Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock. (iWN file photo)

Opposition Members of Parliament on Thursday asked Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to consult the public before pushing through, in the national assembly, a bill that they say would change elements of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Constitution, without the need for a referendum.

The government, however, denied that this is the intention or would be the effect of the Attorney General’s Reference (Constitutional Questions) Bill, 2018.

“This very simple piece of legislation, as you identify it, speaks to matters related to the Constitution of the state,” Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, said as Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was about to present the bill.

“… the bill, as we understand it on this side of the House, speaks to the Constitution and its relationship to the Parliament,” added Leacock, who was acting as Leader of the Opposition, in the absence of Member of Parliament for the Northern Grenadines, Godwin Friday, who had gone to Canada to attend a funeral.

“A number of people have reached us and have made representations of unease on the subject matter and I am raising with the honourable Prime Minister whether it would not be good sense for us to refer the bill to the Bar Association, civil society, just give it a little time for reflection. It has come to us at relatively short notice, less than a week – so that we can make even more informed discussion on the subject matter…”

Leacock, however, said that if that was not the prime minister’s view then opposition lawmakers could engage him in debating the bill.

Joining Leacock in expressing concern was opposition senator, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste.

She said that the opposition leader had said that he had not had a chance to study the bill.

The senator further said that she got her package with the bill two days before Parliament met.

Opposition Senator, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste. (iWN file photo)

Bacchus-Baptiste, a lawyer, said she has had many calls about the bill and that she supported Leacock’s comments that the draft law touches and concerns the Constitution and that persons might need more time.

The senator said she did not think that it would be wise to go through all three readings of the bill on that day — as the prime minister had proposed — “without giving the public some time to look at it.

“Many persons did not even know of the existence of this bill until maybe today (Thursday) or last night and because of the importance of it and because it touches and concerns the highest law of the land, I also request that because of the short duration that we have had to even look at it, I have not been able to properly study it, that it be given some more time.”

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. (iWN file photo)

However, Gonsalves said that the bill is one, “in every material particular” that was passed in St. Lucia and has been used by the Court of Appeal before.

“And what we are seeking to do here in this bill is to have the honourable Attorney General make a reference to the court of appeal on any provision of the Constitution which may be referred by him to the Court of Appeal and to have the Court of Appeal say whether that particular provision is constitutional or not.

“It doesn’t change anything in the Constitution. What it does, it aids in the interpretation of the Constitution. This is not anything about the alteration of the constitution.”

The prime minister said that there are provisions in Section 36-37 dealing with the matter of the alteration of the Constitution.

“I don’t want it to be bandied abroad that we are seeking to change anything here in the Constitution. What is being asked is for the Attorney General, on certain matters, to refer the matters to the Court of Appeal for the opinion of the court to hear and consider the reference made, to answer each question so referred and to certify to the attorney general its opinion on each question with the reason for each answer.”

After some further discussion, parliament agreed that the prime minister would present the bill and debate on it would be postponed to the next meeting, scheduled for May 24.

24 replies on “Opposition asks gov’t to consult public before passing law”

  1. In other words Camillo has admitted to have stolen intellectual property, ie Linton Lewis’s idea. What else he has to admit to? What about the alleged affair with Yuggie Farrell?

  2. Another political ploy by the opposition to rev up its base.,
    I usually won’t comment on such topics but this type of bill do not need public review because is more so administrative judiciary bill. Correct me me if I’m wrong.

    1. Jim Jordan says:

      This is genuine foolishness on the part of the NDP. There is simply no law in St. Vincent or any country living under the rule of law that does not touch upon its constitution.

      All laws passed by the legislators are either in conformity to the constitution or they are not. It is the job of an independent and impartial judiciary to state whether the law conforms to the constitution or is unconstitutional. All the proposed bill by the ULP is doing is giving the Attorney General the authority to ask the Court of Appeal if a particular law is constitutional.

      Given the constitutional questions which have recently arisen in St. Vincent, this law is long overdue. At the same time I believe that the AG should be able to make the same request of the Court of Appeal without there being a law that empowers him/her to do so. I believe that that power is inherent to the office itself. The proposed bill would simply make this explicitly so.

      That the NDP is challenging this bill is insane. It shows the utter lack of intellectual clarity within the leadership of the party. There are obviously hundreds or even thousands of very smart people in the NDP. We need some of them in the leadership ranks of the NDP. They will know which fights to pick and are worth fighting, none more so that deep security crisis in St. Vincent. But they will also know to leave alone froth – such as this bill which is only asking the AG to exercise powers the AG already possesses.

