BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 14, 2016–Cayo South area representative and member of the Opposition People’s United Party, Hon. Julius Espat, has received notification of a decision to freeze his monthly salary of $3,600 which he receives for sitting in the House of Representatives, as well as his allowances of $2,300 for his constituency office and $4,000 as community vote, to support his constituents—a decision which he is threatening to challenge in court along with what he says was an unlawful suspension from Parliament on Friday, August 26.
“I have instructed my attorneys to take the case to Supreme Court so that our case can be heard and so that we know where we stand,” said Espat.
Amandala has confirmed that the Clerk of the National Assembly, Eddie Webster, has sent a letter today indicating that Espat, who was suspended at the last sitting of the House, should not expect his salary at the end of September or the constituency funds usually disbursed at the start of each month.
Espat told us that the Clerk sent a letter today addressed to Carla Alpuche, who we understand works with the Human Resources Unit of the Ministry of the Public Service, saying that Espat should receive no payments until a House resolution is passed, according to section 44.7 of the Standing Orders of the House.
However, Espat’s attorney, Andrew Marshalleck, of Barrow and Company, who has written the Speaker of the House challenging his client’s suspension, told our newspaper that the fact that the National Assembly is saying that a vote is required to lift the suspension underscores the point that a suspension cannot be implemented in the first place without a vote.
“Didn’t you need a vote of the House to impose a suspension? It means there is no suspension… Why do you need a vote to reverse it? All this will lead to is embarrassment…” said Marshalleck. “What are they going to court to say? Oops, it was a mistake?” he remarked.
“The power to suspend rests with the House and there was no vote by the House to suspend him. I don’t see how they can dispute that,” Marshalleck insisted.
“If they don’t pay him now, that’s a basis for acting, because somebody is deciding that he is suspended…” Marshalleck said.
House Speaker Michael Peyrefitte, who repeatedly called for a House member to name Espat after Espat accused the Speaker of political bias in muzzling the Opposition in Parliament, told us today that the matter is out of his hands. He also maintained that Espat was properly suspended.
“It’s not up to me. The standing orders are very clear that the suspension can be lifted by a motion. A [member] would have to bring a motion to the House and the House would have to pass a resolution,” he said.
“Only the House can bring him back,” Peyrefitte said. However, a motion to lift the suspension would have to be carried by a majority, which means that at least four members of the ruling United Democratic Party would have to support it.
We asked him when the House would be meeting again. He told us that he is not sure.
According to Peyrefitte, the last member of the House to face such sanctions was Melvin Hulse, former representative, for Stann Creek West, during his tenure of 1989 to 1993. Hulse, he said, was suspended for a little bit more than six months. We asked the Speaker whether Hulse also had his community funds iced, but he told us that at the time, there was no such system in place for area reps to receive disbursements for their constituencies.
Under section 44.5 of the House Standing Orders, a suspension may be effected if “a Member shows disregard for the authority of the Chair, or abuses the rules of the House by persistently and willfully obstructing the business of the House…” and the suspension may continue “for the entire session [or term] of the National Assembly if there is no resolution to overturn the suspension. A member who refuses an order to leave the National Assembly upon suspension can face suspension for the session of Parliament.”
Espat recounted that on Friday, August 26, he was “forcefully removed” from the National Assembly after the United Democratic Party member for Pickstock, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, moved his suspension and the Speaker subsequently directed the police to remove him, although there was no majority vote taken, Espat said.
He told us that on September 5th, he asked for a written confirmation of his status, first by writing a letter to the Clerk of the National Assembly, who then advised Espat to redirect his letter to the Speaker. Espat and his attorney told us that the Speaker has not responded to the letter.
Espat told us that he did speak with Peyrefitte via phone after the letter was dispatched, and again today, but the Speaker has maintained that he cannot lift the suspension, and did not know of the freeze in his payment of $9,000 plus.
“Why is it a concern for me? It is not only the salary they send to you. You get a salary plus a stipend to run your [constituency] office and a community vote,” Espat told us.
Espat told us that he usually spends what he receives plus more to cover his constituency. He said that he is one of the few area reps who maintain a formal office which stays open from Monday to Friday each week, and which has accommodations to listen and hear the concerns of people. He also told us that the office supports feeding programs and back-to-school programs for constituents.
“It is a concern… Candelaria Saldivar [former Chief Executive Officer for Immigration] is on [administrative leave] with full pay for doing nothing… It is worrisome,” Espat commented.
“I have instructed my attorneys to take the case to Supreme Court so that our case can be heard and so that we know where we stand…” he said.
The House Standing Orders also state that, “A Member who is suspended shall not be entitled to attend any sitting of the House, or enter the House or its precincts, until the termination of his suspension.”
Espat told us that since the move to suspend him from Parliament, he attended a meeting of the Finance and Economic Development Committee, of which he is a member, with no objection from any of the members. He attended after receiving a letter of invitation issued by the clerk, he said.
Belmopan area representative, John Saldivar, of the ruling United Democratic Party, chaired the meeting, which was attended by Edmond Castro and Elodio Aragon, Jr., of the UDP, and Kareem Musa of the PUP. Officials of the Central Bank and the Financial Intelligence Unit were also present at the meeting to discuss bills pertaining to the new national payment system and moneylenders legislation, Espat said.
“I am serious about what I do… We shouldn’t be afraid of standing up for what we believe in. It is my obligation and responsibility as an elected representative and it doesn’t not matter which political party you represent,” Espat said.