Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says that the Unity Labour Party’s response to the case of government senator Luke Browne driving for years without paying his personal driver’s licence is not an indication that the party is unwilling to discipline its Members of Parliament over their failures.
“I spoke to him already and I told him it was wrong,” Gonsalves told I-Witness News on Wednesday.
“… we haven’t held our party central executive meeting yet, but I answered honestly and I said I didn’t think that the central executive is going to set up a process within the internal structure to quote and quote discipline him,” Gonsalves said.
Browne, who was the ULP’s candidate in East Kingstown, lost to Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace in the December 2010 general elections and was appointed a senator in September 2013, paid his driver’s licence for the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 on Jan. 5, 2015.
The payment came some two weeks, after his colleague, General Secretary of the ULP Sen. Julian Francis, announced in Parliament that an opposition MP had not paid his vehicle licence or insurance for years.
MP for South Leeward Nigel “Nature” Stephenson later admitted to I-Witness News that he has been between 2010 and late 2014 a vehicle he knew to be unlicensed and uninsured.
Stephenson, who was elected to Parliament in December 2010, has since been dragged before the disciplinary committee of the New Democratic Party (NDP), of which he is a member.
NDP spokesperson Vynnette Frederick has not responded to an I-Witness News email seeking an update on that process, but I-Witness News understands that the NDP tribunal will hand down a ruling in early February.
Sources say that the NDP tribunal is composed of party president Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, vice-presidents St. Clair Leacock and Godwin Friday — MPs for Central Kingstown and the Northern Grenadines, and NDP chair, Sen. Linton Lewis.
Browne has said that he was under the impression that his licence was valid, having paid for five years when he returned from university in 2009.
He said he later realised that the monies were applied for the period 2005 to 2009 — when he was overseas — and that he was unaware of the situation until his birthday on Oct. 4, 2014.
Vincentian driver’s licences expire on the holder’s birthday, and persons can pay for periods of between one and five years at a time.
Gonsalves told I-Witness News that he believes the central executive of the ULP will discuss Browne’s issue when it meets
“I have no doubt that at the central executive meeting people will say as I have said, ‘Listen man, you are wrong. It shouldn’t have happened that way’,” the ULP leader said.
He, however, said that he does not think that his comments to the media about the issue will affect the course of action that the ULP’s Central Executive might have otherwise taken.
“I don’t think so. I have a sense as to — look, you have to approach these things always with balance and proportionality and I come to it this way because I accepted what Luke said to me, that he was under the impression up to the fourth of October last year, his birthday, that he had been paid up to that time, because he actually didn’t do it, other persons had gone and do it for him,” Gonsalves told I-Witness News.
“But I told him if the people at Inland Revenue told you that ‘No, you hadn’t been paid up, you should not contest that any further or if you contest it, don’t drive from that point onward until the matter is resolved one way or the other. But you can’t contest what they are saying in the application of the rule and then continue to drive,” Gonsalves said.
Asked to contrast Browne’s situation and that involving Stephenson, Gonsalves said, “I think it is hugely different but I am not going to analyse … the differences and I am not going to calculate the difference.”
Asked if the situation with Browne has encumbered him in pronouncing in ways that he might otherwise have on Stephenson’s situation, Gonsalves said, “… in relation to Nature Stephenson, I’ve not made public comments in relation to what he failed to do…
“There are two things about the matter with Nature, which I was concerned about particularly, one was on his side, one was one the police side. How, for such a long period of time it wasn’t picked up,” Gonsalves said, noting that the situation continued even after the opposition lawmaker had gotten into an accident.
“That (the accident) is the part that made it for me worse than it otherwise would have been, both on his side and the police side,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security.
He, however, said he does not think that the situation reflects the attitude of the police to certain members of the society.
“I think there is a different issue … I find that increasingly the police in out stations leave the issue of traffic to the traffic police,” he said.
“It is something I observed in the Police Force, which we have to — I spoke to the Commissioner about this.
“Though you have specialised agencies in the Police Force, we have to be careful that the police do not look at these specialised agencies in such a way that you have to consider that those jobs do not include those areas if they have the specialisation,” Gonsalves said.
He said he is convinced that while doing their checks of vehicles, the police will stop an MP and ask to see their licence and insurance.
“And I’d expect them to do that. I don’t really believe that the policemen have that kind of an awe,” he said.
Asked if it might be a case where the police might assume that an MP would make the relevant payment before driving, Gonsalves said,
“Maybe they may have that assumption, but after those incidents, it is an assumption which they must question.”