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The bills vs the people and vice versa

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by Oscar Allen 11.FEB.11

A political crisis is ripening in our community. It parted the bush and came out of cover during the referendum period. It took a few steps forward as part of the election campaign. It stares us in the face now, chanting “Look Me, I’m just a game called Musical Parliaments, Let’s play.”{{more}}

The crisis, now in the form of 2 bills before Parliament and the Governor General, appears to be a battle located in parliament, to see which side will control parliament – and the parliamentary elite is calling the tribal party forces to defend its rights and its wrong. That is one side of the story.

One month after elections, in the same session of parliament as the presentation and debate on the budget, parliamentarians received 2 bills to be debated and passed into law. One bill was to abolish our right as citizens to take our own cause directly into the courts. The other bill abolishes truth telling about candidates during an election campaign. These bills affect important legislation that are part of our post independence legal culture, yet not one of them came up for discussion during the years of reflection for constitutional reform! Of course, the conjunctural context of post election tussle has a lot to do with this attempt at a legislative coup d’état. I believe that the parliamentarians, especially those who had presented civil cases to the court, have explained how they understand these bills. We can read the intentions of the government side when we note that they have closed off the decent conventional options of e.g. (1) presenting their own cased brought against the NDP; (2) contesting those cases brought against them in court; (3) in the last resort, engaging in by election for any seat which they might forfeit from a decision of the court.

The bills are a clear statement that this is no game of ‘Musical Parliaments’. It is no game at all. The bills are first, a frontal attack on the courts as a place where citizens, on their own, can confront an injustice or promote their right. Second, the bills make it impossible to cast a valid vote for a candidate, by abolishing targeted sanctions against deception, craft and lies during an election campaign. Our civil right to access the court system and our valid choosing of a representative in parliament are to be outlawed.

BILL # ONE

Since independence in 1979, there have been around 120,000 adult Vincentians in our land. Fewer than 100 of us have ever taken a matter to court in our own right as citizens. We have the right to do so on paper, but we don’t feel confident, or literate, or empowered enough to exercise this civil right. I have heard of the case of two prominent citizens – the late Messrs Egerton Richards and Duff James who took a constitutional matter to court and the judge told them they were out of place to do so. They had no “Locus standi” before the court! The plain truth is that ordinary citizens need to be provided with community guidance as to how we can enter the court system with a civil matter, and pursue our right, without that, large and hurting injustices haunt our land and cripple our democracy. Bill # one strengthens injustice. Instead of helping us as citizens to bring our rights closer to us, this change in the procedures of the criminal code pushes us further away from our civil rights. This new bill makes the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), whoever s/he may be, discourage us further from even considering going to court. The DPP stands outside the court like an old time headteacher, red ink pen in hand to keep nuisances and hurting people at bay from the court! That is first bill our new parliament has passed! Just one month after elections. Parliament i.e the ruling party, the leader of the House, Prime Minister Gonsalves, – along with the women and men on his team – is cutting back on democracy.

BILL # TWO

Election Season has been a time of Great Deceptions. Political parties even make a joke of it. “Dem Lie Oh”, they chant. A group, the monitoring and consultative mechanism (NMCM) – was even set up to watch out for bad mouthings and other violence. All the time, there has been in the 1982 election law (RPA), a set of severe penalties for such betrayals of the electorate, because the lies are for the consumption and confusion of the voters. The minority party – ULP – has a bill to remove deceiving the voters and the penalty for it from the election Law (RPA)

Such a bill, if passed, is not intended just for this election, or this parliament or this year. It says Voters must have no right to hear and know the truth about persons who are running for office, Propagandists and candidates must be free to lie, smear and disfigure the contending candidates to get us to vote their way. We must vote for a representative whose real character and history and hidden under offensive layers of falsehood, stench and unfettered fabrications. What kind of citizens do they want us to be? What kind of political culture and parliament will we produce and consume? Two months into government like this speaks of a crisis of governance.

These 2 bills dishonor the parliament that we have just voted for. These 2 bills suggest that on the government side, all the Parliamentarians are low minded and full of base intentions, or at least “house slaves” crawling behind masa.

These 2 bills tell us that the government rejects the options open to it and will rule by fiat, by legislative command, and from then, by plain command.

This is no time for blind party loyalty. It is time for a citizens’ conversation without tribal colors. It is time for a nation at prayer. This ripening political crisis must be met with a civil rights statement that puts the cult of red and yellow aside and raises the banner of a Vincentian people’s democracy. The leader of parliament must withdraw Bill #2 and freeze Bill #One. The NDP must hold back any momentum towards yellow disorder. The hesitating citizenry must step out of the bushes and add their voices to the rehabilitation of democracy. A new people’s parliament must convene everywhere. The Bills must ignite us.

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