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 multi-million-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 custom-designed 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.
“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 Bay Walk 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 Bay Walk 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 Lucia 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!
Fred Devaux Speaks Out!
There’s been much vituperative talk about the government’s decision to open an office in Coubaril but not much about the possible illegality of the move. In Saturday’s STAR a resident supplies much food for thought. Don’t miss it!