that I reject completely. And, anyone, including Ministers of the Government, who support Mr Bowen's motion would be accepting that I have failed to ensure their transparency. They would be condemning themselves.

Mr Bowen's motion further states:

"Whereas the Prime Minister has failed to properly investigate both the passport scandal and the videotape scandal of 2002 with impartial and independent Commissions of Inquiry".

Let me deal with the matter of an Inquiry into passports in 2002. The Cabinet as a whole agreed on the composition of the members of the Commission of Inquiry, which included Ralph Francis, Fr. Arnold Francis and John Fuller . This was not a matter for the Prime Minister alone. What is more, the Cabinet as a whole discussed and agreed on the action that would be taken in respect of the findings of the Commission of Inquiry. Many Ministers were very vocal on this issue.
Consequently, any one who supports Mr Bowen's motion would be condemning Cabinet Ministers who agreed the composition of the Inquiry team and who decided on how to treat the recommendations that were made.

In any event, it is instructive that the US Government and the US Congress not only welcomed the Inquiry team and the work that they did, but they also placed so much confidence and trust in the team's work that they invited the Chairman, Mr John Fuller, to testify before a US Congressional committee about the passport issue.

I turn now to the videotape scandal of 2002. I agree that this matter is a scandal. It is scandalous that a young girl of 13 or 14 could be cajoled into a studio and prompted to make what one of her interviewers publicly called "unsubstantiated" allegations. It is even more scandalous that the tape, which was supposedly locked away in a safe belonging to the owners of that recording studio, could have mysteriously crept out of that safe to copy itself hundreds of times over and miraculously mail itself all over the world. It is scandalous that even though a long, detailed and exhaustive inquiry was conducted by a fully objective senior British Policeman exonerating me from the allegations that were made, the allegations continue to be repeated over and over again by discontents such as Mr Bowen.

It is also scandalous that even though I have relinquished my legal rights and entitlements on several occasions to allow charges filed in the High Court to be heard about these accusations, that the allegation is still made that there is no independent inquiry.

What more independent inquiry can there be than one by a Judge of the High Court? I have accepted every ruling by every Judge in every matter related to this case. My desire has been nothing but full cooperation with the justice system to get to the unvarnished truth so that those who have perpetrated this vicious evil and conspiracy against me can be exposed and brought to justice.

I have nothing to hide and nothing to fear on this matter, but I recognise that its inclusion in Mr Bowen's motion is designed to perpetuate the attempt to tarnish my reputation, to weaken my standing in the community, and to bring about the collapse of my government.

Those who support Mr Bowen's motion, therefore, should understand clearly that far from destroying Lester Bird, they are supporting the destruction of the Government itself.

Mr Bowen's motion also states:

"Whereas the Prime Minister has failed to properly account to the Parliament and to the citizens and residents of Antigua and Barbuda in respect to the expenditure of public funds".

I would remind everyone that when I became Prime Minister, audited accounts had not been submitted to the Public Accounts Committee for five years. It was under my administration, and after I took over the Ministry of Finance, that the accounts were not only audited but also submitted to Parliament. So much so, that as of today only the accounts for the year 2001 is due to be submitted to the House. All the other years of expenditure have been fully accounted for, audited, and submitted to the Public Accounts Committee.

This allegation in Mr Bowen's motion is, therefore, spurious and unsustainable. And, anyone, who supports it, is supporting a plain, obvious, and blatant lie that is directed not only at the Prime Minister but the entire machinery of Government, including Cabinet, that has the responsibility to account for the expenditure of public funds.

Mr Bowen's motion also states:

"Whereas the Prime Minister has flouted the authority of law in his handling of appointments to the Senate".

I imagine that, by this, he is referring to those Senators who had dual citizenship.
In appointing the two government Senators who had dual nationality, I acted on the advice of the Atttoney-General at the time Dr. Errol Cort.

In making the appointments to the Senate, I no more flouted the law than did Mr Hilbourne Frank, the Representative for Barbuda and the Barbuda Council, who also appointed a person with dual citizenship on the basis of the person's word and legal advice.

Therefore, if any person, including Mr Hilbourne Frank, were to support the motion of no confidence based on this ridiculous charge, they would be condemning Mr Hilbourne Frank himself and the Barbuda Council who did as I did, and that was to act in good faith. If, on this basis, there is no confidence in me, there can equally be none in Mr Frank and the Barbuda Council.

Fellow Citizens. I have explained to you in some detail why this motion on "no confidence" has no substance and why, far from being directed at me alone, targets the entire Government.

Mr Bowen has nothing to lose by entering the motion. He will not be a candidate in the next general elections for the Antigua Labour Party and you will have noticed that the UPP has not embraced him as one of their candidates.

Mr Bowen is simply and plainly acting with extreme prejudice and malice because he did not succeed in his attempts to manipulate me and the Government into letting him achieve his avaricious ambitions.

But, he is playing into the hands of the Opposition who like no better sport than the disassembling of the Government.

It is my view that Mr Bowen's motion would be defeated in the House of Representatives even if Mr Hilbourne Frank were to vote against himself.

I intend to lead the Antigua Labour Party with a strong and committed team. On this matter, I am fully resolved and determined. I have never been afraid of a fight, particularly when I am righting a wrong and especially when the interests of my country, my party and my government are at stake.

Lester Bird will lead from the front. And, it is at the battlefront that I stand unswerving, unshakeable and unwavering.

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