Davis on the removal of URCA Board Members

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Statement by the Leader of the Opposition

Leader of the Opposition Hon. Philip Brave Davis Q.C.

The PLP notes the purported changes in the membership of the Utilities Regulatory Competition Authority’s (URCA) Board of Directors. We question whether the Government has acted properly and according to law by appointing and announcing changes to the Board. We are deeply concerned that the changes announced by the Attorney General are ultra vires the Act.

The law surrounding and governing any and all changes to this statutory board are as follows:

The provisions of the URCA Act allow for its board members to serve their full terms in office. A change in the Board cannot be accomplished by revocation. Any purported changes in membership are therefore outside the powers of the Act and are null and void. The Attorney General’s purported comment to the press that the law was complied with in making these Board changes is at odds with the letter, initial intent and spirit of the law. I refer the Attorney General to Section 14.1, 14.5, and 19.1 the URCA Act.

These relevant provisions are to ensure the independence of URCA – free from political influence or intervention. Additionally, issues of public policy from the political directorate are required to be contained in the sector policy mandate that is published at intervals; this too is provided for in the Act.

If the tenure of the current chairman expires in 2019, then under law he should be allowed to serve out his entire term, save and except for a voluntary resignation. The action of the government is repugnant and contrary to the law

In 2012 when the PLP came to office, we met the FNM appointed board in place but we complied with the law and allowed the members to serve out their full terms of appointments. The questionable actions of Attorney General Carl Bethel should be tested in a court of law.

I would be remiss if I did not point out to the Prime Minister that no less than the government’s chief legal advisor, the Attorney General, is offering the cabinet which he (the Prime Minister) heads bad policy and legal advice that can be easily and successfully rebutted. This is inexcusable and it seems doubtful that the AG would have consulted the Act on this matter.

I go farther. In addition to failing to consult with the Leader of the Opposition as mandated by law on these changes, we are advised that the government intends to sell its shares in the telecommunications company Aliv. Not only is this not advisable at this stage due to the depressed value of the shares, but it is bad public policy to change a board in the middle of preparations for an Initial Public Offering, or IPO. The sudden loss of institutional knowledge and memory can interrupt and negatively impact the IPO process and is a compelling enough reason to allow the existing board to finish its important work unencumbered.

Some unsolicited advice for the FNM Government: The Government should at all material times be the strongest of advocates for the prevalence of the rule of law and not one who appears cavalier in skirting the law and loose with the truth. The public trust and confidence and the protection of the investments of shareholders requires that the independence of the board be maintained. This action by the Government undermines that independence.

END