In January 1992 House Speaker Wilfred St. Clair Daniel, chairman of the Constituency Boundaries Commission, invited Thomas Walcott, chairman of the opposition Labour Party, to a meeting “for the purpose of receiving certain proposals that a member desires to submit for consideration.”
Five days earlier the Opposition Leader Julian R. Hunte had written to the prime minister to say he had received from an impeccable source information that the government was planning to rearrange the island’s electoral boundaries so as to guarantee a United Workers Party victory in the year’s general elections.
In his reply to the chairman’s letter, the SLP leader drew Daniel’s attention to Section 57 (11) of the Constitution wherein is stated that “in its exercise of its functions, your commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.”The scheduled 4.30 pm meeting started an hour late at the parliament building with Thomas Walcott and Mario Michel representing the Labour Party. Meanwhile, outside in Constitution Park, scores of irate and noisy people in red tee shirts kept the police busy.
Two other meetings of the commission failed to improve Labour’s mood. On February 22, Tom Walcott wrote to the governor general the following: “It is clear the meetings were convened to force passage of a proposal by the United Workers Party designed to change the boundaries of three constituencies . . . the spirit and letter of the Constitution were put in jeopardy by such a naked act of political opportunism.”
Moreover, Walcott lodged a formal complaint against the chairman of the commission whom the party chairman claimed had “not only abused the normal conventions of such meetings but also had resorted to threatening Mr. Mario Michel and me with a firearm.”
As for Michel, he told reporters that when he realized the UWP side including Daniel was determined, regardless of opposition views, to vote in favor of the proposed boundary adjustments, he did what he had to do and would “do no less in the future to stop the rape of the Constitution by persons bent on having their own way.”
Michel acknowledged he had turned over a table while the meeting was in progress, at which point, he said, Daniel quickly shoved his hand in his pocket and gripped “something distinctly shaped like a firearm.” He then moved on Michel, “in a manner most threatening.” The police were called in. Statements were taken. Daniel insisted Michel had disrupted the meeting but refused to comment on allegations that he had carried a shooting iron in his pants or that he had attempted to pull it.The boundaries remained unchanged. How ironic that Guy Joseph should find himself yesterday before a magistrate, having charged the Boundaries Commission with unconstitutional behavior reminiscent of earlier complaints by members of the now governing St. Labour Party.
Two weeks ago the Southeast Castries MP was granted an injunction to prevent the governor general from assenting to a decision by the Labour controlled House to increase the electoral constituencies from 17 to 21. Yesterday, in the presence of Dominica’s Tony Astaphan QC, the prime minister’s attorney for all reasons, the court ordered that the injunction earlier granted Guy Joseph stay in place until the outcome of another hearing scheduled for April.
Meanwhile, UWP leader Allen Chastanet and the complainant are basking in the afterglow of what they have described as a major victory. Among their complaints, a breach of the Constitution and a flawed process. They also have questions relating to the preparation of the commission’s report.
So far, no tables have been over-turned, no guns drawn!