This country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sen. Camillo Gonsalves, has expressed displeasure with the Oath of Office that the country’s parliamentarians take.
He noted to Parliament on Thursday that it is a legal, rather than constitutional requirement, and suggested that it be changed.
“And since we are the body that makes the laws, hopefully in the very near future, we can make an oath more fitting to our current context and our service to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he told legislators.
Gonsalves’ comments came as he made his maiden address to Parliament.
He cited an essay in which German sociologist Max Weber argues that politics is the art of compromise.
‘But each and everyone of us, somewhat unfortunately, is taught that lesson on day one of our entry into this Parliament because we become compromised in being asked to swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty, her heirs and successors.
“It is something that many of us have choked on and it is a compromise that we have all had to undertake to have the honour and privilege of serving in this august body,” he said.
At the end of his presentation to Parliament, Gonsalves said that he took the affirmation because it is required by law.
“But I crave your indulgence in, on a bible, to swear an additional oath, one not compelled by the law but by my heart and my conscience, ‘to serve the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to uphold her laws and Constitution to the best of my ability, without fear or favour, so help me almighty God,” Gonsalves said.
Speaking to I-Witness News, Gonsalves noted that when he was sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs last week Monday, he made an affirmation instead of an oath and did not place his hand on the Holy Bible to do it.
He did the same thing on did Thursday.
“Not that it makes a legal difference, but it makes a moral difference. It feels less offensive to the spirit,” he told I-Witness News.
He said that in most parliaments, oaths are made to uphold the nation’s constitution and to the people.
“They don’t make oaths to a foreign monarch. … for example, if you look at the United States oath of office, they make an oath to uphold the constitution. In other republican countries in the Caribbean, they general make oath to the people of their respective countries,” Gonsalves further said.
“It is a little strange in this day and age, having escaped the bonds of colonialism to continue making oaths to Queen Elizabeth,” Gonsalves said of the nation’s queen.
“And, of course, this is no objection to Queen Elizabeth or what England may or may not have done for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is simply if we are elected to serve the people, we should make our oath in the regard and not our oath to the Queen.”
Lawyer PR Campbell agrees
Meanwhile, lawyer Parnell R. Campbell, who helped to craft the revised constitution that Vincentians rejected in 2009, said that he agrees “one hundred per cent” with the senator.
“ Sen. Gonsalves’ comments on the oath have gone down well with me,” Campbell told I-Witness News separately on Thursday.
“We tried very hard when we fought for the new constitution to educate the public about the symbolism of an oath of office to the Queen. Unfortunately the constitution was not passed. But in the course of our deliberations, we discovered that the oath itself, the format of the oath, is not set in stone so that we do believe that it is up to Parliament, if it so wishes, to change the nature of the oath. And he has called on that to be done and I look forward with interest to see what would happen,” said Campbell, a former attorney general.
He further said that an alternative oath will be “an oath of allegiance to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“… There is another strand of opinion that there is nothing wrong with taking an oath of allegiance both to the Queen and to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, because, after all, she is Queen of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“So, theoretically, there is nothing wrong with having an oath both to the queen and an oath as well to the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Campbell told I-Witness News.