ST. VINCENT (Feb. 07):- The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) said on Monday that it will move its protest to outside the Prime Minister’s office on Tuesday, Feb. 08, after the government postponed to March 3 a meeting of Parliament, during which legislators are expected to make controversial changes to the nation’s laws.
The Dr. Ralph Gonsalves Unity Labour Party (ULP) has proposed changes to the criminal procedure code that will see citizens needing the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) before initiating private criminal complaints.
The government also wants to amend Section 51, 3 and 4 of the Representation of the Act, which hold politicians accountable for their utterances and actions during election campaigns.
The NDP says that the administration is changing the laws out of fear that pending court rulings could see the fall of the one-seat majority government, which was returned to office for a third term in December.
Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace said on radio on Monday that he was informed that a meeting of Parliament scheduled for Tuesday had been postponed until March.
The NDP had planned to picket Parliament on Tuesday.
Eustace said the protest action would still take place outside the Parliament building before moving to Heritage Square then culminating outside the Administrative Complex, which houses the Office of the Prime Minister.
“Gonsalves is backing down because of pressure,” Eustace said, referring to the protest actions, which saw some NDP supporters ramming the gates of the Parliament compound and Gonsalves leaving though a side exit last week.
“Since he (Gonsalves) is not having Parliament, we are carrying the protest to his office,” Eustace said.
He said the proposed changes to the law will infringe on citizens’ rights, adding, “We have been trying to sensitize the public as to the seriousness of these bills.”
He said that some citizens felt that the government will use its parliamentary majority to pass the bills notwithstanding the opposition protest.
“The point is if you allow your rights to be chipped away all the time, there will come a point when you will have none and you have complete dictatorship in this country. And we have to put a stop to that early,” Eustace said.
He said there was already “a lot of nonsense taking place with the DPP”, Colin Williams.
The NDP had opposed Williams’ appointment on the grounds that he was a ULP senator and was a partner in Gonsalves’ law firm.
Williams has discontinued several criminal complaints against Gonsalves, much to the criticism of the NDP and its lawyers, although higher courts have upheld his decisions.
Eustace further said that the time will come when the change in legislations will affect all citizens.
“And you end up with situations like in Egypt and all those places, where hundreds of people lose their lives because when they try to protest, there is so much that the regime has in its favour that people lose their lives,” Eustace said.
“We must bring to people’s understanding what is happening to their rights. The government is changing a bill to protect itself … We can’t continue like this and each time a government does this, you have to protest. You have to make people understand that their rights are being removed,” Eustace said.
“Rights are important. Rights go to peace; they go to our freedom. They go to so much about our lives. We take them for granted but if we live in society where they are removed … in the end that carries us to where Egypt is today. So, let’s stop it now,” Eustace said, referring to the recent political unrest in that country.
Reports say that Gonsalves postponed the meeting of Parliament because of the scheduled visit of a cruise ship to the country.