Hon. Tracey Panton has informed The Reporter that any suggestion that she is disgruntled over her loss at the last UDP Convention is “laughable,” and has underscored that her objection is to the unilateral decision-making of the UDP’s newly elected leader.
“It makes no sense to me, to be honest. I think about the day of the convention. I spoke to the media and I said then and there that I respect the decision of the delegates of the party,” she said. “I think immediately after the convention I met with the Party Leader. So, for him to even suggest that there might be some reason for me to be disgruntled is completely laughable. There is no basis in that.”
Panton’s comments followed UDP Leader Moses “Shyne” Barrow’s implied explanation for his former convention opponent’s absence from multiple UDP press conferences, as well as why she had been removed from the Central Executive Council (CEC). Barrow, in an effort to deflect from the media’s questions on these matters, retorted: “You [the media] are pretending that this is the first … that you’ve had people who have lost a convention and they cannot get over it.”
Absence from Press Conferences
Panton, however, explained that her decision to not participate in those press events is more accurately connected to her concerns with Barrow’s leadership style.
“I think the challenge the Party Leader does have, though, is that he insists that he will lead the party by decree; by not consulting our elected officials of this party. By dismissing the constitution of the Party, and I certainly cannot accept that,” she said while proceeding to explain that her absence from press conferences is her choice, being a form of a “silent protest” against what she describes as disrespect of the UDP’s constitution.
“I have not attended any of the press conferences, and he [Barrow] understands what my position is on that,” Panton said. “There are five elected officials of this party. I don’t think the invitation should just be extended to me. The invitation should be extended to the elected officials. …Why hasn’t he invited the other elected officials to be part of the press conferences?”
For instance, Panton explained, “Hon. Patrick Faber is a Member of Parliament, yet when we have Parliamentary meetings in order to prepare for a House Meeting, he [Barrow] does not invite the Hon. Faber. I don’t think those things are right. Those things need to be corrected.”
In another example, Panton highlighted Barrow’s recent comments regarding Prime Minister John Briceño’s statement on Venezuela and Cuba at the recently held Ninth Summit of the Americas.
“The Party Leader makes a statement about Cuba and Venezuela. That’s not the consensus of the Party. The Party hasn’t formulated a position, and for him to make these broad and sweeping statements, really, as the Party Leader he should reflect the Party’s position,” said Panton, adding, “I have a problem with things like that. There should have been an opportunity for people to share their concerns, opinions, and ideas, even if it is dissenting.”
Panton underscored that her absence from press conferences is not on account of any dissatisfaction for having lost the convention, but rather due to her call on the UDP Party Leader to abide by the UDP constitution.
Removal from the Central Executive Council
Panton also spoke about her removal from the UDP’s Central Executive Council, where she served in the capacity of the leader for the Central (Eastern) region, which includes the 13 constituencies in the Belize District.
She explained that the CEC had elected her to serve in that capacity, given that between herself and Barrow, she was the more senior parliamentary member. “The Central Executive agreed that I [should take on the role], and that was supported by Shyne. I would take on that role until constituency conventions could be held, and caretakers could be selected for the 26 constituencies in which we do not have standard-bearers.”
Panton explained that her role as Central Region leader was further ratified by the National Party Council, which is the “highest decision-making body of the party outside of the National Convention.”
A similar process, according to Panton, was followed for the other regions, including the west, where former Cayo North Area Representative Omar Figueroa was chosen by the CEC to head the Western Region. In the north, it was former Orange Walk East Area Representative Elodio Aragon; and Ivan Williams in the south.
“Now, that he [Barrow] has become the new party leader, he has decided that that approach is null and void,” Panton informed. “I don’t know if he can trump the decision of the Central Executive or trump a decision of the National Party Council.”
For such a change, it would have required the thirteen members of the CEC to make such a decision. “I don’t know that that has happened,” she added. “I certainly have not been invited to a [CEC] meeting where this has been discussed. [Instead], what I got was a note from the Party Leader informing that the position is now declared vacant.”
Among the elected officials of the UDP’s CEC is the post of the vice-chairman, which according to Panton, has likewise fallen victim to the new leader’s way of doing things. “The vice-chairman has also been removed unilaterally. … You cannot remove the vice-chairman; he was elected by delegates to be in that position. Yet he has been removed because he and the Party Leader do not see eye-to-eye on things,” stressed the Albert Area Representative.
“This is not a dictatorship,” underscored Panton, as she continued to call for the members of the UDP to be able to voice their concerns and express their ideas.
The Complaints Mechanism: The Party Chairman
Given the charges of unilateral actions, Panton was also asked if she had utilized the complaints mechanism of the UDP. “I have lodged a formal complaint to the Chairman of the Party, and I have copied to the chairman of the Ethics Committee as well,” responded Panton. “I think that’s the formal process.”
Panton, having laid out her concerns on the leadership approach, reiterated that she is not at all disgruntled over the convention. Instead, she stressed that given it is the first time that a woman had challenged for leadership of a major political party, and only lost by a slim margin, it is a major accomplishment in and of itself.
“I am proud,” said Panton. “I was able to garner support from many of the delegates because they want to see a meaningful change in the Party.”
She also commented on the fact that a recount was not allowed at the Convention. “I thought it was improper that I was not granted the recount,” she recalled. “Any convention that is that close should have been afforded a recount. However, when I asked the chairman, he told me I should take my Party to court, and I was not going to do that.”