News
February 12, 2010
PM: Public servants still bound by public service regulations

Even though the Public Officers (Conditions of Employment) Act was repealed in 2005, public servants are still bound by the public service regulations and common law.{{more}}

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves reminded Vincentians of this on Monday, February 8, 2010, at a press conference held at Cabinet Room.

“It’s not a free for all and can never be a free for all,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves explained that the Public Officers (Conditions of Employment) Act, Chapter 208 of the laws of St.Vincent and the Grenadines was passed at the height of the Black Power era.

This 1971 Act, he said, tightened considerably the existing regulations in the Public Service Regulations and the Common Law about public servants writing and participating in overt political activity.

A lawyer by profession, Prime Minister Gonsalves said the 1971 Act included provisions criminalizing particular forms of conduct.

“I didn’t think it was justifiable in a democratic society to criminalize those forms of conduct and I led the way to repeal the law.

“It was on the books from the period of 1970. It lasted up to Independence, up to 1984 under the Cato regime. Sir James used it, Mr. Eustace used it, from the period 1984 to 2001. They never touched it,” said Gonsalves.

“I touched it. Why? I touched it from the position, standpoint, of the policy,” said Gonsalves, adding “Yet you would have some people on the street corner who want to propagate and in some newspapers who want to propagate an anti-ULP or anti-Ralph agenda, ‘Oh, he wants to muzzle people’.

“If I wanted to muzzle people, would I have removed that law? I moved it. I am the person who looked at the records. I went to Parliament. I moved the Bill to repeal that law, so that going out and criticizing the government if you are working for it doesn’t lead you to a position where you’re going before a Court of Law to face a criminal charge.

“I say no, you don’t criminalize conduct of that kind, but there are disciplinary procedures in the Public Service Regulations and which are recognized as Common Law also,” said Gonsalves.

He said if public servants were to write and criticize the government, “traduce the government, the Prime Minister and everybody,” there would be no government.

On October 11, 2005, almost 34 years to the day the Bill was first passed, Sir Vincent Beache, the former Minister with responsibility for the Public Service in the Gonsalves’ led administration, piloted the bill to repeal the law dubbed the “Backward Bill”.

The Public Officers (Conditions of Employment) Act, Chapter 208 of the laws of St.Vincent and the Grenadines law states that: “No public officer shall act as an editor of any newspaper, magazine, periodical, etc., should not contribute to, whether anonymously or otherwise, or publish in any newspaper, magazine of other medium of information, or cause to be published in the manner in St.Vincent and the Grenadines or elsewhere, anything which may reasonably be regarded as information or expression of opinion on any matter that may be of a political or administrative nature.”

While piloting the bill through Parliament, Sir Vincent had cautioned that even though those restrictions were now lifted, citizens were still bound by other laws against making statements which maligned persons, or could affect the defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health of the country.

At the time, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, in support of the bill, stated that he had already made a public statement on the matter months ago.

“I even went so far as to regret that the past NDP administration did not (repeal the act), so I have no difficulty with the situation as outlined here for the repeal of the act,” said Eustace.