PM pro­poses new law for wannabe MPs

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

On Tues­day, April 23, 2013, via her Throne Speech, the gover­nor gen­eral made the fol­low­ing pro­nounce­ment: “Leg­is­la­tion gov­ern­ing our elec­toral process should not be left for en­act­ment on the eve of a gen­eral elec­tion. This only in­duces sus­pi­cion and cyn­i­cism.”

Which you’ll ad­mit, dear reader, is noth­ing but the truth, though not nec­es­sar­ily the whole truth. In­dis­putably, sev­eral other fac­tors ac­count for our wall-to-wall dis­trust of our law­mak­ers and pro­tec­tors— Gryn­berg and ALBA among them—but that’s for an­other in­quiry.

Be­sides, Dame Pear­lette had a cure-all, alas pre­scribed by one of our more prom­i­nent House doc­tors.

“My gov­ern­ment there­fore in­tends to pro­ceed with sev­eral amend­ments to the Elec­tions Act, as rec­om­mended by the elec­toral com­mis­sion.” And that was just the be­gin­ning.

She went on: “My gov­ern­ment is de­sirous to keep its com­mit­ment to the elec­torate and will en­act new leg­is­la­tion to ren­der it un­law­ful for in­di­vid­u­als who have com­mit­ted crimes from par­tic­i­pat­ing in elec­tions with­out frank and full dis­clo­sure of their crim­i­nal record to the elec­torate.”

Frank and full dis­clo­sure! What about that other mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar com­mit­ment to the pri­vate sec­tor? What about those count­less jobs-jobs-jobs? But then you say there ain’t nuthin’ crim­i­nal about elec­tions and false prom­ises that go to­gether like mar­riage and adul­tery.

By all the Dame promised, her gov­ern­ment would “make it nec­es­sary for all in­tend­ing can­di­dates to de­clare whether they are in pos­ses­sion of a pass­port is­sued by an­other coun­try or state.” (Even the me­dia as­so­ci­a­tion would know who that one was cus­tomde­signed for . . .)

Okay. Now let us imag­ine this sce­nario. Yes, I know it’s quite a stretch. But we are a peo­ple not short of imag­i­na­tion. Or is it Wal­cott cre­ativ­ity we have in abun­dance? No mat­ter, con­sider this scene: At a tele­vised press con­fer­ence con­vened by the com­merce min­is­ter at the plush premises of the cal­cu­lat­edly re­con­sti­tuted GIS, a re­porter puts up his hand.

His sig­nal catches the min­is­ter’s eye. “Go ahead,” she says, chan­nel­ing the Mother Theresa in her soul. “Ask your ques­tion.”

The re­porter gets straight to the point, none of the cus­tom­ary wimpy waf­fling. Just two months ear­lier, the prime min­is­ter had kept the gover­nor gen­eral’s prom­ise.

No more hold­ing se­crets from the elec­torate. No more af­ter-the-fact Bruce Tucker-type shock­ers. Elec­tion can­di­dates are now re­quired by law to come clean about all as­pects of their lives, whether or not crim­i­nal. Re­porters are now free to read dicey In­ter­net sto­ries of pub­lic in­ter­est over the air­waves.

Hal­lelu­jah!

“Thank you, Madam Min­is­ter,” says the re­porter, con­fi­dent gaze locked on the na­tion’s com­merce cap­tain. “With elec­tions around the cor­ner, and in the best in­ter­est of trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity, would you please let vot­ers know where you pur­chase your un­der­wear?”

Dear reader, what do you sup­pose might be Emma Hip­polyte’s re­sponse? Would she fall over in a dead faint? Would she reach for her faux-snake­skin hand­bag for some­thing com­fort­ing? How would the rest of the press corps re­act, in par­tic­u­lar, fe­male mem­bers?

Come to that, what are you, dear reader, think­ing right now about my in­vented re­porter? That he’s an un­couth son-of-a-bitch de­serv­ing of im­me­di­ate ban­ish­ment by the me­dia as­so­ci­a­tion? That he’s been pro­grammed by the op­po­si­tion? Stephen­son King? Allen Chas­tanet? Gale Rig­or­mor­tis? Who­ever?

