MINISTER of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell in the House of Assembly.
By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOX Hill MP Fred Mitchell yesterday hit back at the FNM for criticising his decision to petition House Speaker Dr Kendal Major over persons he felt were in breach of parliamentary privilege.
He accused the party of cancelling “itself out of useful criticism when it cannot come to defend the privilege which members of Parliament enjoy”.
Mr Mitchell, in a statement, accused the FNM of “standing with those who defamed their country” rather than “defend the privilege which members of Parliament enjoy of free speech and right of access that are enshrined in our constitution”.
Mr Mitchell said the FNM prefers to “wrap their arms around Fred Smith, QC and Save The Bays” who “stand accused of (allegedly) working together with the FNM to destabilise the country”.
Mr Mitchell also defended his decision to write Dr Major over the matter, claiming that the letter in question was sent “as a courtesy to the Speaker ex officio, by virtue of his office, to be forwarded to the chair of the Committee (of Privileges)”.
However, Mr Mitchell said it is the “general nature” of the House Speaker’s job to “protect the ancient rights of members”.
Mr Mitchell also said Dr Major was advised that the letter in question would be made public.
Last week, Mr Mitchell wrote a letter to Dr Major in which he rebuked attempts by Save The Bays (STB) lawyers and attorney Fred Smith, to question members of Parliament about the leak of its emails in the House of Assembly or to legally suppress information.
Mr Mitchell also outlined several persons he felt had breached parliamentary privilege in response to the email leak – including Data Protection Commissioner Sharmie Farrington-Austin.
This week, the FNM charged that Mr Mitchell’s letter to Dr Major was a “direct attempt” to “undermine, weaken and diminish the authority and integrity of the Speaker”. The FNM also said Mr Mitchell’s letter creates the impression that he is attempting to “bring public pressure on the Speaker to influence his decision on the matter advanced by (Mr Mitchell)”.
Further, the FNM said Mr Mitchell seems to be of the view that the Speaker is a “puppet of both the executive branch and the PLP” and is subsequently “compelled to accept the executive’s blanket contempt for his authority” or “face the possibility that he may not receive a nomination from the PLP to run in the next general election”.
“Isn’t it interesting that the FNM cannot come to defend the privilege which members of Parliament enjoy of free speech and right of access that are enshrined in our constitution?” Mr Mitchell said in response.
“The FNM cancels itself out of useful criticism when it cannot come to defend the privilege which members of Parliament enjoy. Instead, they wrap their arms around (Mr Smith) and Save The Bays who stand accused of working together with the FNM to destabilise the country. Those allegations made in Parliament have not been disproved.”
Mr Mitchell went on to defend his decision to write Dr Major and denied that doing so would put him in a “delicate position”, adding that Dr Major does not “have any active duties to perform in the matter”.
“The Speaker is functus officio in this matter,” Mr Mitchell said. “That means he has discharged his responsibilities in the matter. The matter is before the Committee on Privileges by resolution of the House. The letter was sent as a courtesy to the Speaker ex officio, by virtue of his office, to be forwarded to the Chair of the Committee. It is also, however, in the general nature of the job that the Speaker must protect the ancient rights of members.”
He added: “I am a public official not private one. Public officials deal in public thoughts not private ones. The matters in the letter were made public. The Speaker was advised that it would be made public. It was not leaked. It was clear that it was meant for publication.
“The day the Speaker elected by the PLP majority in the House needs the FNM to speak for him, is the day that pigs will grow wings.”
The STB controversy was sparked after its confidential financial affairs and emails were read out in Parliament.
Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald, Mr Mitchell, along with Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller all disclosed private STB information under the protection of parliamentary privilege.
Their actions drew criticism from many, including the data protection commissioner.