By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
MEMBER of Parliament for Centreville Reece Chipman had been contemplating severing ties with the governing Free National Movement to represent the constituency as an independent since January.
Grappling with what he described as “fake democracy” and “dictatorial cognizance”, the MP’s decision to leave the party came yesterday, ten months later.
The MP told reporters he was further compelled to resign because of partisan politics and the administration’s handling of post-Hurricane Dorian efforts. These issues were what largely solidified his decision to leave the FNM.
Although he could not say exactly how many constituents supported the move, Mr Chipman was adamant this was not the beginning of the end of his career in politics.
At 10am yesterday, Mr Chipman sent letters to the party’s Chairman Carl Culmer and House Speaker Halson Moultrie outlining his grievances, largely based on a “huge disconnect between the Parliament and the people” that he was no longer able to sit back and allow.
He also suggested that the administration’s leadership was “insecure” and did not mesh well with an increasingly educated society.
During a press conference at his small constituency office on Arundel Street, the first time MP said the current partisan system lacked integrity, truth accountability and transparency.
Mr Chipman beat former Prime Minister Perry Christie in the constituency race during the May 2017 general election. It was a seat held by Mr Christie for more than 40 years.
“It has been since January, once I had left the Public Accounts Committee, the thought process had began and basically giving my party an opportunity to show that the direction they were heading in was in the best interest of the people,” Mr Chipman said when asked by The Tribune how long he had contemplated resigning from the party.
“At this point I have determined that it is not in the best interest of the Bahamian people based on the legislation that I have seen brought forward, based on lack of review of those legislation, based on the fact that you can just abuse the House rules and the law at the disenfranchisement of the Bahamian people. So it was a thought process and it began quite sometime ago.
“…It was a big thing for me,” he said, in relation to whether government’s handling of Dorian influenced the decision.
“When Bahamian lives are lost and the way you would have seen lives on the street, definitely there is some accountability that needs to take place from the government. We have a Disaster Preparedness and Response Act that should have been followed.
“The act was in place since 2008. Had we done the annual review and the annual planning from 2008 - I’m not saying we would have saved all of the lives - but at the very least we would have done what we were supposed to do to ensure that lives were not lost.”
However, Mr Chipman never got the chance to share his concerns with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, suggesting he was ignored.
“At the resignation and at various times I would make calls to have a meeting with him because I really wanted to let him understand because sometimes we look at these things and we don’t understand why we do what we do.
“So I wanted to speak to him with regards to that, but of course I never got an audience with the prime minister and that’s fine.
“The goal is to move forward and maybe at some point we will show him how it’s done.”
The intention, Mr Chipman insisted yesterday, was to show the country that Centreville will flourish without party affiliation.
He maintained yesterday that his family’s unresolved land matters had no bearing on this decision.
“When I campaigned for the FNM it’s so different than what you see now. I am on the ground saying this and saying that just giving talking points, just to get people to vote for persons who are going to go in the House of Assembly and not represent them.
“I didn’t understand that at that time because I was only on the ground, having been in the house of Parliament and seeing the impact of partisan politics on our people, you’re passing laws that are hurting your brothers and sisters, and for what? A couple of dollars?
“Well Centreville will show that we don’t need your money. We will make it happen and as an independent I will work with my private companies and my private persons to make sure that this community stays alive.”
In a letter to the party dated October 10, Mr Chipman wrote: “At this time, I am of the belief that partisan politics is not helping the people of Centreville or the country at large. At this time I believe I can do more for the people of Centreville as an independent.”
“This decision came with lots of conversations ad lots of communication with those with a stake in my political direction, and the political direction of our country – my God, my family, and friends and last but not least my constituents,” he said in a separate letter to Speaker Moultrie.
“Institutional or partisan politics at this time will not work for the constituency of Centreville or myself as its representative. The deepening of democracy of the parties and of this parliament can only be the fragment of one’s imagination. But I hope that changes.
“…I am not prepared to sit back and watch a Parliament not follow the very laws they enact, but yet dream of a lawful society and a lawful culture.
“I continue to be baffled by the fact that the people would have presented two petitions to the House of Assembly that went unanswered (and) a ruling of the House with regards to the PAC that has yet to be fortified.
“Standard committees of the House that go without report to the House or the people (and) bills being passed without accompanying regulations and lack of policy. (There has been) no question time as the rule book indicates.
“This is yet another signal to the next generation to fix the Parliament by ensuring a real democratic process in the selection of their representatives.”
The now independent representative also asked Speaker Moultrie to reseat him according to parliamentary rules. He also wants permission to address his colleagues for five minutes at the next sitting of Parliament.
The FNM released a statement yesterday morning calling the decision “unfortunate”. The party seemed to attempt to get ahead of the bad publicity that resignations bring.
“Mr Chipman won a historic election in May 2017, defeating the sitting Prime Minister and then Centreville MP Perry Christie,” the statement said.
“It is unfortunate that Mr Chipman decided to leave our party. The FNM is a place where young Bahamians can make their contributions to nation building. The FNM has the oldest youth political organisation in the country in the Torchbearers Youth Association. The FNM elected the youngest members to Parliament at the last general election.
“Since coming to office, this Free National Movement administration led by Dr Minnis has been committed to addressing the major problems facing The Bahamas. During the FNM’s term the economy has returned to regular growth, crime has decreased and accountability has returned to Government after years of corrupt Progressive Liberal Party rule.”
The FNM thanked him for his service and wished him the best.
Mr Chipman’s political career, although short, has been a storied one.
In March 2018, he was fired as chairman of the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation after defying Dr Minnis’ ultimatum to either tender his resignation or be fired.
The firing came a mere ten months into the Minnis administration’s term in office.
Asked yesterday to reveal what really led to his firing, Mr Chipman said: “I was fired form the Antiquities Monuments Museums Corporation and based on the information I would have received from the individual that fired me, he said I was not getting along with the people. I can only give you what I was told why I was fired.”
In June 2018, he along with Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller, Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine and Bain and Grants Town MP Travis Robinson voted against the value added tax increase from 7.5 percent to 12 percent.
And then in January, he resigned from the Public Accounts Committee out of frustration with the immobility of the traditionally powerful parliamentary sub-committee.
Mr Chipman also released a press statement yesterday, saying if he knew then what he knows and is experiencing now, he would have fought even harder for the people of Centreville.
“Today, Centreville says goodbye to institutional politics and will stand as an independent representative in the House of Assembly. Independent of partisan politics, independent of institutional mis-philosophies and independent of a system where dictatorship will continue to lead to regression.
“…There is a difference when institutions build themselves on fake democracy, only to be reigned in with the practise of dictatorial cognizance,” Mr Chipman said.