      1. Thanks for some clarity Jim , and no the NDP… DO know what their intentions and strategies are for opposing or wanting this debate in the court of public opinion … Just more confusion and animosity towards the government. This is certainly a loosers strategy and the signs of a party with no meaningful confidence leadership.

      2. Vincy Lawyer says:

        Jim, I couldn’t have said it better myself!!!

        Great analysis and a greater understanding.

    2. Brown Boy USA says:

      Anything to change the constitution is something the people must be involved with, otherwise those in power could just change the constitution as they wish.

    3. It certainly does alter the Constitution! It gives the sitting government more power and weakens the opposition at times when the constitution should be applied.

  3. Don’t let them get away with that. Stop them. Campaign on those issues. inform the public. You will get better results.

  4. I am inclined to believe the Opposition Members of Parliament on these issues for the simple reason that this administration has no credibility whatsoever when it comes to the rights of the Vincentian people. If they did, we would have seen enacted into Law, “The Freedom of information Bill” so dishonestly and vigorously promised by Ralph’s Gonsalves regime.

    Yo ah go get dat “Freedom of information Bill once we tek office!” said in year 2000! Dat old chestnut is still awaited as they now laugh at the face of the Vincentian people! Well me nar go trus dem now no furder dan me can see dem sa!

    Sure “it would…” “be good sense for” dem “to refer the bill to the Bar Association, civil society,” even if it is “just” to “ give it a little time for reflection.” What’s de hurry, ah wa dem frade fa?

    But true, dem want to run de SVG Dictatorship like dem frend ah Venezuela, therefore, so dem ah go arn! We na matter! Ah dem rule!

    Bacchus-Baptiste is correct! Who but dem knew bout dat Bill? St. Lucia is na we! St Lucia is St Lucia, dem can do wa dem want, we ha fo look out fo we! An wid dis bunch in office, we need fo have eyes in de back ah we head!

    But wait! Jus listen to dis from the man who we should not ever trus one bit! “What is being asked is for the Attorney General, on certain matters, to refer the matters to the Court of Appeal for the opinion of the court to hear and consider the reference made, to answer each question so referred and to certify to the attorney general its opinion on each question with the reason for each answer” So wa ah go happen wen im na war or refuse to refer it? We ha fo rely on o’no?

    Ralph Gonsalves and his gang, should keep in mind this, that every length of rope has an end, and like Castro, that he wid im gang may yet die while his regime is still in Office! Exploited Slaves, like all others, do have good memory too!

  5. They want to make changes to the constitution without consulting the people? Is that legal? Shouldn’t this be debated in the houses of parliament?

  6. Mr. Chance, can you please publish the bill in question, so that We the people can see for ourselves what it is and not have to rely on secondhand information?

  7. Jim Jordan says:

    M r R they are not changing the constitution. They are passing a bill that says that the Attorney General must go to the Courts of Appeal to decide if a particular law is constitutional. Only an impartial court gets to decide what is constitutional.

    1. At present it would give the pro-ULP Attorney General the power to nullify NDP legal motions. Taking away any potential judiciary power of parliamentary protest they may have. It certainly does change the constitution because after the law passes certain provisions of the Constitution are “over-ridden” or nullified by this new law.
      It alters the constitution in that it makes parts of the constitution worthless! Constitutions usually seek to restrain a government. In this case this law gives the government more power, and the constitution less power, in that it allows the pro-ULP AG the power to decide and not the Constitution. Think of it as a Supreme Court of just one pro-ULP judge!

      THIS LAW ITSELF IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!!

      I think this law is being created because after the no-confidence motion, the government is trying to “make legal” the illegal action of turning the no-confidence motion into a motion of confidence.

      1. Jim Jordan says:

        Lost Pet

        A law is unconstitutional ONLY if an independent judiciary rules it to be so.

        I am absolutely certain that the NDP WILL agree to this if only because there are sufficient lawyers in the NDP who know that without the capacity to have court review of any legislation or dispute, we are truly living in a dictatorship, the very thing you say you are against.

        I will be utterly surprised if the NDP does not come to its senses on this bill.

        You need to understand that independent court review is the most important guarantee of freedom in every country that is founded om THE RULE OF LAW.

