BELMOPAN, Fri. June 30, 2017–Former Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar “Gapi” Vega returned to Parliament on Friday, June 30, after an astounding 10-month absence marked by his resignation from Cabinet in the wake of a land scandal involving his son, Andre Vega.
At last report, Vega had missed seven consecutive meetings since the meeting of December 9, 2016, but because those meetings spanned more than three months, he was not subject to the provision in the House standing orders that would have resulted in his seat being declared vacant.
He returned after being absent for 10 months, for 7 House meetings
Section 84(2) of the Standing Orders of the House says: “If, without the leave of the Speaker obtained in writing before the end of the last of the sittings referred to in this paragraph, any Member is absent from the House for more than six consecutive sittings occurring during the same Session, and within a period of not longer than three calendar months, such Member shall vacate his seat in the House under section 59(2) (a) of the Belize Constitution Act, 1981, as amended.”
Vega, who reappeared in the front row after having been seated, prior to his departure, on the backbench, had most notably missed the budget presentation of March 13 as well as the national budget debate of March 23 and 24. Indications are that he had given no reason for his extensive absence from Parliament, but we are also told that the standing orders do not require that a reason is stated.
The last meeting Vega attended was the August 26 meeting of the House, from which Cayo South area representative Julius Espat was unceremoniously ejected with force by police, who also roughly handled 7 News director, Jules Vasquez.
Vega’s House hiatus was perhaps the longest running of any parliamentarian from the National Assembly. Of note is that if Vega—who only stayed past mid-day for Friday’s extended House meeting—chooses to absent himself again from future meetings, his seat would only come into question if he is subject to the provision quoted above, which means that he would have to miss six more consecutive House meetings that fall within a 3-month span—unlikely, we are told, outside of a budget presentation/debate cycle.
During his absence, Vega, who exited Cabinet last October, continued to receive his parliamentary salary of $37,800 per annum (or $3,150 a month), plus benefits, including a $50 telephone allowance, a $350 travel allowance and an entertainment allowance of over $500. He also continues to be covered by a $1 million medical insurance package with Sagicor, which is given to House members and paid for by the Government.
When last questioned on his former deputy’s absence, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said: “It is my sense that Hon. Vega does not intend to give up his constituency, does not intend to resign his seat and I suspect and believe that it is just a matter of time before he starts reappearing in the National Assembly.”
During today’s House meeting, the Opposition People’s United Party said that Vega is enjoying special police protection with three cops guarding his home on a 24-hour rotation.
In response to that assertion, Barrow said that there had been reports that Vega had been threatened by his political rival in Orange Walk. (We will have more on that in an article appearing elsewhere in this edition of Amandala.)