ST. VINCENT (Jan. 17):- Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves believes that the ten private complaints brought against him and three members of his Cabinet last week was an attempt by the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) to replicate the political unrests of 2000.
However, Leader of the Opposition and president of the NDP, Arnhim Eustace, has suggested that with Colin Williams as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), it would be hard to unseat through legal channels, the Unity Labour Party (ULP), which has a one seat majority in the Parliament.
In 2000, half way into the NDP’s fourth term in office, Vincentians blocked the streets in response to the tabling in Parliament by Eustace, the then Minister of Finance, a bill to increase salaries and benefits for parliamentarians.
The NDP had a one seat majority in the 15-member Parliament and the “Greedy Bill” triggered the “Roadblock Revolution” that forced the NDP to the polls and s into the opposition benches in March 2001.
The ten complaints, filed last week on behalf of three NDP candidates in the Dec. 15 general elections, were brought under the elections laws.
A guilty verdict could have seen any or all of the government ministers fined and imprisoned and their election nullified and barred from being a parliamentarian for five years.
The Chief Magistrate threw out the charges against Gonsalves and one of the ministers while the Director of Public Prosecutions discontinued the remaining six even as the NDP was preparing to rally last Friday, when the ministers should have appeared in court.
Lawyers for the NDP had since appealed the decisions of the judicial officers and Gonsalves said on Monday, Jan. 17, that the right to bring private criminal charges were being abused.
He said Vincentians should support the view that these charges should be brought through the DPP but did not say if his government would modify the laws accordingly.
Gonsalves said at a press conference that while his ULP won the Dec. 15 general elections by a since seat, as the NDP did in 1998, unlike the NDP, his government has not done anything to enrage citizens.
He said that most significant thing his administration has done since being returned to office for a third term just over a month ago was increase Public Assistance payments.
“What have we done? … You are going to protest against the legal system. Why? Because the magistrates throw out two cases which you brought against Ralph Gonsalves?” he said of the opposition.
He said that if opposition candidates felt that they were defamed they could have sued under the defamations laws.
“This is what they said I said in Park Hill on the 29th of August, long before the election writ was issues: ‘They say she is a tomboy, you know I don’t know, I don’t know about that. I mean Bayliss will be a very unfortunate fella if he send a daughter to study law and come back and get a son, a tomboy’,” Gonsalves said of the complaint filed against him on behalf of Vynnette Frederick who failed to win the East St. George seat for the NDP.
He said the NDP and their lawyers “are making a mockery of this business of politics and the law” even as he asked how his statement could have affected Frederick’s election outcome.
“…If you think I have said anything here, which, by way of an innuendo, defames anyone, sue me for defamation,” he said.
Gonsalves noted that it was the Chief Magistrate and not the DPP who dismissed the cases against him
“…you are a lawyer and you bring a complaint against somebody and you can’t even get off first base. …the learned Chief Magistrate said that what you filed is frivolous, it is vexatious, it is an abuse of the process of the court,” he said.
Gonsalves noted that there was no outcry when the DPP discontinued a private complaint against Stewart Engineering in relation to the finding of a coroner’s inquest into the death of a woman when a retaining wall the company built collapsed.
The head of that firm is a former Member of Parliament and minister for the NDP, who is still an active member of the party, Gonsalves said.
“The DDP looked at that matter and said in his opinion, even though a coroner’s inquest heard evidence, heard the direction on the law that Stewart Engineering was one of the two parties culpable criminally, he said … from the evidence I have seen adduced, that evidence does not read at a level where there will be a likelihood, a prospect of success,” Gonsalves said.
“You didn’t hear one single word … from the NDP and lawyers who are normally with them. Can you image if it was Franco who has designed that wall and the DPP had come to a similar decision?” he said in reference to a construction company owned by the bothers of Minister of Works, Sen. Julian Francis.
Meanwhile, Eustace said on Monday that he “fully expected” that DPP would have thrown out cases against the government minister, suggesting that the DPP is politically bias towards the ULP.
He noted the ULP’s one seat majority in the Parliament, adding that under the Representation of the People’s Act, a guilty verdict could have changed the composition of the Parliament by voiding the seat of elected members and barring them from elections for five years.
“And, in a situation in a country where it is [eight seats to seven], that is a very serious matter because if one of those persons lose their case, the elected members of parliament comes [seven seats to seven] and you are faced with a by-election or, maybe if the government so desires, a general election,” Eustace said during his party’s New Times programme on Nice Radio.
“… So, when Mr. Colin Williams makes that decision, he knows why he made it. I have said … that I have no confidence whatsoever in the Director of Public Prosecutions. … I fully expected therefore that he would have nolle prosequi those cases. But our lawyers will be taking action. That action, some of it has already been taken to get those matters reinstated before the court,” said Eustace, a former prime minister.