    2. Thanks for the clarification, Jim. I think that Lostpet shares my suspicions that the said law is a just measure to put the opposition offside. I understand it as giving the ruling party a carte blanche. The ULP is beginning to look like if they are using Mr. Maduro tactics.

      1. Good point “r”. Jim Jordan does not seem to notice that it is NOT an independent Judiciary that would decide, if this law come into effect…IT IS EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE! Instead a ULP chosen judge will decide. James Mitchell has noticed the same thing.
        We can expect some of the paid ULP internet trolls to support EVERYTHING commig from the ULP government. I am glad not everyone is fooled so easily.

  8. Birds of a feather do stick together! And yes!

    We have seen what Ralph Gonsalves’s pal, Nicolas Maduro has done in Venezuela, in order to consolidate his Dictatorship in Venezuela causing its Justice Minister to high tail it out of the country.

    Well Vincentians, be warned do not sleep-walk into your own Vincentian Hell! Just wake up and take a little glance across the water at Venezuela and observe their LIVING HELL.

    https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2016/10/face-hunger-malnutrition-venezuela-161007055723064.html

    Remember “POWER tends to CORRUPT and absolute power corrupts absolutely…” Quote.

  9. This is what happens when despots rule and democracy gets overthrown in place to be replaced by a family dictatorship, as is now the case in Venezuela.

    The Gonsalves’s hero, Nicolas Maduro, who has visited SVG in support the Gonsalves’s project, has turned that once prosperous country into a starving hell hole.

    Hence, its deposed prosecutor Luisa Ortega, fled the country in a dramatic speedboat journey to safety last year.

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/19/deposed-venezuelan-prosecutor-luisa-ortega-flees-country-dramatic/

    Ms Ortega broke with the declared socialist President Nicolas Maduro in late March 2017 and became a vocal critic of his unpopular government, eventually going into hiding, after his fraudulent newly elected constituent assembly fired her.

    And yet another minister, the Health Minister, Antonieta Caporale fled the country and tells of the horror on lives of people in this unchecked dictatorship.

    Nicolas Maduro had sacked Health Minister Antonieta Caporale after her department released statistics revealing a large jump in infant and maternal mortality.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-39896048

    Meanwhile the Gonsalves’s family dictatorship here, is once again being cemented as Finance Minister, Camillo Gonsalves, is again finding his voice of the privileged again, after that Yugge Farrell affair that had sent him into silence.

    What therefore shall we expect as this Gonsalves family dictatorship kowtow to Petro Caribe and Nicolas Maduro their idol?

    Are we to witness the gradual overthrow of our Parliament? Is its slow erosion taking place before our very eyes, as jobs disappear in SVG, burglary and other theft increase, and our begging bowl to the outside world gets even larger?

    Is this move yet another Power Grab by the Gonsalves family?

    1. Good information. What frightens me is: What can the government do to us if this law is passed? The government can possibly have so much control over the judiciary that it will be impossible for us to vote them out of office. Look at the difficulty we already have getting the Election Petitions heard! The new law will make it even more impossible for anyone to get impartial justice.

      1. Lost Pet

        The better question is what can the government do to us if we do not have access to the courts? The answer? Anything and everything.

        What you need to understand and it is quite apparent to me that you do not, is that St. Vincent and all the other former British Caribbean colonies live in a legal universe which constrain the power of the government namely to only taking acts which our constitutions permit, prevents them from taking actions expressedly prohibited by the constitutions, and most important of all, the constitutions empower you and I and any aggrieved party to come to the courts to seek redress if and when the governments violate any of the rights the constitutions grant to us.

        Furthermore because our appellate system of judicial review is not locally based in an individual island but is Caribbean wide with the Privy Council in England being the highest court, our system is protected from the influence of local politicians. Hence Lost Pet, our most urgent task if we believe IN the rule of law is that we ALWAYS PROTECT ACCESS to the courts.

        The bill the government proposes accepts that principle. Now it is perfectly fine to review the bill to ensure it says everything we want it to say. But make no mistake. Nothing is more important in a society than the rule of law. The bill expressly advances that principle by saying the AG can seek the Courts opinion on the constitutionality of any law or proposed legislation.

        That is exactly what you should want in a society bound by the rule of law.

      2. When they control the Senate and the judiciary, (and it looks like this is what they are doing) then we are truly screwed.

  10. Vincy Lawyer says:

    Finally someone else who does not see only through political lens and sees the simplicity of this matter.

    Thanks Jim. It’s really a breathe of fresh air to hear similar non-partisan and accurate information.

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