NDP ignored complaints about an opposition legislator’s “behaviour in public with a woman who is not his wife.” – Anesia Baptiste

Former senator Anesia Baptiste, pictured here in 2009, said that the NDP’s policy regarding its members and comments about religion “amounts to a similar attack on constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms” that she opposed during the 2009 referendum campaign (Photo: Oris Robinson).

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace last Thursday fired Anesia Baptiste from the senate but she left behind an 11-page letter that said an opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) policy on religion suggested that, in office, the NDP “will do no differently from the ULP (Unity Labour Party) in persecuting persons for their rights and freedoms”.

She further questioned what an NDP government led by Eustace would not do to remain in power. Such a government, she said, would move against public servant in much the same way that the ULP administration, headed by Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, in 2010 slapped her with 16 charges for statements she made during the 2009 referendum campaign, when she was a public servant.

Baptiste, in her April 17 letter, said that the NDP leadership seeks to “limit the freedom of speech of morally upright and hard working members” of the party but did not formulate policies on “more serious issues” even as it ignored complaint about the public behaviour of some opposition parliamentary and potential election candidates.

According to Baptiste, she learnt of the NDP’s policy on adverse comments on religions after Eustace told a meeting of party leaders last week that he was unhappy with statements on radio by Shefflorn Ballantyne, who has indicated an interest in representing the NDP in North Windward, come next general election.

The NDP’s policy that no candidate or potential candidate should make publicly statements that are adverse to any religion contradicts the constitutions of both the country and the party, she said.

“… tell me Mr. Eustace, how can your party, which hopes to take office to govern all of SVG under the … Constitution of SVG, which protects Vincentians freedom to believe and express their religious teaching privately and publicly … justify taking a policy position that in effect limits its candidates and potential candidates’ freedom of speech in religious liberty?” Baptiste asked in her 11-page, 5,000-word letter.

“And tell me sir, how will you guarantee these freedoms with their scope constitutionally, if you take governance in SVG, when, now while in opposition, you dare to limit the scope of your members and candidates’ legitimate freedoms?”

‘out of place attempt’

She described as an “out of place attempt to limit God-given and constitutionally protected freedoms” the NDP’s policy on statements about religion, and said the only reason given for the policy “is the claim that it will damage the party”.

Baptiste said that Eustace was “seriously mistaken” in that belief.

“If you seek to limit our freedom of speech now, claiming it is not politically advantageous to the party’s aim of gaining government, what will you do if you get into office and your sole interest then is to keep government? Will not keeping government be a higher stake that attaining it?” Baptiste asked.

“… Is it not safe to infer that you will have the tendency to limit your ministers’ freedoms then? How will public servants who wish to be constructively critical of your government fare, when that criticism can ‘hurt’ or ‘damage’ your government, in the same way you argue that public statements averse to religion can ‘hurt’ or ‘damage’ your party now?” Baptiste said.

“Do you realize the implications of what you are saying? My ultimate question is what will become of an Anesia Baptiste public servant under your government if this is your policy now in the NDP in Opposition? Have you forgot what I suffered and why? The Prime Minister was under pressure by his members to ‘deal with’ me because of my pronouncements during the referendum. He did and the rest is history,” Baptiste said.

She said she “fought for protection of inalienable rights and freedoms which were under threat in the proposed constitution bill 2009” and “suffered persecution” because of her stance.

“Now I am shocked to hear you espouse and dictate to the party a policy which amounts to a similar attack on constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms and which when followed to its logical conclusion can result in the same victimization and persecution of persons who may, just following their convictions, make public statements which you do not consider helpful to your political advantage,” Baptiste wrote.

She asked if the NDP did not have “more serious issues to be making policies on in meetings”. She added: “Is not the ULP doing much in this country to destroy people’s lives?”

Baptiste said the position adopted by Eustace “is a backward and debilitating one for the NDP and I am obliged in my conscience to tell you so without water in my mouth”.

NDP ignored complaints about party members 

The NDP meeting on Tuesday, she said, did not respond to her concern that “matters of complaint about candidates’ public behaviour” are not beign discussed by the party.

According to Baptiste, she has received calls about an opposition legislator’s “behaviour in public with a woman who is not his wife” and complaints against the public behaviour of a potential candidate in North Windward “regarding his female partner”.

“I believe you have received these complaints also. There are other complains too, such as about upset and confusion in East St. George between and among former council member, the current candidate and supporters.

“Has any investigation been done into these things? Or is there no need for any? Will there be policy positions dictated on these issues also? Will they be brought into similar meeting like today, in each person’s absence, like what was done today also? Or do they not hurt the party?

“How far are you prepared to go, sir? These things warrant attention. Is there unfair discrimination when it comes to Ballantyne? Why single out his innocent statement for address? Is there hypocrisy? It seems it would be better if Ballantyne had stoned a church like another candidate and nothing would be done about it,” Baptiste said, a swipe at West Kingstown representative Dnaiel Cummings, who had stoned a church before he entered politics.

Baptiste, who has said that she wants to be the nation’s first woman prime minister, said that it was “disappointing, unacceptable and leaves much to be desired” that the policy on religion had come from Eustace, a former prime minister.

“I fear that if you are taking such a position now in opposition you will be a danger to Vincentians’ rights and freedoms as leader of government. It is in fact the policy position that you dictated today that will hurt the party’s position of getting into office. And if the NDP really holds policies like this it will do no differently from the ULP in persecuting persons for their rights and freedoms,” she said.

Baptiste said that she is “a democrat” and “will stand — as I have always stood — for the protection of the inalienable and constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms of all people, including and especially minorities.”

She siad this is “the true test of the character of policy makers and governments.

“This is the real yard stick by which governments are to be judged — how they treat the God-given rights and freedoms of the people. I will not be the hypocrite, not then, not now and not ever. This is who I am, this is what I stand by, based on the word of God,” she said, quoting 16th century German Reformer Martin Luther, who siad, “… to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”

“… when I joined the NDP, it was because I believed that the party had respect for rights and freedoms of all Vincentians, those in the party and those in government, unlike the tyranny of the ULP. I placed a lot of trust in the ideals of this party and hoped that through its policies we will see a new politics, a new beginning, a golden age for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Please do not hurt me so much by disappointing me. Please do not make me feel that I have misjudged this party,” Baptiste said in her letter.

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