The ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) applied on April 1 to the Physical Planning Department for permission to keep permanently campaign billboards at Frenches gate, on which photos of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves and Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar have been displayed since before the November 2020 general elections.
“The mere fact that an application is before the Physical Planning Board for a permanent basis, this is an indication that the intent will be for a long time once that application is there. However, the length of time that these billboards stay in that location will depend on the legal status that is before the board,” Minister of Physical Planning Montgomery Daniel told Parliament on Thursday.
He was responding to a question by MP for East Kingstown, opposition lawmaker Fitzgerald Bramble.
Bramble told Parliament there are three billboards standing in East Kingstown displaying ULP candidates from the Nov. 5, 2020 general elections.
He said two of these billboards are at Frenches gate displaying Ralph Gonsalves, Camillo Gonsalves and Saboto Caesar, the ULP’s candidates for North Central Windward, East St. George, and South Central Windward.
A billboard at Roseau playground in Sion Hill displays Luke Browne, ULP candidate for East Kingstown.
Bramble said that based on information obtained from the Physical Planning Department, these billboards should have been removed a long time ago after the elections were held.
He noted that the billboards at Frenches Gate were burnt on two separate occasions following which, on both occasions, they were replaced.
He asked Daniel to say why the billboards are still being publicly displayed; whether the ULP intend to remove them, and if so, when; why the burnt billboards were replaced and if any new application was made to the Physical Planning Department to replace them.
Bramble asked the minister to say why the Physical Planning Department had not removed the billboard, considering that they have the authority to do so.
Before responding, Daniel said the question “offends greatly” standing order 21(c). He said that since the question states categorically it was based on information obtained from the Physical Planning, “can I ask the member to state the source of his information before this honourable house?”
After the intervention of the House Speaker Rochelle Forde, Bramble said,
“No problem at all. I made several calls to the Physical Planning Department…”
He added that he is very familiar with the work of the department as he is a former employee there.
“Having established that as fact I, therefore, would answer the question,” Daniel said and went on to tell Parliament “the intent of billboards are (sic) to display information publicly.
“Billboards are there for public consumption and the General Secretary of the Unity Labour Party made an application to the Physical Planning Board for permission to keep the billboards at the Frenches site on a permanent basis,” Daniel said, referring to Minister of Urban Development, Senator Julian Francis.
He said that the application “last was made on the 1st of April 2022. And it is before the board for approval and is awaiting the approval of the board.”
The minister, who is also deputy leader of the ULP, said the Physical Planning Department “cannot say whether or not the Unity Labour Party intends to remove or to keep these billboards where they are”.
Daniel said that at election time, permission is granted to all political parties to erect billboards.
“… and once the applications are met, approvals are given but it is also a culture in our country that billboards are torn down, are burnt down in the heat of our elections.
“As indicated, the billboards were burnt and that several applications were being made to the Physical Planning Department to have the billboards replaced.”
He said that if one drives around the country, “there are still many posters and billboards from opposite sides that are still existing.
“So, therefore, why the concern for that at the Frenches Gate?”
Daniel said that under the Town and Country Planning Act, the Physical Planning Department has the authority “to remove billboards or any other structure or any other development that is illegal in this country.
“At the moment the billboards are not illegal since they are on private property and applications are before the Physical Planning Board. I’m sure that the Physical Planning Department will take the necessary steps once the structures are illegal to do what is required?”
When asked if he had any supplementary questions, Bramble said:
“Yes, Madam Speaker. I’ll restrain myself from saying what I really want to say. But I will say, however, that none of us will be members of parliament forever. Remember that.”
Bramble asked when the last application prior to that one on April 1 was submitted to and approved by the Physical Planning Department.
“… because if they were up there before the elections on Nov. 5 2020, after November the 5th, they should have been taken down. So if they were standing there between November 5 2020, until April 1, 2022, almost two years after, without any application being approved, then there’s a problem.”
However, House Speaker Rochelle Forde told Bramble that under the standing orders, a question should not be made the pretext for a debate.
“You’ve asked your question, which is one supplementary question. And I would ask the honourable member to answer the supplementary question.”
“I do not have that information before me. And I can say to you that I do not intend to sit on the opposition bench no time at all, since I will not and will never ever be for all of my life be a politician.”