It would be “inappropriate and wrong” for a public servant to represent a political party at talks with the Supervisor of Elections, as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Housing Audrey Gittens-Gilkes did on behalf of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) last week.
But while Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is political leader of the ULP, voiced that view, he also told a press conference on Wednesday that he does not know if the actions of the senior public servant constitute a “legal wrong” and suggested that she should not be disciplined for it.
On Saturday at a New Democratic Party rally in Layou, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace disclosed that a permanent secretary was part of the ULP delegation at a meeting between the Supervisor of Elections and political parties last week.
He did not identify the public servant, but I-Witness News understands that it was in fact Gittens-Gilkes.
- PS should not have represented political party at meeting – union leader
- Permanent secretary broke rules by representing ULP at meeting — Eustace
Gonsalves was asked to comment on the development on Wednesday, some hours after he retuned to the country after 10 days overseas on official duties.
“I came in last night. Someone in a telephone conversation with me last night or this morning mentioned to me that there was this matter of which you spoke. I don’t know the facts, because I don’t take what the Leader of the Opposition says about lots of things as being factual,” Gonsalves said in response to a reporter’s question at a press conference.
“It would inappropriate and wrong for a public servant to enter the discussion on behalf of a political party with any office holder … That shouldn’t happen,” he, however, said.
“That is why I say inappropriate/wrong. I don’t know it it’s a legal wrong because I don’t like to speak of the law unless the provision is in front of me,” said Gonsalves, who was speaking at Cabinet Room, which contains a filing cabinet with the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which he has retrieved and quoted in press conferences in the past.
“Not every particular legal provision I am familiar with,” said Gonsalves who has been a lawyer for over 30 years.
“I could look it up and I could find the answer, but I am speaking on a matter of principle. It would be inappropriate and wrong in the sense of its inappropriateness for that to happen.
“I don’t, however, think that the Leader of the Opposition is particularly well placed to speak on that subject and I would just talk about taking the beam out of someone body eye and leaving the mote in your own,” Gonsalves said.
Asked to elaborate, Gonsalves said that when Eustace was Prime Minister, particular offices of the Public Service were “highly politicised with his knowledge.
“I am not saying that he did it, but he would have known, because everybody –“ Gonsalves said of Eustace, who was prime minister from October 2000 to March 28, 2001.
Gonsalves further said that there are elements in the NDP that would actively seek to get public officers and police officers to bring information to them about the functioning of organisation and to have them “play the role of quote-unquote mole.
“I don’t have to call any names, but these are also — and that’s also wrong,” he said.
“It takes a while for some of the freedoms in a young democracy to be properly understood and the limits respected,” he said, adding that the government repealed the law that criminalised the speech of public servants.
“That has been taken by many public servants to mean that there are no longer constraints on them in their functioning and in their speech, being public servants. Clearly, there are constraints — constraints which are embedded in the Public Service regulations or the Police Service regulations for that matter.”
Gonsalves, however, suggested that Gittens-Gilkes, who has also mounted the platform at at least one ULP even this year, should be disciplined for her actions.
“It is not every breach that you take up and you want to carry it as though and to bring down a hammer on it. But you take it as a teaching and a learning moment,” Gonsalves said.
He said this was also his position when teacher Jozette Bibby-Bowens was charged eelier this year for obscene posts she allegedly made on Facebook.
Gonsalves said his position was that that matter should have been dealt with administratively than through the court.
The charges against Bibby-Bowwen were discontinued but she was transferred from Bishop’s College to the Adult and Continuing Education Unit.
Elroy Boucher, president of the Public Service Union, told I-Witness News on Tuesday that Gittens-Gilkes should not have represented the ULP at the talks with the elections chief.
“Public servants have their rights to support whomever they want to support, but the public servants are there to carry out a role administratively, not politically. And I think we ought not to get involved at that level politically,” Boucher told I-Witness News on Tuesday when asked to comment on the development.
In 2010, then public servant Anesia Baptiste had 16 charges brought against here for comments she made while campaigning against proposed changed to the Constitution.