Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves. (iWN file photo)

Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves says that the opposition’s motion on electoral reform, which came up for debate in Parliament on Friday, contained “poison pills” for the government.

He said that, as a result of these “poison pills”, the government would have had to vote against the motion, thereby giving the opposition an opportunity to score political points.

However, neither the motion nor an amendment to it by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves ever made it to a debate, as the four hours allocated to the debate ran out amidst raucous back and forth over interpretation of the rules of the House of Assembly.

Leader of the opposition, Godwin Friday tabled the motion on April 23, 2019 and it was initially scheduled for debate on May 9.

However, the government and opposition decided to postpone the debate for last Friday and to allocate four hours for it.

When the motion came up for debate on Friday, the prime minister moved an amendment which the opposition said hijacked the motion.

In making his contribution amidst argument over whether the intent of the rule allowed for amendment to motions, the finance minister called for a “lowering of the temperature” and for lawmakers to move from some of the “hyperbole” that had pervaded the debate.

“Today is the day for private members’ motion and the honourable leader of the opposition and the opposition which has brought the motion, they have placed on the table the issue of electoral reform to be debated,” the finance minister said.

He said government lawmakers were not trying to change the fact that electoral reform was up for debate.

“We are in a democracy and it is a cockeyed view of any democratic process — and I know that you, Mr. Speaker, has studied this — that anything brought into a democratic parliament is un-amendable and must be simply voted up or down.”

House Speaker Jomo Thomas told the finance minister that that was not the case, but that the tradition of the Vincentian parliament has been to allow debate on private member’s motions without amendment of the types that the government was proposing.

The finance minister retorted:

“Mr. Speaker, with respect, that is your argument, because you are the one who has raised the issue of tradition.”

The speaker then asked the minister, “Why do you think that has not been violated in the past?” Thomas asked.

“Mr. Speaker,” Gonsalves said. “We have, as our democracy deepens, to move ourselves from the point where we think that if one side bring legislation or the other side bring a motion, nobody can touch it, you must simply have your hot air talk and vote it up or down.”

Gonsalves said he was trying to add context, saying it was quite clear to him where the rules are on the matter.

“Responsibly, I think both sides of this Honourable House can come to an agreement on electoral reform. But, if a motion is written in such a way as the original motion by the Leader of the Opposition is, that contains poison pills to this side of the house, what you are going to have, you are going to have a debate, and at the end of it, because of the text of the motion, this side will have to oppose it and then what would come out of it is: we brought electoral reform to the house and they government vote against electoral reform. And that is not where we should be going as a mature democracy, Mr. Speaker,” Gonsalves said.

He said that if a motion or legislation on an important topic comes before Parliament there must be, “in the nature of politics, in the nature of a democracy, an attempt to amend and tweak the language so as to arrive at a consensus.

“The point of the matter is that the motion that has been brought by the Leader of the Opposition will not enjoy consensus. An amendment has been proposed, you get to put that amendment to the vote, and, thereafter, other amendments can be made to be put to a vote.

“But what we should be trying to do here, Mr. Speaker, is to have a mature conversation on electoral reform. There is nothing in the amendment by this side of the house that will change anything that is being said on that side. But what will matter, Mr. Speaker, is what is voted on and what text becomes the record of the consensus or decision of the house.  And what we do not want to have is an election gimmick–” Gonsalves said.

“Well, it is clear that we are not going to have consensus,” the Speaker said.

Gonsalves said that lawmakers were at the beginning of the process and other amendments may be offered that are taken in good faith and agreed to from both sides.

“So I don’t think we should pre-judge this. So, what I am saying, Mr. Speaker, in the interest of consensus and in the interest of a mature democratic process, the Speaker has to allow amendment, whether they are fundamental, whether they are large or small in order that the reflection of the will of the house is represented at the end of the day. And I think that is what this amendment seeks to do.”

The opposition’s motion called on lawmakers to resolve to amend the Representation of the People Act and adopt other practical and effective measures to ensure free and fair elections and restore public confidence in the nation’s electoral system.

The prime minister’s amended motion asked lawmakers to “declare that the current electoral system, grounded in the SVG Constitution Order, 1979, and the Representation of the People Act and the regulations made thereunder, is sound and has delivered free and fair elections, inclusive of those in 2015, reflective of the will of the people”.

15 replies on “Electoral reform motion ‘contains poison pills’ for govt — Camillo”

  1. C. ben-David says:

    A “poison pill” can go both ways. The amended motion would be considered by most NDP supporters as a poison pill meant to render the original motion useless.

  2. Jolly Green says:

    The prime minister’s amended motion asked lawmakers to “declare that the current electoral system, grounded in the SVG Constitution Order, 1979, and the Representation of the People Act and the regulations made thereunder, is sound and has delivered free and fair elections, inclusive of those in 2015, reflective of the will of the people”.

    This is stone cold evidence of what a dreadful man this is.

    1. C. ben-David says:

      But isn’t this what Justice John and three impartial election observer teams also said or implied?

  3. Amos Greaves. says:

    Camillo thinks that the only person with a brain is himself, the others are brainless. It is this kind of attitude, the syndrome of a big fish in a small pond is given why he was ruffled up in New York while he was at the United Nation. Camillo alleged treatment of a vulnerable woman in St Vincent speaks for itself.

    1. Jolly Green says:

      Yes we all remember those incidents of idiocy and stupidity. At those times like a naughty little boy he was banned from talking by daddy, had to do as he was told.

