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Sir James Mitchell and the Constitution of SVG

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EDITOR: A few weeks ago I heard Adrian Fraser during the Saturday programme “Letter from the Ground” say that the issue of the appointment of two senators when there are no Elected Representatives, has not yet been resolved.

I challenged that opinion and suggested that he should consult with the learned professors at the UWI. Adrian said that they were consulted but did not come to any firm decision on the issue. {{more}}

I have decided to go a step further and try to unravel what I call a very simple matter.

According to the Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Section 28:-

“Appointment of Senators: Of the Senators (a) four shall be appointed by the Governor-General acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister and (b) two shall be appointed by the Governor-General acting in accordance with the advice of the Leader of the Opposition.”

In the event that there is not a single elected Representative, that is, the office of the Leader of the Opposition becomes vacant, let us see what the Constitution says about the vacancy of the Leader of the Opposition.

Section 59(4): “the office of the Leader of the Opposition shall become vacant –

(b) if, when the House first meets after a dissolution of Parliament, he is not then a member of the House.”

This is exactly what happened after the 1989 General Elections. Not only was the office of the Leader of the Opposition vacant but there was no member of the SVG Labour Party eligible to be appointed. What then is the remedy?

Let us examine Section 55 (2): “During any period in which there is a vacancy in the office of Leader of the Opposition by reason of the fact that no person is both qualified for appointment to that office in accordance with this Constitution and willing to accept appointment, or if the Governor-General, acting in his own deliberate judgement, considers that it is not practicable for him to obtain the advice of the Leader of the Opposition within the time within which it may be necessary for him to act, he may act without that advice and in his own deliberate judgement in the exercise of any power conferred upon him by this Constitution in respect of which it is provided that he shall act on the advice of, or after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.”

That is what the former Prime Minister Sir J F Mitchell went to the UK for and bought an opinion stating that he was not bound to agree to the appointment of two senators by the Acting Governor-General Henry Williams.

Henry Williams got his opinion from leading Caribbean and UK experts. They all agreed that the Governor-General had the authority under the Constitution to appoint two Opposition Senators.

While Mitchell was obtaining the opinion he bought, he communicated with the relevant authorities in the UK to remove the Acting Governor-General from the office.

Henry Williams was respected by many Vincentians for the stand he took against the dictatorial act because Mitchell had violated the Constitution as never before in the history of this country.

What was very surprising was the fact that many academics who once praised Williams as a Constitutional Lawyer were silent as the grave. Men like Kenneth John and the other NDP Lawyers ran for cover as the battle of words raged between Mitchell and Williams.

This was not the only time it appeared that Mitchell acted outside the Constitution. He seemed to have done it again in 1994 when he failed to set up a Boundaries Commission after the Census was completed.

It must be remembered that there are other factors which interplay with this subject. They are:-

1) The conduct of the 1989 General Elections.

2) The failure of James Mitchell to agree with the appointment of two Opposition Senators in keeping with the Constitution.

3) The demand by Mitchell that all his Parliamentary colleagues sign a bill giving him the sole authority to deal with the Ottley Hall Marina Project.

J. G Thompson