Vincentians still do no know if their deputy Prime Minister, Sir Louis Straker holds U.S. citizenship, even after the opposition asked and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves responded to a question about the subject in Parliament last week.
Whether Straker renounced his U.S. citizenship before entering politics in 1994 has been, intermittently, a topic of discussion since then and the subject has come to the fore again over the past few months.
The opposition New Democratic Party’s (NDP) candidate for Central Leeward in the December 2015 general election, Ben Exeter, is threatening to take Straker to court to prove that he renounced his U.S. citizenship.
But there is still no clear answer to the question, even after Thursday’s meeting of Parliament, during which NDP senator, Julian “Jules” Ferdinand, asked Gonsalves:
Did Sir Louis Straker give up his citizenship of the United States of America prior to being a candidate for the Unity Labour Party as required by the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
- If so, what was the date when the United States government confirmed his renouncing his citizenship and;
- If not, why was he allowed to contest the election as a candidate for the Unity Labour Party in breach of the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
In his response, Gonsalves, citing Standing Order 20 (1) (h). said House Speaker, Jomo Thomas, should not have allowed the question, because the “b” part of the question is asking him to express and opinion as to why something wasn’t done and the “a” part is asking him for “a solution, essentially, for an abstract legal question”.
However, Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, said that be would answer the question to the best of his ability.
“Mr. Speaker, I am urging everybody to cut out this foolishness about whether Sir Louis Straker is a U.S. citizen and qualified to sit in this House,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that in 1994, 1998, 2001, 2005, and 2015, under the House of Assembly election rules, Form 3, Rule 6, Straker swore thus: “I, Louis Straker, do solemnly and sincerely declare as follows: That I am duly qualified to be elected as a member o the House of Assembly for this constituency and that I am not, by virtue of my own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or alliance to a foreign power or state.”
Gonsalves noted that that formulation is taken from Section 26 (1) of the Constitution and repeated as Section 35 (1) (a) of the Representation of the People Act.
The prime minister said that having made the declaration, Straker’s nomination was accepted and he went on to win on each of those five occasions.
Gonsalves said there is a culture that has developed “where every frivolity, everything, somebody starts something and then it snowballs”.
He went on to talk about bringing an election petition within 21 days then quoted Section 96 (7) of the Constitution, which says, “Nothing in this section shall confer jurisdiction on the High Court to hear or determine any such question as is referred to in section 36 of this Constitution.”
Gonsalves commented: These matters have been reviewed in legal cases.”
He went on to speak about cases in Grenada, Dominica, India, Cayman Islands, and Antigua and Barbuda, which he suggested had bearing on the issue.
“Mr. Speaker, I have, in a summary form, addressed this question,” Gonsalves said, noting that in one of the cases, cost was granted to the application.
“I’m making this statement here in the way in which I have done. Those who want to go to the court and challenge Sir Louis, go ahead. Because they’re fully advised what is the legal position, and if they are going, they’d be going to try to create mischief, they would abuse the process of the court. And I’m helping — I’m glad that the question is asked and I’m helping that Sir Louis’ lawyers — if they were to bring something, would be able easily to get cost.”
He further asked why would the NDP come to Parliament to ask the question when, on Sept. 30, Exeter’s lawyer wrote a pre-action letter saying that if Straker did not resign or show his certificate of renunciation of his U.S. citizenship within seven days they would have brought a court action against him.
“We have more serious things to be dealing with, because it is just a frivolity,” Gonsalves said.
“I just want to say as a fact that I know that Sir Louis, having sworn on each of those occasions from 1994, each of those five occasions, I know he swore truthfully, that he is ‘not by virtue of my own act under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or alliance to a foreign power of state’. I know that as a fact Gonsalves said.
“And I agree with Sir Louis fully, not to satisfy all of this dog chasing its tail kind of activity to show any document.”
But Ferdinand, asked a supplementary question, saying, “I just need confirmation from the Honourable Prime Minister, even though he spent a long time dancing around the issue, you could then confirm then, that on Dec. 9, 2015, the day of the general election, Sir Louis Straker was not an American citizen?”
Gonsalves responded: “I reply to you the same way. Under the Constitution, no person shall be qualified to be elected ‘if he is — (a.) is by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state’. That is precisely the nature of the statutory declaration, which he swore to, and I am saying that his swearing to that was truthful, not false. That is what this concerns. That is why I told you from the beginning, you are dealing with a question because you all are trying to manufacture things. Just deal with serious things, nuh.”
After Gonsalves’ response, the House Speaker said to Ferdinand, “But honourable member, honourable senator, you must agree with me that that was not a supplemental question? That was a reiteration of the original question?”
The speaker then called for the next question on the order paper to be asked.