ST. VINCENT:- The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has responded to suggestions by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves that he would not grant work permits to regional lawyers coming to St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to monitor the general elections on behalf of the NDP next Monday, Dec. 13.
Gonsalves, who is also political leader of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP), said at a campaign rally on Monday, Dec.6, that the lawyers were coming from Trinidad and that they will need workers permit, adding “and I am the minister of work permit”.
He was responding to an NDP press release last week in which the party said lawyers will be stationed at the nation’s polling stations to ensure that the elections is free and fair.
But Gonsalves, a lawyer, noted that a lawyer can only enter a polling station if he or she is an agent for the candidate.
“But a lawyer from Trinidad can’t come to St. Vincent to be an agent for a candidate because if he or she enters, he or she has to sign an immigration form and they have to say whether they [are] coming as a visitor or they [are] coming to work.
“If they are coming as a visitor, they can’t go in our polling station and if they [are] coming to work, they have to get a work permit and they have to apply for a work permit and I am the Minister of Work Permit,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs and National Security, warned “all those lawyers in Trinidad who want to come. If … you enter as a visitor and you get at any polling station outside to work, you can’t go inside”.
He said only presiding officers, poll clerks, the agents for the political parties, and candidate can go inside the polling station, adding that candidates can only be inside with their agent for 15 minutes at the most.
“And, by a concession, the Supervisor of Elections can allow observers for the election and an observer can go inside there and observe for no more than 15 minutes — can’t say nothing, can’t do nothing. Observe. Watch. That’s all. They think that this election in St. Vincent is some kinda pappy show,” Gonsalves said.
However, NDP public relations officer Vynnette Frederick told journalists on Tuesday that “a small army of lawyers is arriving from all over the world to ensure that this election is free and fair”.
“When Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan of Dominica entered the state and made public pronouncements in support of the ULP, no issue of work permit was raised,” said Frederick who is an NDP candidate in the elections next week.
Frederick, who is also a lawyer, noted that under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, lawyers who are nationals of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) do not need work permit to practice within the bloc.
“I want to make this very clear, under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, Caribbean lawyers enjoy the status of skilled workers and do not require work permit,” Frederick said.
“They will also be volunteering and cannot therefore be considered to be doing work,” she said.
“Criminal complaints will be brought against any persons whether by order of the prime minister or any member of the ULP or any member of government staff who attempts to prevent our lawyers from entering the country,” Frederick added.
Under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), the free movement of persons across the region entails the removal of work permits for the university graduates, media workers, sports persons, musicians, artists, managers, supervisors and other service providers.