ST. VINCENT (Jan. 19):- The Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration is expected to face strong opposition inside and outside Parliament tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 20, as it moves to amend two pieces of legislation.
The protest action outside Parliament and rigorous debate inside are the first in a serious of actions planned by the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), with the ultimate goal of shutting down capital city Kingstown.
The NDP, which lost the Dec. 13 elections by a single seat and was voted out of office in 2001, one year after protesting citizens shut down Kingstown, is calling Vincentians to do it again as the government moves to amend the Criminal Procedure Code, to prevent citizens from filing private criminal complaints without the permission of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and his government also plans to repeal two sections of the Representation of the People’s Act (RPA), the election law.
Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace said on Wednesday, Jan. 19, that Gonsalves was changing the laws out of fear that pending court decisions could cause his government to crumble.
The ULP was returned to office for a third term on Dec. 13 with a one-seat majority in the 15-member Parliament.
Three candidates from the New Democratic Party (NDP) in the general elections filed a total of 10 private criminal complaints against Gonsalves and three of his ministers last week.
The Chief Magistrate dismissed four of the charges while DPP Colin Williams took over and discontinued the other cases.
Eustace, speaking on the NDP’s New Times programme on Nice Radio, said the proposed changes to the Bills during Thursday’s meeting of the House of Assembly, are intended to take away from the NDP its right to continue with the private complaints, noting that the changes to the RPA will have retroactive effects.
Gonsalves, who has had several private criminal complaints brought against him and discontinued by the DPP — a former Public Relations Officer and senator of the ULP –, during a press conference on Monday, hinted his intention to amend the private complaint law.
He called on citizens to support the reasoning that the law was “a historical anachronism”, “a residue from an earlier period [in] some distant part of England” that was being abused by the NDP.
“What I think should happen henceforth, you want to bring a private criminal prosecution, to prevent the abuse, you write to the DPP seeking authorization, to get the fiat,” Gonsalves said.
The NDP has appealed the court’s and the DPP’s decisions to throw out the cases and Eustace said on Wednesday that the complaints “meant that the opportunity would have arisen for the government to fall if those persons who put in those complaints were successful”.
He said the Gonsalves government “obviously, doesn’t want to take that risk. So they are coming to amend bills, take away people’s rights, to prevent themselves from in fact appearing before the court”.
“We don’t accept that,” he added, saying, “You can’t just change bills willy-nilly at the drop of a hat to suit your own purposes. They are rights of individuals that are being affected – of all individuals who may one day wish to bring such criminal prosecution and that is a very serious matter indeed.”
Eustace noted that during the Gonsalves years, a law guaranteeing prisoners certain rights was recalled and the government also passed retroactive legislations to make legal a levy for using ferry facilities in Kingstown.
“The more I look at this thing, the more convinced I am that what we have in St. Vincent now has become a dictatorship where one man’s ego is to be satisfied, where one man’s political ambition is to be satisfied. We don’t accept it,” Eustace said.
He said opposition legislators would “take a very strong stand against those bills”, adding that the government would try to have the bills carried through all their stages and passed on Thursday.
“We have to fight the bill. Not only in Parliament but also outside of the parliament,” he said as he asked Vincentians to protest the proposed changes to the legislation.
“We are planning at a number of actions but what I ultimately would like to see is that we close Kingstown down. …The government has to understand that there is great public support for this matter. … If they force the bill through after a long debate, we will still be protesting until that bill is changed. I want to make that very clear….
“We are doing everything we can to try and prevent the passage of this legislation. And, even if they were to pass it, we will continue to protest until it is removed. We will like to close this place down so that Gonsalves understands what he is dealing with. That the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are not in support of this kind of legislation,” Eustace said.
“This kind of dictatorial action is an affront to our democracy and to all of our people and we can only appeal for them,” he said, adding that opposition legislator will ensure that citizen’s rights to file private criminal complaints are preserved,” he further told his radio audience.