HONOURABLE ASOT MICHAEL M.P. MINISTER OF TOURISM, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, INVESTMENT & ENERGY SPEAKS AT PARLIAMENT V. C. BIRD DAY
MONDAY AUGUST 18 2014
Mister Speaker, I will be very brief.
I remember early in the United Progressive Party’s administration in 2004, when we came to this Argus House, I sat on that other isle of the Parliament and I was very loud and very passionate, when the UPP administration sought to erase from the annuls of history the Vere Cornwall Bird Senior Day which was enacted in legislation.
I cautioned the Member for St. John’s Rural West, the former Prime Minister, who was going on and on about it having no political malice, and that it was not politically motivated, but I want to say to you sir, we must come here with clean hands and a clear conscious at all times, and if you claimed that you recognize that V. C. Bird has done so much for this country, and you claim that you admire him and that you have such a close affinity with him more than most of us on this side of the isle, why would you as Prime Minister of this country, what rational would you give to the people of this country, to erase from the legacy, or to seek to erase, because that what is you did when you sought to put all other National Heroes, and I am not diminishing the other national heroes that we have, because they are all great and have contributed in their own right to the development of this country. I think as you rightfully said, V. C. Bird stands out by himself, and must at all times stand by itself.
We must never do anything in this country or this Parliament as responsible legislators to erase the history of a man who contributed his entire life to the development, and to the upliftment of the people of this country. Who broke down the social barriers in this country and brought us into a society where you had your own black and indigenous men and women working in the banks, and occupying offices, and then becoming owners of their own businesses, and you want to tell me that with your foresight as Prime Minister then, that you would allow some Trinidadian, peace be to his soul, Mr. Roy Boyke at the time, who would say to you…..
There is a motive in it; there is a motive in the madness to do this.
You got to erase from the annuls of the history books of this country “birdism”.
It is a new dispensation, when you swept out the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party out of power convincingly after twenty-eight (28) years of rule in 2004, you felt it was time to change the psyche, to change the culture of the people, and what must we start with, V. C. Bird and “birdism”.
That was one of the first acts of Parliament I remember, you didn’t wait until 2005 or 2006, it was not even three or four months after coming into office that you brought to this Argus House, that bill, clandestinely, without even having it properly circulated.
You spoke this morning about circulating, gazetting, and publishing, and I remember clearly when we came to Parliament that morning that the bill was placed on the desks of all of us on the Opposition side, there were only four of us at the time. No gazette, nothing. And we objected.
It was four Parliamentarians, the Honourable Member Steadroy Benjamin, City South, the Prime Minister now from City West, St. Peter’s, and St. Phillip’s North. The four of us and we objected, and they rammed it through Parliament.
And you now have the gall, the gumption to come to this Honourable House and tell us early this morning that we can’t suspend standing orders so and so, because it hasn’t been gazetted, the interpretation of gazette is not published in and so forth. And after you publish in the gazette is it not notice to the entire world, and the bill must be attached to the gazette.
What nonsense I heard, and can’t believe what I’m hearing with my ears, lest we forget, it was just a few months ago that you were in the driver’s seat ramming all these bills through Parliament, without any proper notice, without any seven day notice, and now you come like you’re lily white, anxiously self righteous, and standing here in this Argus House, and saying what we’re doing is wrong.
I want to say, that Vere Cornwall Bird Senior must have his day, we promised the people of this country in 2004, the Honourable Member for St. John’s City West, he was not then Prime Minister, he was not even Leader, and he said when we resume the reins of power of this country, one of the first acts we will bring back to this Parliament is the Vere Cornwall Bird Day. And true to his word we are here this afternoon, promise made, promise kept.
I mean I don’t need to regurgitate and rehash all the good that Vere Cornwall Bird has done. The whole country knows what he has done.
You have a Lincoln day, you have a Washington day, but yes you have a hero’s day in the United States too, but those heroes are separated in a separate category, separate and distinct from Abraham Lincoln, from Martin Luther King.
How can you clump Martin Luther King, and George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln, with some other heroes in the United States? When you stand out, you stand out!!!
This must transcend NY partisan politics, and don’t come here with any hypocrisy and tell us that it is not motivated, because it was politically motivated. If you had it your way, you all would have torn down V. C. Bird name from the Airport.
