By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Deputy Chief Reporter
FREE National Movement Chairman Sidney Collie yesterday defended the party’s newly appointed tribunal given the task of deciding the fate of the “rebel seven” members of Parliament against accusations of possible bias, saying he was satisfied that the three-person panel will come to a “fair decision”.
Asked to speak to the party’s constitutional safeguards from bias, Mr Collie said the disciplinary panel would take its mandate seriously and be led to make “very deliberate” and methodical decisions. However, he said the dissenting MPs have the right to seek judicial review in the Supreme Court.
Mr Collie would not reveal who would sit on the panel, but said the members were all “seasoned” party supporters who would operate autonomously, setting their own agenda and time lines.
Last week, Official Opposition Leader Loretta Butler-Turner told The Tribune there was no need for her to appear before the FNM’s tribunal - which she called a “kangaroo court” - on “trumped up” and “bogus” charges.
Mrs Butler-Turner also denied claims by Mr Collie that she did not respond to the party’s Executive Council concerning the charges against her and the six MPs who ousted FNM Leader Dr Hubert Minnis as leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Assembly in early December.
To this, Mr Collie yesterday maintained that neither he nor the party’s Secretary General Michael Foulkes had received any formal defence from anyone in the group attempting to exculpate themselves from the charges.
While he further admitted that Mr Foulkes received an email from Leader of Opposition Business in the House Theo Neilly, which “purported” to include a defence, Mr Collie said it was unclear whether this was the MP’s personal response or one on behalf of the group.
However, yesterday Ft Charlotte MP Dr Andre Rollins told The Tribune that the dissenting members of Parliament “have all lodged a formal objection to the bogus charges levelled against us by Dr Minnis.”
St Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman, in an interview with The Tribune yesterday, also said the group responded together, but he said he was unsure of whether it was an email, a formal letter or who sent it.
He added that he was never served with a formal letter of charges from the party despite several of his colleagues being served.
Mr Chipman said he was sent an email from Mr Foulkes containing the charges and also a promise that a letter would be hand delivered to him, but this was never done.
“Firstly, no leadership personnel in the hierarchy of the FNM is permitted to comment on the work of the tribunal because the tribunal got its remit from the (party’s) constitution,” Mr Collie said when he was contacted yesterday.
“It’s a constitutional matter and even though it’s a private constitutional matter the persons who are being dealt with by the tribunal always have the right to go for a judicial review in the Supreme Court and so in order to keep this strictly a constitutional matter, the tribunal’s work is proceeding very deliberately by the members of the tribunal.
“They got their remit after the executive submitted the names and selected three and it was taken to the council. There was very little debate in the council. The council approved the three and they were given their remit and under the constitution they set their own agenda, they decide on their own process, they fix their own dates and deadlines and they set about their work in their own deliberate fashion without any interference or tampering from anyone,” Mr Collie said.
“At the end of their process they could be as quick as they would like or as deliberate and time consuming as they like, but once they are complete they present a report to the council. The council is chaired by me and when I get that report we will go to council and let the council know their position.”
Explaining how the tribunal would be free from bias, Mr Collie said: “The constitution is a written document. It lays down constitutional provisions. The tribunal is a human body and they bring to their jobs their own human and personal experiences and they are guided by the mandate of the tribunal and they set about their work based on the written document.
“With regards to personal views, personal opinions, biases and other matters it will be no different from any court or any quasi-judicial tribunal anywhere in the world that is sitting to determine the quasi-judicial matter. The process in selecting them was very deliberate. They are very senior members of the party and they know the process. All of them have been there longer than I have been there so they are very seasoned persons.
“I suspect that they will be taking their mandate very seriously and they will be coming to a decision very deliberately and very methodically. I am satisfied that we are going to get as fair a decision as you can get in any such tribunal.”
Last Wednesday, the FNM appointed the tribunal to decide the dissenting MPs’ future with the organisation. The MPs face expulsion, suspension from the party or a fine.
The party accused the group of MPs of bringing the party into “disrepute, division, rancour and dishonour” as well as signing, delivering and causing to be a read in the House of Assembly a letter to withdraw support for Dr Minnis. They had seven days to write the Executive Committee of the FNM to attempt to exculpate themselves.
Mr Collie has maintained that there has been no official response from the group but in an e-mail obtained by The Tribune dated December 15, Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner acknowledged receipt of a letter from Mr Foulkes on December 8 and responded to the charges.
In the document attached to the email, the Long Island MP said the seven members are not “prepared to get into a fight with our party, which focuses once again on Dr Hubert Minnis as this is a futile exercise.”
“It is imperative, and our primary concern, that we consider what is in the best interest of all the people of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Indeed, the Bahamian people and our FNM supporters demand that we rid our country of an inept and corrupt PLP government,” she wrote.
“Contrary to the charge, we, duly elected parliamentarians, have exercised our constitutional right in the best interest of our fellow FNM supporters and all the people of the Bahamas,” her letter added.
Mrs Butler-Turner said the party has no recourse against her or the other MPs and if they took their “charges” to a real court, they would not have a “leg to stand on.”