Questions raised about citizenship status of St Vincent deputy PM

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

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KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) – Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has come out in staunch defence of his deputy, Sir Louis Straker, amid questions over his citizenship status.


Gonsalves defended his deputy while responding to a question filed in parliament by opposition legislator Julian "Jules" Ferdinand over whether Sir Louis had given up his United States citizenship.


Gonsalves maintained that his deputy had not sworn any allegiance to the US, reminding legislators that the veteran politician had sworn for five general elections here that he is not "under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or alliance to a foreign power or state".


Ben Exeter, who contested the December 2015 general election for the Central Leeward constituency on behalf of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), is also threatening to take legal action to determine whether Sir Louis had given up his United States citizenship prior to the last general election.


Sir Louis defeated Exeter for the constituency, as the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) won a fourth consecutive term in office by a single seat.


Ferdinand had asked Prime Minister Gonsalves to indicate whether Sir Louis had given up his US citizenship prior to being named as a candidate for the ULP as required by the laws of St Vincent and the Grenadines.


He also wanted to know the date when the United States government confirmed Sir Louis’ renouncing his citizenship.


But Gonsalves told legislators that in 1994, 1998, 2001, 2005, and 2015 general elections, under the House of Assembly election rules, Sir Louis swore that he was "duly qualified" to be elected as a member of the House of Assembly.


"I, Louis Straker, do solemnly and sincerely declare as follows: That I am duly qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Assembly for this constituency and that I am not, by virtue of my own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or alliance to a foreign power or state," Gonsalves quoted Sir Louis as saying.


Gonsalves noted that that formulation is taken from Section 26 (1) of the Constitution and repeated as Section 35 (1) (a) of the Representation of the People Act, and that having made the declaration, Sir Louis’ nomination was accepted and he went on to win on each of those five occasions.


The prime minister said there is a culture that has developed here "where every frivolity, everything, somebody starts something and then it snowballs" dismissing suggestions of legal action on the matter".


"Nothing in this section shall confer jurisdiction on the High Court to hear or determine any such question as is referred to in section 36 of this Constitution," Gonsalves said, quoting Section 96 (7) of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Constitution, adding "these matters have been reviewed in legal cases" making reference to similar matters in Grenada, Dominica, India, Cayman Islands, and Antigua and Barbuda.


"Mr Speaker, I have, in a summary form, addressed this question," Gonsalves said, noting that in one of the cases, cost was granted to the application.


"I’m making this statement here in the way in which I have done. Those who want to go to the court and challenge Sir Louis, go ahead. Because they’re fully advised what is the legal position, and if they are going, they’d be going to try to create mischief, they would abuse the process of the court. And I’m helping — I’m glad that the question is asked and I’m helping that Sir Louis’ lawyers — if they were to bring something, would be able easily to get cost," he added.


He further asked why would the NDP come to Parliament to ask the question when, on September 30, Exeter’s lawyer wrote a pre-action letter saying that if Sir Louis did not resign or show his certificate of renunciation of his US citizenship within seven days they would have brought a court action against him.


"We have more serious things to be dealing with, because it is just a frivolity," Gonsalves said.


"I just want to say as a fact that I know that Sir Louis, having sworn on each of those occasions from 1994, each of those five occasions, I know he swore truthfully, that he is ‘not by virtue of my own act under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or alliance to a foreign power of state’. I know that as a fact," Gonsalves said. "And I agree with Sir Louis fully, not to satisfy all of this ‘dog chasing its tail’ kind of activity to show any document."

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