      Look at the nasty demeaning grin on his face, what a nasty person this is, just like daddy kins.

  4. Elma Gabriel says:

    Godwin Friday tabled motion on April 23, 2019 provided the Government in power; almost a month to brainstorm and review the motion which any focus minded team would have done, and clearly accomplished based on the tactic taken by first by the PM, then Mr. Straker and Camillo. To my observation, a well applied strategy which should not have taken the opposition by surprise based on past events.
    One does not have to be versed on ‘electoral reform’ or parliamentary debate procedures to have grasped the motive that lead to this motion irresolution. The speaker was very impartial in his facilitation of the matter but to no avail; especially when the Finance Minister took the floor thru his voice of reasoning and consultation approach.> “But what we should be trying to do here, Mr. Speaker, is to have a mature conversation on electoral reform.” “There is nothing in the amendment by this side of the house that will change anything that is being said on that side. But what will matter, Mr. Speaker, is what is voted on and what text becomes the record of the consensus or decision of the house. And what we do not want to have is an election gimmick–” Gonsalves said.”<

    1. Elma Gabriel says:

      The Minister of Finance, Mr. Straker and the PM had a strategy and no doubt a valid reason why the motion cannot be passed based on aspirations yet to be disclosed to even possibly other senior ministers or member of the SVG Government. The point here is:- ‘If according to Camillo; the Electoral reform motion ‘contains poison pills’ for govt — Camillo’ should be held accountable to tell the voters what he is talking about.

  5. There certainly should be some changes made in how we conduct our elections. Even if all the criteria in the laws are “sound” there should at the very least be a few additions…, mention in those laws of some sort of punitive measures for when the laws are not adhered with, whether by design or just through incompetence; these punitive measures can include a new election. The Petitions Trial has shown that the last election was a travesty! The Election Laws should maybe include reasons when there should be an immediate investigation and possibly a speedy new election. The Petitions Hearing uncovered enough evidence to warrant a new election; that is obvious, but instead, here we are! Any current government can use cheating by certain officials as well as sloppiness in thier favor and any opposition has virtually no power no matter what the outcome. Our current Prime Minister has such blatant disrespect for the entire opposition (thereby it includes disrespect for half the population of the country) that he did all in his power to block and delay any investigation of the past election. Does anyone think that is representative of a democracy? In most nations there are mechanisms in thier laws to speedily determine if a new election is needed. THAT MECHANISM DOES NOT EXIST IN SVG LAWS! The time it took for the petitions to reach trial is testament to that. Our party system combined with our form of government in SVG is a sort of elected dictatorship where the opposition has practically no power and easily allows for any leader to stay in power as long as they wish, simply by ignoring a few tiny technicalities here and there, sloppiness by mistake or by design. That is what I see is going on in SVG at this time.

    1. C. ben-David says:

      1. If you made the effort to read the Representation Act (http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Electoral/StVincent/StV&Gr.html), you would know that it addresses many of your concerns including the nature of punishment for those who break provisions of the Act.

      2. Whatever Act is in place, including a brand new one, it would be up to the ruling government and its institutions to enforce the Act which would still not address your concerns.

      3. If the Act were reformed as to make it easy to overthrow election results based on a few minor errors, as you seem to imply, it would represent a huge assault of the voting will of the people.

      4. The delay in addressing the petitions had nothing to do with the Act but with the sclerosis, understaffing, and underfunding of the entire Eastern Caribbean judicial system.

      5. Sloppiness by mistake — which is what this is all about — is insufficient in overthrowing an election if it did not result in the wrong candidate being elected.

      1. You are probably right C. Ben, then my question is or the Million-Dollar question for everyone is: Why were these laws not followed? Some may say that a maneuver was conducted to have a judge presiding over the Petitions Trial that would be biased. Rather than have a new election, as is needed, all of the serious occurrences were ignored; and why was a new election not speedily conducted immediately after the election? Instead, the corruption is displayed for all to see!
        Obviously the present government is allowed to ignore any and all laws when it does not suit them, and even to construe any existing laws to create a pretext to accomplish whatever they desire. Who needs a dictatorship when what we have in SVG accomplishes the same, anything the supreme leader desires?

        Someone left a comment stating that the PM has SVG in the palm of his hand. That looks to be the case.

  6. Rohan Duncan says:

    Robertson, What would be a travesty is for voters to be disenfranchised by and act or omission by a electoral official, be it a supporter of the governing party or the opposition. the will of the majority of the voters must be honour.

    1. I agree Rohan Duncan, in that case we have the wrong government in power! When it has been obviously indicated that the election was seriously flawed, how can you look me in the eye and tell me it is the “will of the people”?
      All of the evidence that was brought out in the trial as well as the judges attitude toward it is on blatant display for the world to see.
      Are you fine with that?
      If so many people do not care, and this is allowed to continue, we have the government we deserve and we are never going to be rid of it.

  7. This may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back! (one can only hope that right thinking Vincy folk will see through this charade)
    What a disgusting and unethical approach on the part of the PM and his anti-commonsense posse, followed by the quick-draw support from his two leading apologists EG and CBD.
    A shameful exercise which once again makes SVG the laughing stock of the world.
    I’m waiting for Jomo to state that he will rule differently the 3rd time..

    1. Jolly Green says:

      Anthony the Vincentian people from both parties are really stupid to stand for this kind of behavior. It is destroying our parliamentary democracy and replacing it with the Venezuelan style Marxist-Leninist clap-trap.

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