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The battle continues

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There were those who had hoped that once General Elections were over, the country would have had an opportunity to catch its breath and hopefully to begin to break down some of the divisiveness that characterised life in the country over the past years. Although the Prime Minister’s talk of reconciliation reminded many persons about the earlier hollow rhetoric that called for ‘Together Now’, yet it was felt that if the right atmosphere prevailed maybe something positive could happen.{{more}} It did not take long to shatter that dream, as it turned out to be. At the Governing Party’s victory rally and at the swearing in of ULP Parliamentarians in Layou, it was clear that the environment was not going to be one to facilitate any kind of reconciliation. In recent days, the word is out about massive changes and transfers within the Public Service. One senior Police Officer, it appears, has even been sent to warm the seats at the Curriculum Unit of the Ministry of Education. There are claims, too, by teachers that political victimisation was once again strongly on the agenda. The rhetoric also continued heating up.

Not only would those actions help to widen the political divide, they are bound to create tremendous dissatisfaction that will poison the working environment and stifle productivity. The NDP spoke about Election irregularities and had actually filed complaints even before the elections, accusing opposing candidates of facilitating the registration of electors in districts where they did not reside. The talk of irregularities continued after the elections and culminated in the filing of private complaints against the Prime Minister and three Ministers. Four of the charges, including two against the Prime Minister, were thrown out by the Chief Magistrate, who then issued summonses for the three Ministers to appear in Court on January 14 to answer charges. In her view, obviously, there was enough to warrant their appearance in Court. Before this could happen the Director of Public Prosecutions took charge and discontinued the proceedings. Lawyers representing the persons who filed the complaints had pledged to seek a Court review of the DPP’s decision.

Clearly there is a difference of interpretation of the law between the DPP and the lawyers and also the DPP and the Chief Magistrate. In defending his actions the DPP argued that he was acting according to the Code for Crown Prosecutors, a Code which only SVG in the Eastern Caribbean possesses. He stated that if the matter did not meet the threshold there was no need to allow it to go through and made reference to a clause in the Representation of the People Act dealing with an election offence committed before or during elections. He gave his opinion on what ‘before an election’ ‘conceivably means’. He further noted that notwithstanding that an indictment had been signed by the Chief Magistrate it did not necessarily mean that the prosecution of an individual would follow. The DPP stated, too, that the charges taken up by the lawyers were not reported to the relevant authorities, the DPP himself being part of the relevant authorities. Here again there was disagreement over the process that was necessary. But a very strange statement was added by the DPP. According to the SEARCHLIGHT newspaper of January 18, “He added that the Constitution might not have stated that in order to bring a private complaint it requires the fiat of the DPP. However, it explicitly states that the DPP, ultimately, is in control of all criminal proceedings.” (my emphasis) An interesting statement indeed!

Now with these differing interpretations of the law and the general legal morass, one would think that the best method of resolving this matter and of giving guidelines for the future would be through the Court. The action of the DPP prevents this. If these were the only matters on the table they would be serious indeed, but then what follows is what blows the mind – a hurried attempt by the Government to introduce two pieces of legislation amending the Criminal Code regarding the filing of private criminal complaints without the permission of the DPP and repealing sections of the Representation of the People Act. The question that

has to be asked is this – Was the DPP in defending his action not suggesting that private complaints had to have the permission of the DPP? If this is in fact already there why is there need for an amendment?

Affront to all decent Vincentians

By the time this issue of the paper reaches the streets there would have been developments on this matter. The pieces of legislation were to be brought to Parliament on Thursday, January 20, with the Opposition New Democratic Party calling on Vincentians to protest outside of Parliament. All of this is being played out in a situation where the Governing party has only a one seat majority and with the popular vote from the last elections being almost evenly split, the ruling party having received just under 2,000 more votes than the Opposition. The Prime Minister had issued a call for the public to support him in his bid for a review of the laws allowing citizens to file private complaints. If the PM is convinced that he has a sound case why is there need to rush this matter through Parliament. Could he not have allowed public discussion on the matter?

What is being attempted here and the manner in which it is being done is really going beyond narrow party politics and is becoming an affront to all decent Vincentians. Vincentians, regardless of party affiliation, need to reflect on what is happening and to let their voices be heard in the name of the democracy to which they pledge loyalty.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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