Let’s stretch our imag­i­na­tions some more. What if the shocked and be­wil­dered com­merce min­is­ter should de­mand an im­me­di­ate apol­ogy? Should the re­porter then fall on his knees and blame his vieux-ne­gre man­ners on Ms Hip­polyte’s coif­fure? Should he cite the erotic im­pact of her ex­otic per­fume that had dis­turbed the bal­ance of his mind?

What if the re­porter had in­stead pref­aced his ques­tion with a soft­ener? For ex­am­ple: “Ms Hip­polyte, on my way here a woman who op­er­ates a lin­gerie store at the Bay­walk mall com­plained to me that not one MP, male or fe­male, had ever pur­chased an item from her es­tab­lish­ment.

“She named three other stores that spe­cial­ized in cos­met­ics, qual­ity men’s cloth­ing and hair prod­ucts, re­spec­tively. Their own­ers and em­ploy­ees had ex­pressed the same com­plaint about our MPs. They talked the ‘buy-lo­cal talk,’ said my in­for­mant, but never shopped at Bay­walk or any other lo­cal store. So now, I ask you, Madam Min­is­ter of Com­merce, where do you buy your, er, un­der­wear?”

Still think the ques­tion is out of place? Would it still be em­bar­rass­ing if, say, a re­porter asked Dame Pear­lette where her hats came from? Af­ter all, what lo­cal shop fea­tures her Bud­get-time head­gear?

Can you con­ceive of a Saint Lucian me­dia worker ask­ing an elec­tion can­di­date if he or she had ever been in trou­ble with the law? Re­mem­ber what hap­pened in 2011, when it was su­perfine to pub­licly spec­u­late on why the US Em­bassy had re­voked a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date’s visas but al­to­gether out of place to ask the same ques­tion of an­other can­di­date’s mama? Re­mem­ber what hap­pened when one can­di­date cited rape charges against his op­po­nent? The ac­cused im­me­di­ately threat­ened li­bel and slan­der, that’s what hap­pened.

The point is this: the pro­posed new elec­toral laws would eas­ily pass through both Houses with­out a sin­gle nay. Count on it, no MP would want to be seen or heard re­sist­ing the need for full dis­clo­sure, re­gard­less of whether per­tain­ing to crim­i­nal charges that for what­ever rea­sons went nowhere, or con­cern­ing their at­ti­tude to lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers and other in­no­va­tors, whether or not blond.

On the other hand, I can’t help think­ing we’ve heard the last of the cited Throne Speech prom­ise—and not only be­cause it was made in the month of fools. In the first place, a law that de­mands elec­tion can­di­dates vol­un­tar­ily con­fess their sins be­fore the elec­torate would be un­con­sti­tu­tional. Our le­gal sys­tem does not re­quire cit­i­zens to in­dict them­selves. Quite rightly, the bur­den of proof in crim­i­nal mat­ters al­ways rests on the shoul­ders of the prose­cu­tion. And no one would know that bet­ter than our chief law­maker, in pri­vate life an at­tor­ney spe­cial­iz­ing in con­sti­tu­tional mat­ters.

Then again there were Sec­tion 361, the so-called no-bail law, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Ob­vi­ously, it’s one thing be­ing a law lec­turer at UWI and quite an­other when it comes to per­form­ing in a real court of law. Which may or may not ac­count for a cer­tain ubiq­ui­tous le­gal ea­gle and would-be ven­dor of OECS pass­ports!

In all events, there is no need for more laws when it comes to elec­tion can­di­dates. The peo­ple, whether in­di­vid­u­ally or via ballsy press re­porters, have every le­gal right to ask any ques­tion of would-be mem­bers of par­lia­ment, re­gard­less of em­bar­rass­ment po­ten­tial. Can­di­dates are also free to stonewall, to say noth­ing, or to make threats in re­sponse. Or they may have noth­ing to hide. Mean­while, it is up to the elec­torate to place in par­lia­ment both trust­wor­thy cit­i­zens and in­di­vid­u­als of sor­did re­pute. Af­ter all, not for noth­ing are our MPs re­ferred to as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple. In other words, show me your par­lia­men­tary rep and I’ll know who you are! First pub­lished April 2, 2014

Kenny An­thony: It is any­one's guess how he would re­act should three MPS move from Allen Chas­tanet to the other side fol­low­ing the de­bate of Philip Pierre's no-con­fi­dence mo­tion.

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