Labour Senator in the Upper House of Parliament, Raymond Roberts has stood his ground and refused to bow to the demands of his former Trade Union colleague, Chester Humphrey who is now President of the NNP-dominated Senate.
Roberts choose to walk out of a Senate Meeting last week Wednesday rather than withdraw statements made about a company that is registered in the Supreme Court registry showing Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and Public Utilities Minister, Gregory Bowen as two if its principal players.
The clash between Humphrey and Roberts took place as Senators were debating the “Physical Planning and Development Bill 2016” in which Bowen is the line minister.
The Bill which was piloted by Minister of State in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Religious Affairs, Sen. Winston Garraway, seeks to provide for the orderly and progressive development of land, and to preserve and improve the amenities for the grant of permission to develop land, and for other powers of control to use the land for the regulation of the construction of buildings and other related matters.
Sen. Roberts who was at the time contributing to the debate on the Bill presented to his fellow Senators a document coming from the Government Registry highlighting a registered company called “Unity House Limited” that was registered on October 21st 2015 in which Prime Minister Mitchell, Bowen, and Marcella Campbell who is the New National Party (NNP) Office Manager are Directors.
The document speaks of the company offering five hundred thousand shares at $10.00 each, and the main type of business being undertaken are “to carry on the business of property development and any other business the directors consider advantageous, to acquire by purchase or otherwise land and property of any tenure, and to carry on business of property management and rental, and other business the directors consider advantageous.”
Sen. Roberts registered his concern over the minister having the authority to select and appoint each director on the Authority when the Bill becomes law, and that he (the minister) determines the directors’ remuneration, as well as the right to dismiss them at anytime.
“So we are asking a minister who has interest to be the one overseeing a law. I am not making this up, this is taken from the Registry… That’s why I am saying if we have governance involving all the Social Partners, we would certainly have a greater buy-in, but we’re seeing here Members of Cabinet with a business,” he said.
The Labour Senator also noted that the business venture in which Dr. Mitchell and Bowen are into will require the blessings of Physical Planning for any major project.
“I am asking the Grenadian people, I am asking the media and the Grenadian people to look at this and see how this fits with this Bill…”, he told the Senate session.
The issue came to a head when Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Simon Stiell who rose on a point of order claimed that Sen. Roberts was imputing improper motive on the part of PM Mitchell and Minister Bowen.
Sen. Stiell indicated that the Labour Senator introduced into the debate a document with the names of Dr. Mitchell, Bowen and Campbell.
He said the company set up is intended for the construction of the NNP Headquarters.
“The three Directors are members of the New National Party to construct a building, party building,” he said.
The Leader of Government Business told the Senate President that Sen. Roberts is suggesting that there is something improper and corrupt associated with two Cabinet Members and this has no relevance to the debate on the Bill.
The Labour Senator was then invited by Sen. Humphrey to address him on the points made by the Leader of Government Business, and to explain how the document introduced by him could be motivated by improper conduct.
Sen. Humphrey said he is being asked to apply the rule of the Senate, but before doing so he must be satisfied that the rule was indeed breached.
In his defence, Sen. Roberts indicated that he has demonstrated no intention of misconduct or corruption.
“All I simply did was to refer to a legitimate document with two legitimate Cabinet Members, and I reflected that they are the ones who are being entrusted with something that will soon to be a legislation and a law of the land,” he said.
“I hope I’m not being censored,” he added.
After ten minutes of arguments and not being satisfied with Sen. Roberts’ response, the Senate President advised the Labour Representative to withdraw his statement relating to the document he introduced.
Sen. Humphrey told the Member he will not be allowed to continue his presentation to the House if he did not obey the order from the Chair.
“You can continue your presentation provided you comply with the ruling of the Chair. I will not allow an insurrection by you or anyone else in this House, so the choice is yours, you can continue to make your contribution, but you must withdraw the document you have presented and the statement which you have made preliminary to the document you presented,” the President of the Senate said to the labour President of the Senate said to the labour representative.
“Mr. President, I am not withdrawing anything because I have said nothing wrong… Mr. President I’m not withdrawing anything and I will stand the consequence of whatever it is. I’ve said nothing wrong, I’m not going to be censored,” Sen. Roberts quipped.
In a defiant mood, Sen. Roberts collected his papers and walked out of the Senate.
“My distinguished President… I have the greatest honour and respect for you, and it will always be my pleasure to honour you, and to respect you because I believe you are a person of great integrity, but I deeply regret Mr. President, I will have to stand the consequences,” he said before taking his exit.
In a facebook posting about the incident Sen. Roberts says, “My conscience does not permit me to withdraw such an appropriate concern, and I joyfully accept the consequences.”
Sen. Roberts has been a long-serving Trade Unionist, being a member of the Public Workers Union.
He replaced Humphrey as the Labour Representative in the Upper House of Parliament in 2013 at a meeting in which the former President-General of the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) made a desperate last minute effort to hold onto the Labour seat in the Upper House.
Prior to the vote for the representative by the various unions, Humphrey alledgedly urged Roberts to meet with him outside to discuss the Senatorial appointment since he allegedly had some unfinished business to take care of in the house.
Roberts did not back down and told the once powerful TAWU boss that he would leave it to the trade union delegates who were about to cast their ballots to determine the labour representative in the Senate.
Roberts had managed to secure the majority of delegates with support from PWU and the Grenada Union of Teachers.