Monday, November 16, 2009

More Referendum

ST VINCENT: PM raises possibility of foreign interference in referendum

Posted 11/16/09 Caribbean News Net

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, CMC – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves Monday raised the possibility of foreign interference in the upcoming referendum for a new constitution for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Vincentians go to the polls on November 25 in what the government hopes will be a “Yes Vote” to change the 30 year-old constitution that had been handed down to the island when it gained its political independence from Britain.

But the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) which is urging voters to reject the new constitution, has also accused the government of using State resources to finance its campaign
But Gonsalves told reporters that the Opposition Leader Armhin Eustace had travelled to St. Kitts and Nevis over the last week as part of the efforts to secure a “no vote” in the referendum.
“Ask Mr. Eustace why he went to St. Kitts… to see his friend John Cato. Who pick him up at the airport, what he did in the hotel room, whom he met…did he bring back money, from whom, if anybody, or did he make arrangements to bring back money,” Gonsalves told a news conference.

“I dare him to say he did not go there on the Saturday morning because I knew the hour when he went. I am not Prime Minister as a Sunday school child…,” he added.

“We must show them on referendum day that we are independent minded people, proud and we are not better than anybody, but nobody is better than us.

“The exercise we are engaged in is one of self affirmation, self confidence, self belief, it is a political virtue of self mastery in solidarity with one another under the serenity of Almighty God,” he said, adding that as a social scientist he is also aware of their modus operandi.

“I will not allow them to hoodwink the people of this country,” Gonsalves said, adding that the foreign elements were providing support to the opposition party in the hope of benefitting from an economic citizenship progarmme in the future.

“Citizenship of this country we view in the government and the “Yes Campaign” as the highest office in the land. The office of citizen is higher than that of Governor General or President…Prime Minister, Chief Justice.

“It is the office that unites us as a community of nationals in a geographic landscape and seascape with a fundamental law called the constitution building a viable society…”.

The Prime Minister said he was making it abundantly clear that his government is against economic citizenship insisting that the passport of St. Vincent and the Grenadines “will never be for sale”.

“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his own soul,” Gonsalves told a wide ranging news conference, adding that local citizens shared no vision, or common thread with a person born in Europe who had used money to obtain a local passport.

“Okay the government gets some money, but you know who makes the most money, the intermediaries, the lawyers and those who set it up for them,” Gonsalves said recalling that when his Unity Labour Party (ULP) came to power in 2001, it found a national budget in which the former government had indicated that the country would have received EC$12 million (US$4.4 million) from the economic citizenship programme.

“We have taken the high road on this issue. There is no way that an issue of economic citizenship can be salvaged by this government,” Gonsalves said noting that this is among the reasons why his government had gone to Parliament to repeal the Economic Citizenship Programme Bill of 1996.

“We are fundamentally opposed to selling our passport. The idea for us of selling citizenship is…wrong,” Gonsalves said noting that his country welcomed foreign investment.

The Prime Minister said that any investor who came here “establishes a business, invests his money, has a track record, gets permanent residence” and then applies for citizenship would be considered.

“That is a different thing than somebody coming to give you EC$75,000 (US$27,770), for your passport…and to have rogues and vagabonds among them buy your citizenship.

“The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will understand what is at stake,” he said, noting that the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) was raising the issue as the country prepares to vote in a referendum on November 25 for a new constitution.

“It is desperation,” he said.

Some Caribbean countries including Dominica had entered into the economic citizenship programme in a bid to supplement scarce financial resources.

Meanwhile, Gonalves has called on churches and other religious groups here to hold a “Day of Prayer” on November 29.

“You notice I am not prejudging the results of the referendum. The exercise of constitution making has been a healing one. We were together from October 2002 until the end of July 2007 and that united and uniting process survived a   contentious general election in December 2005,” he said.