The recent arraignment of Long Island member of Parliament Adrian Gibson on multiple corruption charges has triggered much discussion on whether he should resign his seat in the House of Assembly.
The views have been varied, and for the most part, thought provoking.
Prime Minister Philip Davis has sensibly said he won’t get into expressing a view on the matter, although his comment that Gibson ought to familiarize himself with certain “conventions that attend to matters of this nature” seemed to suggest the PM thinks the MP should resign his seat.
We note that there is no precedent in the Bahamian context that points to such “conventions”.
Gibson is in a rare and unfavorable position.
He is the first member of Parliament in 33 years to be charged in court with a crime. The last was Wilbert Moss, the Acklins, Crooked Island and Long Cay MP, who was charged with attempting to bribe a magistrate.
Moss’ resignation came after he was convicted.
Those who take the view that Gibson – who is accused of corrupt actions in relation to his role as executive chairman of the Water and Sewerage Corporation during the Minnis administration – should resign, argue that the nature of the allegations and the investigations overshadow his ability to effectively represent the people of Long Island.
Opining on the question of whether the Long Island MP should resign, former Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner said the failure of Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Michael Pintard to ask the member to vacate his seat reflects poorly on Pintard’s leadership.
“I know that there are a lot of charges and while one is not guilty until a trial has been adjudicated [and one is found to be guilty] at the end of the day, you would want that person to put their energies into clearing their name and vindicating themselves, and I believe that that is going to be an onerous task on Gibson to balance that as well as be an effective member of Parliament,” Butler-Turner said.
There is no legal provision that mandates an MP’s resignation from Parliament based on a charge before the courts, no matter how serious.
Under Article 48 of the constitution, a member’s seat would become vacant if that member is placed under the sentence of death, or is convicted and serving a sentence exceeding 12 months.
Though he is an FNM MP, Gibson is not a Cabinet minister, and Pintard is not prime minister. Gibson is not serving at Pintard’s pleasure.
Despite the controversy that had engulfed him in the weeks leading to the September 16, 2021 general election, Gibson won the seat – a traditional FNM stronghold. He received 55 percent (728) of the 1,326 votes cast.
The PLP candidate, Tyrel Young, received 43 percent of the votes. The PLP has never won the Long Island seat as presently constituted.
Even if Pintard were to ask Gibson to resign, there is no obligation for the MP to do so based on the leader’s wishes.
Further, would the FNM be ready for a by-election if one were quickly called?
While a resignation would not be an admission of guilt, it might have the potential of prejudicing a jury pool. A call by the party leader for the MP to step aside might also have that affect.
In the absence of a legal requirement for Gibson’s resignation, there are two critical considerations.
One consideration ought to be whether Gibson has searched himself and determined whether he could still adequately serve his constituents even while mounting a defense against the very serious charges against him.
Another consideration has to do with the prevailing view of Long Island constituents and whether they believe they could be well-represented by an MP who faces critical legal troubles. This determination could come by way of Gibson canvassing his constituents, by way of a petition initiated by constituents, or by some other means.
Gibson is an embodiment of the will of the voters of Long Island. Those voters must be paramount in any discussion regarding the political fate of their member of Parliament.
The sanctity of the people’s power must always be secured.