A Too-Busy Senator Burke


Caribupdate Weekly

It would appear that the economic burden that opposition politician Nazim Burke claims descended on the Grenadian people after he — as Finance Minister — and the entire Tillman Thomas administration were voted out of office in 2013 — is putting an intense personal strain on Sen. Burke himself. So serious, that Mr Burke, by his own admission, has had to curtail his contribution to the Upper House of Parliament.

The opportunity to serve in the legislature of one’s country — any country, anywhere in the world — is a privilege that’s not to be taken lightly. It is a high honour for that very small fraction of the population who, usually at great sacrifice, are courageous enough to offer themselves as candidates in general elections, and to be chosen to be Members of Parliament.

These MPs, at least, would have worked overtly, often day and night, beating the pavement, knocking on doors, canvassing for votes.

Senators, on the other hand, fall in two general categories: one, they are appointed by the Governor General — on the recommendation of the Prime Minister or an Opposition Leader of a defeated party — after the appointee would have been rejected by the electorate; or second, appointed — again by the Governor General — on the recommendation of an interest group such as the labour movement, the business community or the agricultural and fisheries sector.

Under the existing Grenada constitution, when a party loses all 15 seats in an election, the defeated political party forfeits all standing in parliament and there is no constitutionally recognized Official Opposition Leader to recommend names to the GG for senatorial appointments.

However, as has happened twice in Grenada, the Governor General may grant the favour of appointing a few Grenadians from the losing party or parties to the Upper House; Grenadians whom the Governor General considers as having the time and ability to make a worthwhile contribution to our parliamentary democratic system. Clearly, this would have been the consideration when former Governor General Sir Carlyle Glean, in February 2013, appointed Mr Burke and two other losing NDC election candidates, as Senators to sit in the Upper House of Parliament.

Now, after 2 recent early exits from the Senate, that he denied were protest action, Mr Burke, who is an attorney, told reporters that he left the chamber because he had other business to which he had to tend.

On the first occasion, when questioned about his leaving the senate early, Mr Burke told reporters: “I have commitments that I have to keep; I have deadlines that I have to meet… I try to ensure that I can support myself as best I could.”

Earlier this month, on the second occasion, Mr Burke explained his abrupt departure from the parliamentary chamber by saying: “I have some deadlines I’m trying to meet in respect of an assignment I am doing. It is a very difficult period now in terms of balancing my time between all the many responsibilities that I have to carry out.”

One has to take Mr Burke at his word, that he’s extremely busy. Most of us in this country, as poor people, are familiar with “bussing we tail” to make ends meet, trying to put food on the table for ourselves and our family.

We, at Caribupdate Weekly, empathize with Mr Burke. And, as a friendly suggestion, we’ll like to recommend that if he’s unable to give his Senate duties the attention and time that it requires, because of his other commitments, he should step aside and resign from the Upper House.

Alternatively, Governor General Dame Cécile La Grenade should hold audience with Mr Burke to discuss his Senate duties. And if, in her estimation he’s unable to commit to Senate duties as he ought to, then kindly request the resignation from the Upper House of the leader of the National Democratic Congress, or revoke his appointment. Dame Cécile could appoint another Senator from the ranks of the NDC.

There are many talented people in the NDC from whom the GG can select a new Senator. For example, there’s party Chairman Vincent Roberts, who has been Mr Burke’s chief lieutenant for many years and who been active in mostly behind–the–scene cloak and dagger shenanigans. Mr Roberts will be capable of articulating Mr Burke’s views and opinions — almost as well as Mr Burke himself.

And, there is former NDC leader Tillman Thomas, who once was a Senator. Mr Thomas will bring a wealth of parliamentary experience to the chamber as a former Prime Minister, MP and Senator.

If the NDC is looking for the perfect person to continue to “jumbie” the constitutional reform process in the Senate, the party could lobby the Governor General to appoint Glen Noel as Mr Burke’s replacement. Mr Noel, a former Senator and the current NDC General Secretary, will be ideal.

In fact, some felt that Mr Noel should have been among those appointed to the Senate by Sir Carlyle Glean. Arley Gill shared the view that Mr Noel would have served the NDC quite decently with a Senate appointment in 2013. Mr Gill and Mr Noel were executive members of the National Democratic Congress and sat together as NDC Senators.

Mr Gill, in a commentary in Caribupdately Weekly in April 2013, said his “own pick for an NDC senator would have been Glen Noel’’ because Mr Noel “knows how to make confusion and he’s a street fighter’’. As Mr Gill put it: “Glen has nothing to lose; he is not a candidate for anything and he doesn’t have to please anyone. Nobody really likes him and that does not bother him.”

In a broader sense, relieving Mr Burke of senatorial duties could be a plus for the NDC; it would allow him more time to engage in field work in preparation for the next general election. It also would offer him a chance at improving his personal relationship with the voting population, including his own party supporters. As one well-known NDC supporter wrote on a public forum recently: “In my view Nazim has passed his sell-by-date when it comes to politics in Grenada and should exit stage. The party, I would assume, has begun to think about succession and its long term viability. The next election could prove me to be right and then a meaningful rebuilding/rebranding can begin.”

It is against this background that we believe that a Burke replacement in the Senate would be in his personal best interest; in the interest of the party he leads; and in the interest of the Upper House being served by members who are able to provide due attention to the nation’s business.

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