Both Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace deviated from the text of Oath of Allegiance prescribed by the nation’s laws at the Opening of 10th Parliament on Monday.
In addition to pledging allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, as the Oath states, both leaders also pledged allegiance to “the People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
This deviation, which “technically” broke the relevant law, according to government MP and lawyer, Camillo Gonsalves, came as a breath of fresh air to Vincentians who object to MPs having to pledge allegiance to the British monarchy.
Camillo was elected as MP for East St. George in the Dec. 9 general elections. In 2013, when he was appointed a senator, he objected to the oath, noting that it is a legal rather than constitutional provision, and called for it to be changed.
In a post on Facebook on Wednesday, Camillo said the “greatest tragedy” at Monday’s event was not the walk out by opposition lawmakers, or the demonstration outside.
“It was that, as a legal *pre-condition* of service to your country, 23 grown men and women had to walk up, one by one, and publicly pledge allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, Charles – the Prince of Wales, Prince William – the Duke of Cambridge, Prince George of Cambridge (yes, I pledged allegiance to a two year old), and Prince George’s yet unborn children.”
In the discussion that ensured on the social networking website, Camillo said that both Gonsalves and Eustace “broke the law in deviating from the text of the oath prescribed by law.
“Technically, they have violated the Constitution, which says ‘Every member of the House SHALL, before taking his seat in the House, take and subscribe before the House, the oath of allegiance.’
“They both took a different oath,” he said.
Camillo noted that in 2009, President Obama mixed up the order of two words in his oath of office and the White House made him re-take the oath the next day, because they were concerned with the legality of the oath with the words mixed up.
“For sure, it’s illegal to just add words. Suppose instead of saying the ‘People of SVG’ the Prime Minister said ‘the Unity Labour Party’ or the LOTO (Leader of the Opposition) said ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ or I said ‘the West Indies Cricket Team’ or whatever. You just can’t add words to a legally prescribed form of words.
And it’s a cop-out anyway. Just change the law,” Camillo said.
He further noted that the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Constitution does not prescribe the form of the oath as some Caribbean constitutions do.
“The words in our oath are prescribed by a regular law. We can change the law,” he said.
House Speaker Jomo Thomas, contributed to the Facebook discussion, saying it was “funny” to hear Eustace pledging to the people of SVG when in 2009 he opposed a referendum that would have done away with the queen and allow for a pledge to the people of SVG.
“In other circumstances, I would have made him pledge in keeping with the law. As speaker, I did not want contention at the ceremonial beginning of parliament,” said Thomas who was unanimously elected Speaker of the House of Assembly at Monday’s sitting.