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PM drops cases, apologises for Minister Daniel

PM drops cases, apologises for Minister Daniel


Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has decided to withdraw two defamation cases he had brought against members of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).{{more}}

On Wednesday evening, just before debate on the 2012 Budget wrapped up for the day, the Prime Minister announced to the nation that he intended to instruct his lawyers not to proceed with High Court judgments in his favour, in separate defamation suits against Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace and Member for West Kingstown Daniel Cummings.

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT after the adjournment, the Prime Minister said he decided to discontinue with the cases because he wanted to make a personal gesture in the efforts towards national reconciliation.

The Prime Minister made the announcement about withdrawing the cases while apologizing to opposition Member for West Kingstown Daniel Cummings for an “unfortunate remark” made by Minister of Agriculture Montgomery Daniel.

Gonsalves said he was apologizing not only on behalf of Daniel, but on behalf of all the members on the government side.

Earlier on Wednesday, during the afternoon session of Budget debate, Montgomery Daniel, who is the Parliamentary Representative for North Windward, rose to make his contribution around the same time that Cummings did.

Cummings, who was elected to Parliament for the first time in December 2010, asked the Speaker to allow him to speak, as he has a bad back.

Daniel gave way, and Cummings proceeded to make his contribution.

However, when Daniel later rose to make his own contribution to the Budget debate, he said: “Mr. Speaker, the last general elections in SVG were concluded in 2010, and understanding the Constitution, my expectation of the next general elections would be in 2015. And so, Mr. Speaker, if I as an individual is (sic) being affected terribly by back pains, and there are four years to come to run for another election, I am not growing younger, I am growing older, and so my condition would deteriorate and deteriorate worse in the next four years. Mr. Speaker, is it that I want to make history to be the second wheelchair candidate for the next general elections coming?”

A few minutes after Daniel made that statement, the Prime Minister was observed handing him a note.

While wrapping up, Daniel said: “Mr. Speaker, at the time of the start of my speech, I would have made the unfortunate remark of my back…”

He then explained that some years ago, he hurt his back while staking out cattle one day.

“I want to say what I said a while ago was not in any way in any malice to anyone. If what I said, Mr. Speaker, that the individuals take it as though I did it with malice, I want to say Mr. Speaker, that I did not do it so,” Daniel said.

“As a matter of fact, even when the representative for West Kingstown, when he got up to talk, I was already on my feet. He asked that I give way, and so I gave way, because of it. I do not have anything against the honorable gentleman,” Daniel stated.

As he addressed Parliament, Gonsalves said that although Daniel had indicated his regret, as Leader of the House, he wished to go further and apologize on behalf of all the members on the government side, including Montgomery Daniel.

The Prime Minister said on Monday, before he delivered the Throne Speech, Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne had urged him and the Leader of the Opposition, in the presence of the Speaker, to be careful about their language during the debate.

Gonsalves also disclosed that during his recent trip to Bethlehem, he thought a lot about these matters, and while he was at the Church of the Nativity, he got the feeling that he should ensure as far as is possible, within the cut and thrust of competitive democratic politics, for “us to just lessen the vitriol, the harshness of language”.

Conceding it would be a process, Gonsalves said: “Whenever it comes, it should not be too difficult to say we’re sorry, in moving forward”.

“We have to make sure that we send the signals for some healing. I hope tonight that process would be accelerated,” Gonsalves said, as he addressed Parliament and the nation.

“I think tonight, Mr Speaker, that the country would feel that we have made a giant step forward. I am sorry that the honourable members of the Opposition are not here. I do not know what is the reason. I know there were two members here present when the Honourable Minister of Agriculture was speaking.

The Prime Minister told SEARCHLIGHT that he felt the “unfortunate remark” made by Daniel provided a good opportunity to make a start towards national reconciliation.

Two wheelchair bound persons have run for general elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In 1994, the late Larry Bascombe ran as an independent candidate in the Marriaqua constituency, and in 2005, Donald O’Neal ran for the Green Party in North Windward. Both were unsuccessful in their bids.