Hubert Minnis, leader of the Free National Movement at the late-night meeting following the vote to remove him as leader of the Opposition. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff
367 total votes.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Free National Movement drafted and sent letters of charges yesterday to the seven parliamentarians who sought Dr Hubert Minnis’ removal as leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Assembly, formally beginning the process that could lead to their expulsion from the party.
The letters were not disclosed to the media because two of the seven members are expected to receive them this morning, an FNM official said.
The news came as the seven parliamentarians remained tightlipped yesterday in discussing their future and that of the FNM, raising questions about just how well planned their bold move was.
While former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham fired Cabinet ministers during his era and FNM members like Tennyson Wells and Pierre Dupuch quit the party to run as independents, the FNM has never expelled a member from the party before.
This possibility now hangs over the seven parliamentarians whose action plunged the party into an unprecedented crisis just months away from the next general election.
According to the FNM’s constitution, the seven members will have seven days upon receipt of the letter to respond to the charges against them, either by seeking clarification or by providing exculpatory evidence.
If the Executive Council concludes they have failed to exculpate themselves, it can form a tribunal consisting of three FNM council members to investigate the matter.
However, “among its options,” Carl Bethel, former FNM senator and attorney general, said yesterday, the executive council “could say let (the matter) die out.”
“It’s politics and all things are possible; or (the council) could take the matter to the next step in the constitution,” he said during an appearance on the 96.9 FM talk show, The Revolution.
That step could include the imposition of a fine not exceeding $100, a suspension not exceeding one year or expulsion from the party.
Disciplinary action could be met with resistance, however.
Michael Scott, an attorney who has represented dissenting FNM factions in court before, said yesterday that the party’s constitution is “poorly written” and ill-equipped to deal with disciplinary matters.
“The party’s constitution is not very well written and would not be easily processed,” he said, adding that if the matter becomes contentious, he would be willing to represent any or all of the seven members in court.
Meanwhile, Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner said yesterday that she has started to consider who she will appoint to the Senate. The dissenting MPs voted to have her replace Dr Minnis as Opposition leader in the House of Assembly.
Three of the four FNM senators appointed by Dr Minnis - Mr Bethel, Dr Duane Sands and Kwasi Thompson - resigned Wednesday night in view of the developments. The fourth senator, Monique Gomez, said she was going to do so yesterday.
“The governor general hasn’t gotten back to us with official correspondence,” Mrs Butler-Turner said. “That’s what we are waiting on. I am giving (the appointees) consideration, but we are waiting until we get the green light to move forward.”
It remains unclear how Mrs Butler-Turner intends to use her new powers.
After she is officially made leader of the Official Opposition, she could appoint new FNM members to various parliamentary committees, including the Committee on Privilege, the Constituencies Commission or the Public Accounts Committee.
There are also numerous governing responsibilities whereby Prime Minister Perry Christie will have to consult with her before taking action.
Theoretically, for instance, if the need arises Mr Christie would have to consult her on key personnel issues such as the appointment of the commissioner or deputy commissioner of police if those posts became vacant.