BELMOPAN, Cayo, Fri. May 12, 2017–Former Deputy Prime Minister and United Democratic Party area representative for Orange Walk North, Gaspar Vega, missed his seventh consecutive House of Representatives meeting today, perhaps the longest running absence of any parliamentarian from the National Assembly.
Three other parliamentarians were absent from today’s meeting: Belize Rural South representative for the ruling UDP, Manuel Heredia Jr.; Opposition People’s United Party member for Freetown, Francis Fonseca; and PUP member for Cayo South — Julius Espat.
Vega has been absent from National Assembly meetings since he resigned from his ministerial post under pressure from Cabinet last October, in the wake of a shocking land compensation deal which allegedly played out while he held the ministerial portfolio for lands and which is now the subject of a legal claim to recover the funds from his son, Andre Vega, and Sharon Pitts.
Parliamentary records indicate that meetings were held on May 12, March 23 and 24, March 13, January 27, January 13, and December 9 and Vega was absent from all those meetings. There has been no indication that he has given a reason for his 7 successive absences.
This notwithstanding, he continues to receive his 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.
As the standing orders currently stand, Vega will remain in good standing as long as his seat is not declared vacant.
House rules only bar members from exceeding 6 absences over a 3-month period or less, so all the conditions required for Vega’s seat to be declared vacant have not been simultaneously met—at least not yet.
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 no 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.”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow told reporters in Belmopan on Friday, when probed in Vega’s absence: “I am sure he is aware of the rule and is making very sure that he will not violate the rule.”
He added, “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.”