ST. VINCENT (Feb. 28):- The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has called upon Vincentians to continue protest action in an effort to pressure the government to withdraw proposed controversial changes to the nation’s laws.
The Dr. Ralph Gonsalves Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration on Jan. 28 amended the Criminal Procedure Code to prevent citizens from filing private criminal complaints without the permission of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
Gonsalves and his government also plans to repeal two sections of the Representation of the People’s Act (RPA), which hold politicians accountable for statements about other candidates during election campaigns.
Opponents of the proposed changes say that Gonsalves is changing the laws out of fear that pending court decisions could cause the fall of his government, which has a one-seat majority in Parliament.
Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, drumming up support for protest in Kingstown on Thursday, March 3, when Parliament meets, said that there was no reason for changes to the laws.
“… the law should remain as it is — should not be changed. There is nothing wrong with it. It seeks to put penalties there to ensure that there are free and fair elections, where people cannot take advantage of anybody and say whatever they want,” he said on Monday, Feb. 28, during his party’s programme on Nice Radio.
“What are we going to have? a free for all where you can say anything about any candidate at any time and that’s okay? It is not acceptable!” he said.
Eustace said Gonsalves was trying to make an issue of the meanings of retrospective and retroactive.
“They mean the same thing, basically. It means that you go back and it takes effect for things that happened before.”
Persons convicted under the RPA are liable to be fined or imprisoned and barred from voting in elections or being a Member of Parliament for five years.
“That bill has been left for donkey years. What suddenly caused it to be horrendous? It provides for penalties if you make statements about people which you know are untrue in an effort to gain an advantage over them in an election,” Eustace said.
He further said that the government wanted to change the laws to protect itself, adding, “Laws are not changed for that reason. …
“That bill should be withdrawn — not considered in the Parliament or sent to any select committee. And our protest is aimed in that direction. We don’t want those things to become law in our land,” he said.
“I am calling on people to come out [and protest]. I want to get maximum support on this issue — not as president of the New Democratic Party, not as opposition leader, but as a Vincentian. That is not acceptable and that is why we have spent so much time and so much resource in our party trying to fight this particular matter. And we will continue to fight it,” he said.
Eustace also does not support the bill being sent to a select committee as indicated by the government.
“And I am calling on the public to join us on Thursday in your numbers as we take protest action. I am not interested in any reading. I want the bill withdrawn. … We must not condone it. … Whether it is NDP in office or ULP, it should not happen and I am asking people to stand up and be counted. It’s a very, very serious matter and I am pleased to see that other organisations are taking up the matter very seriously,” he said.