By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
MEMBERS of Parliament clashed in the House of Assembly yesterday over allegations St Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman made in a letter to House Speaker Dr Kendal Major in which he claimed that the draft order for constituency boundaries that was tabled last week differed significantly from the report he signed as the Official Opposition’s representative on the Constituencies Commission.
Dr Major read the letter into the record, then called it “extraordinary,” “unprecedented,” and said it possibly impugns his character.
During another rambunctious session, he threatened to name Fort Charlotte MP Dr Andre Rollins when the MP frequently attempted to rise on a point of order only to be rebuffed by the speaker as governing party members shouted and scolded him from their seats.
Mr Chipman was not present in the House yesterday because he is out of the country.
For his absence, he was criticised by governing party members even though he was with a government delegation in Trinidad for a CARICOM meeting at the invitation of Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell.
Mr Chipman’s letter, dated February 13, said: “I write to formally record my extreme displeasure at the complete and utter variance between the contents of the document shown to me and the document actually tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, February 8, 2017. In particular, as mentioned during our telephone conversation of Friday, February 10, 2017, I had no prior knowledge of the changes relating to Montagu, as announced by the right honourable prime minister, when the draft report was tabled in the House of Assembly on February 8, 2017.”
The letter added: “Therefore, I am bound to express my profound disappointment that the document produced to me withheld material contained in the actual draft report laid in the House. Moreover, a number of my Opposition colleagues have forcefully expressed the view to me that the report fails the test of fundamental fairness in these specific ways.”
Mr Chipman also argued that the decision to recalibrate some boundaries in some constituencies was flawed, and he accused the government members on the commission of gerrymandering.
“The Montagu (which has been renamed Freetown) and St Anne’s constituencies are the most blatant cases (where gerrymandering took place),” he said.
Mr Chipman also argued that there was no justification for increasing the number of seats in the country given the slow pace of voter registration.
In his letter, Mr Chipman did not explain the difference between the report he signed and the draft order tabled in the House.
In response yesterday, Prime Minister Perry Christie stressed that he made one change to the boundaries report, which was in respect to the name change of the Montagu constituency. He added that this fell within the parametres of his powers as outlined in the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Marathon MP Jerome Fitzgerald, one of the members of the commission, responded by expressing serious concerns about his allegations, which he said were blatantly false.
When Dr Rollins said it was inappropriate for Mr Fitzgerald to criticise an absent member, Dr Major said his comment was the one that was out of order.
“The chair takes grave issue with your comments,” Dr Major said. “This letter in the member’s absence was read from the chair, the same person whose character itself was impugned in this letter, or could be impugned in this letter. So the chair is showing absolute fairness in allowing this to be aired and so for the member of Marathon to defend as a member of the commission, you not having been a member at all, is (appropriate). You are out of order. Take your seat.”
During debate on the draft order, Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis said Mr Chipman was “under duress” when he signed the letter he sent to Dr Major.
“I don’t know that (Mr Chipman) could look me in the eye and speak to me about this,” Mr Davis said. “I don’t think he could look you in the eye and speak to you about this.
“I would wish to note my extreme displeasure in the allegation he made about the commission. The fact that he speaks to the complete and utter variance between the contents of the documents shown him and actually tabled, let me say that there has been no variance from what was handed to him compared to what was laid on the table of the House.
“What was laid on the table of the House was the draft order sent to the governor general by the prime minister. Mr Chipman allowed the crew to bamboozle him into signing this. They forced him to sign this document. He needs to look me in the eye and tell me he believes this what he put his name to,” Mr Davis, a member of the Constituencies Commission, said.