The next sitting of the House of Assembly is tentatively set for 2 April and given the current unresolved matter of the seat for the Fourth District questions are being asked whether Speaker of the House Hon. Julian Willock will swear in elected Representative Hon. Mark Vanterpool in and bring an end to the talk of a by-election.
The situation regarding the Fourth District seat arose when on 5 March days after being reelected Hon. Mark Vanterpool issued a statement and a video announcing that he was retiring from representational politics. Hon. Vanterpool said: “Today I have advised the Clerk of the House of Assembly that I wish to be excused from sitting in the next House of Assembly due to be convened on 12th March 2019. I am aware that this would be very surprising to the residents of District four and the Territory, having been duly elected in the February 25th 2019 General Elections.”
This resulted in His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert issuing a statement on the following day in which he said: “Honourable Mark Vanterpool, Member-Elect for the Fourth District has advised me of his intention to relinquish his member-elect status. In the instance that a seat in the House of Assembly is vacant when it convenes, a by election will need to be held in the coming weeks in accordance with section 24A of the Elections Act.”
However, in an interesting move on 14 March Hon. Vanterpool withdrew his decision to resign. He announced that because he submitted his letter of resignation to the Clerk of the House of Assembly and not the Speaker of the House his request to leave was invalid. Therefore, Hon. Vanterpool said that he wished to be sworn in as a Member of the House. This announcement resulted in a response from the Speaker of the House Hon. Willock who declared that a by-election should be held because he already accepted Hon. Vanterpool’s resignation.
In his statement Willock said: “On 13 March 2019, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Honourable Julian Willock wrote to Mr Mark H Vanterpool accepting his decision not to be sworn into the Fourth House of Assembly and to resign from representing the Fourth Electoral District. Mr Willock, who was sworn into office as Speaker of the Fourth House of Assembly on 12th March 2019, received a letter from the Clerk of the House of Assembly written by Mr. Mark Vanterpool detailing his decision to resign from the House of Assembly after being re-elected at the February 25, 2019 polls.”
The Governor’s opinion on the matter was later sought by the media during a sitdown on 15 March and His Excellency Governor Jaspert stated “My goal in this as Governor, would be if we got to a point, would be to ensure there is representation… to issue a writ of a by-election if there was a vacancy. Now at the moment, we haven’t formally gotten to a point where I would; there’s no formal indication for me to move forward on a by-election.”
“It is only when there is a formal notification that I will move forward…” “I will be guided by the Constitution on the laws of the Territory and on the legal advice,” Governor Jaspert stated. He further mentioned the section of the Constitution which states that, “an elected member of the House of Assembly shall also vacate his or her seat in the House– (a) if he or she resigns it by writing under his or her hand addressed to the Speaker.”
Therefore, the Governor opined that this means that the letter of resignation must be penned to the Speaker of the House. In this stead His Excellency said that he is being further advised on the matter by Attorney General Baba Aziz.
Since the discussions about a by-elections commenced Luce Hodge-Smith who contested for Fourth District seat under the VIP’s banner issued a video statement announcing that she is ready to contest the by-election. Hodge-Smith said: “While we await the outcome of this unfortunate situation, I ask the people of the Fourth District and the greater Virgin Islands to be steadfast in your belief that God will resolve all injustices.”
“If we have this by-election coming up, I just want you to rest assured that I remain steadfast in my desire to represent and serve you, the people of the fourth … I pledge to never quit and to say I’m coming back. I will always be there.”
Premier Says Actions Have Consequences
Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie has weighed in on the back and forth situation regarding the representation of the Fourth District stating that a representative should consider his/her constituents in making certain decisions: “I would say that I stand firmly on my belief when people go to vote for you and they take time out of their busy schedules and they vote for you. You see persons come mostly seniors with their crutches, their wheelchairs and their walkers and persons stand up through the hot sun to make sure that they come and they cast their votes for you – it’s a very serious thing. I don’t take it lightly. It is not one where you should just wake up and decide that you finish. You wake up the next morning and say that you’re going. You are dealing with people’s lives.”
In weighing in on the matter on 19 March while on the Honestly Speaking radio talk show Hon Fahie explained that this is not a matter that he was addressing as a Premier but rather as a member of the House of Assembly.
“That’s a matter that as Premier you don’t have the authority to make any call, but as a member of the House of Assembly it is a matter too that if it is called upon as a vote or whatever stand the Speaker takes you will have to decide how you are going to move. At the end of the day you have to respect the Speaker’s decision,” Hon. Fahie said.
As it relates to the opposing views held by the Speaker and Hon. Vanterpool the Premier stated the situation is indeed a legal conundrum. This is one of the situations that the Constitution is not quite clear on. “The legality of this is an interesting one because section 67 says that if you’re going to resign you have to do it through the Speaker, but there was no Speaker at that time so we have an anomaly in the law. A grey area where really and truly the law doesn’t speak in this area, because no one ever anticipated that someone would resign not too long after election before they were sworn in and then say that they want to be sworn in.”
Nonetheless, Hon. Fahie said that he is not going to be caught up over the situation: “This is quite an interesting matter, it is not one that I would become emotional over. It is not one I am going to be bullied on either. I am just going to watch it keenly and look at all the facts that are involved. At the end of the day whatever the Speaker decides I am going to support the Speaker.”
Since the situation arose there have been conversations in private quarters regarding the Speaker’s stance on the matter. This view was alluded to by the Premier who pointed out that this is a problem that fell into the Speaker’s lap.
“This is even not a matter for the Speaker, because this is a matter that the Speaker has inherited, but where the law is silent there is also something called reasonable expectation. The reasonable expectation here was clear; so I am clear how I see this. These matters are not simple matters, but we have to admit that they were brought on by the actions of certain individuals. We cannot take the people’s support for granted and be dealt with in the manner I am seeing it being dealt with. This is nothing against the individual,” the Premier said.
“Under the law the Speaker is in charge of the House. What will happen I do not know. All I know is … I am not going to lose any sleep over it. I am not going to let anybody bully me into supporting something that is not right because everyone is free to do what they want, but they are not free from the consequences of their actions,” Hon. Fahie added.