I mean, look at what you have done to Lester Bird. Three times, three different Leaders of the Opposition, the Honourable Robin Yearwood, the Honourable Steadroy Benjamin, and the Honourable Prime Minister now, tried as Leader of the Opposition when he was there to knight the Honourable Lester Bird, and they turned them down.
It’s a trend, it is a trend to wipe out “birdism”, it must be dead, it must be finished, but we in the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party, under the Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, we are going to respect our icons.
Why do you think he elevated the Doctor Rodney Williams, His Excellency, the Governor General. He is one of our icons, building institutional strength, and respecting our icons, and persons who have made contributions, e.g. Ernest Williams, E. H. Lake, and Novelle Richards, all of these 39’rs, those are the persons that the former Governor General should have knighted, not her son, they should have made sure all of those 39’rs are knighted posthumously.
I mean what charade we have in this country, that the outgoing Governor General takes it upon herself to knight nine people including her son; I don’t know how many times he has ever come to Antigua, or seen Antigua to make a contribution here to the social, political advancement of this country. I mean it is a charade, its craziness, what is going on.
You think that we are going to allow this under Gaston Browne to continue, absolutely not.
And that is why we are going to come back to this Parliament, and I hope Mr. Prime Minister that I am not talking out of term, to also make Lester Bryant Bird a National Hero, because as V. C. Bird is the father of the nation took us from Colonialism to Independence and broke down the barriers, Lester Bryant Bird is the father of modern Antigua.
He transformed us into a tourist economy, and built upon his father’s legacy, and built Heritage Quay, St. John’s Development, and the Royal Antiguan, that you all sold off for little or nothing. We now have to have investors coming in to buy it, gut it and redevelop it. And to build a next hotel next to it, and to build more villas, but you all didn’t have the creativity, the foresight, so you all took up the assets, and sold it for US $14 million, an asset that was worth US $28-30 million.
Vere Cornwall Bird Senior, every single history student, every single student in all the schools, his books Mr. Prime Minister, must be distributed, it must be taught. We must teach our children who is V. C. Bird, who he was, what his contribution to this county was, so that no one can erase his legacy, and I am calling upon the Honourable Member, my good friend from All Saints West, and I know he would do it, and take it under his mandate as the Minister of Education. A young, brilliant, dynamic new Minister of Education and we have to make sure that we protect these heroes.
What is wrong, can’t the business community give up one day, they make so much money in Christmas, they can’t give up one day on the 9th of December. So everything is about money, nothing is about our pride, our dignity as a people, respecting our heroes.
Mister Member, former Prime Minister, and for you to do that to V. C. Bird, and you learned at the feet of V. C. Bird, you used to stand on that drink box you told me, and gesticulate in the mirror you told me, and do you finger, just like how you’re doing now, just like V. C. You have all the ways of V.C. Bird, and you would emulate him, you use to tell me that as a young lad.
And V. C. Bird took you up and sent you to Ruskin College, I don’t know if its Ruskin, where ever you went, but he was responsible, and Adolphus Freeland was upset with him, Adolphus Freeland got vex with him, you told me that story fifteen years ago at Joe Mikes, that Adolphus Freeland thought that he should have been the one to go, and V.C. Bird chose you over Adolphus Freeland.
You learned at his feet, and you know you’re a “Bird” man, in your heart, you come out the bowels of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union, it is only because the other members of the AT&LU were envious of you, and when you came back they told V.C. to be careful of him that young guy, be careful of him. And that’s why you left and went to the Antigua Workers Union; otherwise you would have still been here. You probably would have been Lester’s Deputy.
But, Mister Speaker, I don’t want to go on and on, I remember in 2004, I gave a very passionate speech in this Argus House, and I want to say in all seriousness and to beseech you sir, to support this amendment.
We will as the Attorney General said, have a day in August, on the first Monday in August, for all of the other National Heroes, so we are not diminishing the other National Heroes in any way, manner or form.
But, we are saying that V. C. Bird stands out on his own, and he must be respected, and he must be admired, for his history and his life, his trials and tribulations must be taught and learned by all our school children across Antigua and Barbuda.
I am saying that it is never too much for this little country to owe a debt of gratitude to that great father of the nations of ours, the late Sir V. C. Bird Senior.
And with those few remarks Mister Speaker, Thank you.