ST. VINCENT:- The main opposition New Democratic Party, (NDP) says that Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves’ statements that his government will deport regional lawyers if they work in St. Vincent and the Grenadines illegally on Election Day, Dec. 13, is a “threat” that is “unbecoming of a prime minister”.
NDP president Arnhim Eustace and lawyer Kay Bacchus Brown called a press conference on Sunday, election eve, to denounce the statement by Gonsalves.
They also criticized ULP for a note posted on its website, which says the NDP is “going to do everything in their power” to undermine democracy and try to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote in the general elections.
“Know your rights before you vote. You have the right to vote in the constituency in which you are duly and legally registered. No one can take that right away from you. Do not let them scare you. Do not let them intimidate you,” the statement on the ULP’s website said.
Gonsalves, speaking at a ULP rally at the Argyle international airport construction site, Saturday night, said immigration officials had informed him that 15 lawyers had come to St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) from Trinidad.
“…these lawyers have come in as visitors – no problem, they’re from the Caribbean. But, once … they start to work on Election Day, they have changed their status and would have lied to the immigration authorities and would be liable to deportation,” he said partly in dialect.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security and Legal Affairs, warned the lawyers that the police will also charge them with an offence.
“But, remember, if you get locked up on Monday, it not easy to get bail on Tuesday because Tuesday is going to be celebration time,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves, who is also a lawyer, said that he cannot go to Trinidad as a visitor and then work.
“If they are coming to work, they either have to get a work permit — and I am the minister of work permit and they have not gotten get any work permit –or they have to have a Caricom Skilled National Certificate.”
Gonsalves said he had not signed any such certificates for the lawyers, adding, “I am telling them, we are going to be vigilant”.
He warned the lawyers to stay 100 yards from the polling station as the law mandates, adding that doing otherwise would contravene the Representation of the People’s Act.
“They can trample on [former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Ministers Basdeo Panday and Patrick Manning]. They can’t trample on Ralph Gonsalves. … And we are owning the campaign and we are owning Election Day also,” Gonsalves said.
However, Bacchus Brown said that work permit is not an issue for the “20 plus” lawyers, whom, she said, come from Trinidad and St. Lucia.
“…they have come here without charging the NDP one cent because they believe in democracy and they want to see free and fair elections,” said Bacchus Brown, who is also president of the SVG Bar Association.
“The lawyers do not need a work permit because they are not working. In any event, the CARICOM National Act will apply to them. Most of these lawyers are already called to the bar in St. Vincent anyway so even if they were to work, there should be no issue,” she said.
She further said that the non-Vincentian lawyers will be supplementing about 14 of their Vincentian colleagues and will be in the constituencies ensuring that there are free and fair elections and to deal with any issues that might arise.
“As far as I know, St. Vincent is a free and fair country where democracy reigns and if CARICOM lawyers want to come here to ensure we have free and fair elections, I think our government should be heralding that, not disputing it. The OAS is here to do their work and we are here to do ours, we complement one another actually,” Bacchus Brown said.
Bacchus Brown and Eustace also responded to a note posted on the ULP website
“We do not like the statement and won’t let it stand as it is,” NDP president Arnhim Eustace said at the press briefing.
“The implication of this statement is that the NDP have a programme aimed at undermining democracy and preventing voters from exercising fundamental right,” Eustace said.
He said that Bacchus Brown and Nicole Sylvester have written to the Supervisor of Elections, Sylvia Findlay Scrubb on the matter.
“The contents of the said publication and allegations made therein against the NDP are totally false, baseless, scandalous, provocative and misleading. Our clients are of the view that the intention is to create an atmosphere of disquiet and intimidation,” the lawyers wrote.
Eustace, in explaining the reason for the letter, said his party wanted to follow the law and bring to the attention of the Supervisor of Elections any incident or any information the NDP thinks she should know.
The NDP said that the ULP have caused persons to be registered in constituencies in which they do not qualify to vote and that its agents will carefully scrutinise the voter’s list and pursue any legitimate option given to then under constitutional and electoral laws.
While Bacchus Brown said that the NDP “totally abhor” the note published on the ULP’s website and encouraged electors to vote, she warned illegally registered persons that “legal steps will be taken to deal with you”.