ST. VINCENT (Jan. 13):- Journalist Dayle Da Silva told I Witness-News on Thursday that his choice of words was poor when he said on Wednesday that the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) was “wasting time and going to the court of law”.
Da Silva, a reporter at Searchlight newspaper, made the comments at an NDP press conference on as he tried to ask a question amidst a longwinded preamble.
The press conference was held by NDP leader, Arnhim Eustace, and lawyers Nicole Sylvester, Kay Bacchus-Browne and Trinidadian Keith Scotland.
The lawyers briefed the press on ten private criminal charges three NDP candidates in last month’s general elections brought against Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and three of his ministers.
The complaints related to “different character assassinations” during the campaign for the elections, which the ULP won by a single seat to be returned to office for a third straight term.
“…Just after the elections, it has been said that, more or less, the NDP had a chance to win the last general elections and, more or less, they didn’t. My question to you is: Now, I know that it has been said that the legal team they are very confident that this private motion, the 10 private motions that have been filed yesterday, they are pretty confident that there would be an outcome or that the tactics that have been tried they would be unsuccessful. But, in terms of — would the NDP, instead of just trying to work with the government, rather do the work of the people and get – instead of being sidetracked and have to go to court, what would you then say then now that the NDP — the opposition — has a strong presence in the House to go to the House and show your strength there as opposed to wasting time and going in the court of law?” Da Silva said.
His comments were greeted with jeers even as a member of the head table said, “No. That is unacceptable.”
“I did think thoroughly [about] what I wanted to ask. However …when I got up, I found myself in a position where I was rambling too much. It was not meant to come out in the way it did,” Da Silva told I Witness-News.
“The point I was trying to get across … was that based on the fact that they had the chance in the election to win the government, some people are of the opinion that they blew it. They have, obviously, more representation in the House — they have seven elected members and two senators. … It is now 9-12. This gives them a little more teeth to bite in the House. Some people are of the opinion that … [they should] perhaps just get on with the people’s business and do what you need to in the House, represent the people and try to win favours there,” Da Silva said.
“I wanted to get the NDP’s views for some people who might have that view. It should not have come out as if I, Dayle, was saying that what they are doing is a waste of time. I am sure that to a lot of people that is probably how it came off. The choice of words was wrong. I will admit that,” Da Silva further said.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the NDP have described Da Silva’s statements as “unacceptable” and “alarming” even as party leader Arnhim Eustace said “We live in a democracy you know and people have a right to make their comments.”
“I would wish that Mr. Da Silva has made those comments a long time ago. That’s all I would say to him. I wish that he had made those comments a long time ago,” Eustace said at the press conference.
Lawyers Bacchus-Browne and Sylvester took the journalist to task over the statement with Bacchus-Browne saying she was “quite alarmed that a member of the press and a senior journalist would describe our right of access — that is guaranteed by the Constitution – to the court, as a waste of time.
“… Mr. Da Saliva, this is one of the pillars upon which our democracy is built, the right of access to the court,” Bacchus-Browne said at the press conference.
She further said that Gonsalves has sued citizens in the pasts, adding, “I didn’t hear the Searchlight raise that question. Answer that.
“We all have a right of access to the court,” she further said, noting that the Representation of the People’s Act, under which the complaints were filed against the ministers, takes election offences seriously.
She said that the Act bars person found guilty of elections offences from voting, contesting elections or being a member of the House of Assembly for five years.
“It is so important that, unlike many other Acts, where you have the right to appeal, this Act preserves the conviction by saying even though you appeal, the conviction stands and you are still debarred,” Bacchus-Browne added as she suggested that Da Silva reads the relevant sections of the Act.
Meanwhile, Sylvester said that Vincentians “stood by and thought that was acceptable” when in 2000 “the roads were blocked and we were told ‘we will make this country ungovernable’”.
She was speaking of the political unrest which cut short the life of the last NDP administration, which won the 1998 general elections by one seat, although the ULP had the majority of the popular votes.
She said the NDP was “using the tools of the court and the rule of law, with great respect for the rule of law” and the court would determine if the accused ministers are guilty of “an illegal practice”.
“That’s the course that this leader has chosen first and we want to question that? We are not about making this country ungovernable but what we are about is that those who infringe the law and breach the rule of law must be answerable to the court of law,” Sylvester said.
“And, one thing that I give credit to Dr. Gonsalves for, he has taught this society [that] when your rights have been infringed, go to the court of law and sue. I thank him. I thank him for developing that culture and you have now come to accept it as part of your right and that is one thing we have to thank him for,” Sylvester added.