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RPA Select Committee requests assistance

RPA Select Committee requests assistance

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The Cabinet of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will shortly consider a proposal from the Select Committee of the House of Assembly, to bring on board technical experts{{more}} to assist them with their work on the proposed amendment to the Representation of the People Act (RPA).

Chairman of the Select Committee Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told SEARCHLIGHT that, at the meeting of the Select Committee on Thursday, June 9, Parnell Campbell Q.C. made a suggestion that, given the range of issues pertaining to the RPA to be dealt with, technical expertise should be sought.

The Prime Minister said while he had no objection, he would first have to go to Cabinet to seek their approval to hire experts.

“I said if Cabinet agrees, at the next sitting of the Committee, I will tell you what Cabinet says, and then I would inform Parliament what we are doing when we do our report,” Gonsalves said he told the Select Committee.

However, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, calling in to Nice Radio on Friday, June 10, and again on Sunday, June 12, in an interview with Jerry George, said he views this latest development as a victory for his party.

Eustace said the New Democratic Party (NDP) chose not to participate in the Select Committee, as they wanted the Bill withdrawn.

“I have been hearing that the scope of the Committee has been widened beyond the scope of the Bill that went to the Parliament. Other areas of the RPA were being considered for the possibility of being changed.

“I wrote a letter to the Clerk of the House because she had written me to inviting me to reconsider joining the Select Committee, because they were looking at other areas of the RPA. I replied saying that as far as we were concerned and as far as the rules of the House were concerned, I don’t see how that could be done, as any such change should first go back to the Parliament and you appoint a Select Committee on that basis, and we would determine at that time if we would participate. I sent that letter on the 8th, the Committee met on the 9th, and I have been informed that they have now decided to go back to the Parliament of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and propose a variation as to what should be handled, and I understand now that the whole electoral law will be examined, and there may even be a need for technical assistance,” Eustace said.

“I feel a sense of justification. I think it is a victory for us. I don’t think it would have happened; I think the government intended to ram through both Bills in the way the first one was done. It is because of the protests that we carried out over the period of time, and the fact that we stuck to our guns, not participating in the Select Committee and so forth, made them think a second time. I just want to thank all those persons, who, in one way or the other, assisted us over these last few months in getting our message out there,” Eustace said.

However, Prime Minister Gonsalves disagrees with the Opposition Leader’s interpretation of what happened, noting that Eustace was not present, so “he does not know what took place!”

The Prime Minister said the Select Committee has the power to vary the terms of discussion on the matter, and does not have to get agreement from Parliament for this.

The Prime Minister said what is happening, is that the Select Committee is going along with the suggestion of Queen’s Counsel Parnell Campbell, to get technical assistance to look at the overall Bill, to see what other changes need to be made.

“The question that we are not going to go through with those other amendments, is just completely ridiculous. It is the intention of the government to go through with these amendments, whether they are standing singly or standing together.”

“Eustace wants to declare a victory for something where they have been defeated and where they have no support to continue,” Gonsalves said.

The Prime Minister said, at the next sitting of Parliament, scheduled for July 21, if Cabinet agrees, he will report to Parliament that the Select Committee had agreed to hire drafting persons to assist with the review of the whole of the Representation of the People Act, and then, “We will go with whatever amendments we wish, in addition to these (the removal of Sections 51.3 and 51.4 of the RPA)”.

The proposed amendment to the Representation of the People Act removes sections 51.3 and 51.4 of that Act.

Section 51.3 says it is an illegal practice for any person who, before or during an election, for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate or prospective candidate at such election, to make or publish a false statement about the personal character or conduct of a candidate in an election. Section 51.4 sets out the penalties for Section 51.3. The penalties include being barred from being a Member of Parliament for five years.

The first meeting of the Select Committee established to review the Act was held on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. The Chairman of the Select Committee is Prime Minister Gonsalves. The other members are Ministers Saboto Caesar, Dr. Douglas Slater, and Senator Elvis Charles, along with the Attorney General, who is present with her staff to advise the Select Committee.

Observers at the Select Commitee have been Parnell Campbell QC, Godfrey Samuel from the Christian Council, and the President of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Bar Association. No member of the Opposition New Democratic Party was named to the Committee.

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