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Cummings may find himself in hot water over passport statements

Cummings may find himself in hot water over passport statements

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Opposition parliamentarian Daniel Cummings could see himself facing legal action for statements he made on radio regarding the destruction of passport books here in September.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in a telephone call from England, said on WE FM’s “Shake Up” on Friday that the West Kingstown representative was irresponsible and dishonest in his comments.

Cummings spoke of the destruction of the passports on his New Democratic Party’s “New Times” on NICE Radio Wednesday.

Gonsalves said Cummings defamed him and that a transcript of the comments had been sent to his lawyers.

The prime minister and other Ministry of National Security officials have said in separate statements and press interviews that Canadian Bank Note erroneously omitted the “Observations” page from a batch of 25,000 Vincentian passport books.

The Vincentian government issued 15,211 of the passports after the International Civil Aviation Organization said the passports books could be used.

And Gonsalves said Cummings was accusing him of misbehaviour in public office “by deliberately having a passport issued without the mark of observation on the first page and that I did so for the purpose of facilitating criminals to get passports.”

“That is clearly defamatory,” he added.

“Of course I don’t advise myself on legal matters even though I am an experienced lawyer,” the prime minister said.

But he said that he wanted the matter to be looked at dispassionately.

Cummings said on the radio programme that because of the poor performance of the Government, the travel documents were deemed questionable by the Canadian authorities.

Canada in September imposed visa requirements for St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and four African countries.

Ottawa gave “unreliable travel documents” among its reasons for changing Vincentians’ visa-waiver status.

Cummings said “… too many instances have occurred when things that are standard did not take place with respect to the issuance of passports … too many cases.

“… why this was not picked up? It is so glaring… it’s on the first page,” he said of the passports issued without an “Observations” page.

Immigration officers are trained to be thorough and would have picked up on the error, Cummings said.

“I am strongly suggesting that,” he further said, adding that if it were an accident “it would have been picked up and would have been corrected before any passport would have been issued with that defect”.

The opposition parliamentarian further said the action was deliberate, so there could be an excuse for issuing passports to persons who did not qualify.

“And I submit that is the reason why the passports came defective; that’s my strong opinion and I have very good reason to believe it.”

But the prime minister said Cummings also attempted to mislead the public with relation to his own passports.

Cummings questioned why a passport issued to him in 2008 had the observations page, while the other, issued in 2011, didn’t.

“It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

He said Cummings has two passports: one diplomatic and one regular.

The prime minister said the diplomatic passport was issued in 2011 and the regular one in 2012 — from the batch of 25,000 which came with the “Observations” page missing.

He further explained that the diplomatic passport had the “Observations” page.

However, the opposition parliamentarian said on the radio programme a passport was issued to him in 2011 with the “Observations” page and the passport issued in 2008 did not have it.

“Cummings is really dishonest, irresponsible and in another regard, certainly misleading the public for the purpose of being dishonest within the context of his whole presentation,” Gonsalves said.

He added that the public servants involved in the exercise were also very upset over Cummings’ statements.

Meanwhile, Godfred Pompey, permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security, said in a press statement on Thursday that the Ministry was dismayed “at the ongoing negative commentary by some on the issue surrounding the security of our Vincentian passports, despite the assurances provided”.

“The situation was further compounded by unfounded comments aired on Nice Radio on Wednesday, 17th October, 2012, concerning the apparent transfer of the Government Printer in an attempt to cover up the destruction of passport books,” the release said.

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