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February 12, 2010
Disciplinary action may be coming against Anesia Baptiste

Firebrand activist Anesia Baptiste believes she has the fundamental right to criticize the Ralph Gonsalves led administration, but this is not so says Cecil “Blazer” Williams, Chairman of the Public Service Commission.{{more}}

Since last year, Baptiste, who holds the post of Communications Manager in the Ministry of Tourism, has been a thorn in the side of the Gonsalves administration.

She has publicly criticized the Prime Minister, his cousin Senator Julian Francis, and more so, some of the propositions put forward by Government in the failed 2009 Constitution.

It appears that Government may have reached the end of its rope, and reports are that efforts are being made to rein her in.

“I have not done anything to bring down my country in any way,” said Baptiste on a call in radio programme on Nice Radio on Tuesday evening, adding “I have spoken in the interest of the freedom of my country and of my people and me as an individual.

“Nobody can take that away from me. They may take away my job. I will not worry because the word of God tells me that certain thoughts for tomorrow will not add any cubic to my stature,” Baptiste stated.

She noted that God will provide for her if she were to lose her job.

“I want public servants to understand you do not give up your freedom of conscience and your freedom of expression when you begin to work with the Government.

“You have the right to be vigilant, and if you see the government doing certain things that you don’t agree with, you have the freedom to speak against it, and to speak critical of it,” Baptiste stated frankly.

“Let me tell you something, if a government takes away freedom of speech as a result of you working for them…even if your conscience tells you they’ve done something wrong, then that kind of government is no different from communist governments who seek to dismiss their own colleagues just because they disagree with them on certain policies,” said Baptiste.

On Monday afternoon when contacted, Baptiste said she was still on the job and had not received any information notifying her of disciplinary action being taken against her.

“I have no knowledge formally. Nothing written has been submitted to me to indicate that I have been dismissed as some people have been saying, or even suspended. I have nothing at all in my possession addressed to me saying that,” said Baptiste, adding “however, I do believe something is being brought against me.”

With the repeal of the Public Officers (Conditions of Employment) Act, Baptiste has asked if there are other rules which govern public servants’ discourse in public.

On this note, Williams, when contacted, said the Public Service Regulations of the Constitution deal with this.

He then referred to the Privy Council ruling in the Elloy de Freitas v the Attorney General of Antigua case.

He said in this judgment, the Privy Council made a ruling that in an underdeveloped society, public servants and teachers are best equipped to criticize government.

“But the point is this, they made it quite clear, very clear in that, you can only do so if you are at a certain level in the Public Service. In other words, people who are at the supervisory level, who are at positions where they actually influence policy cannot openly go and attack the Government,” said Williams.

He said some people think they have a cart blanche authority to do and say anything.”They can’t do that,” Williams cautioned.

“People believe because the Public Officers (Conditions of Employment) Act was abolished that means you don’t have any disciplinary control over people. That is not so,” said Williams.

“I think people misunderstand the nature of that act. I think if they want to quote de Freitas, they misunderstand de Freitas because it is very clear it does not say all public servants, all teachers or so, can be actively involved in attacking Government policy.”

Commenting on the issue at a press conference held last Monday, Prime Minister Dr.Ralph Gonsalves told a journalist who raised the issue concerning the status of Baptiste’s job: “In relation to M(r)s. Baptiste, I am quite sure that you as well as other people in St.Vincent and the Grenadines must be asking themselves, are there any rules and regulations anymore in the Public Service regarding public servants entering public discourse and the extent to which that public’s discourse should go?”

He told that reporter he is sure that if the issue is not arising in his head, then he’s not an objective journalist.