“Get our people back to work; Reduce our rate of unemployment; reduce as much as we can the level of our debt; try as best as you can to improve our level of education … That is what we need to deal with in the circumstance. When we can do that, I’ll talk about cybercrime,” Eustace said.
“This, to me, is not a priority. Important, but not a priority; there are many more things that need to be addressed. Our health services, for instance,” he said, adding “indeed when you look at our growth rate in this long period of 15 years, it is nothing to shout about. Education revolution or no education revolution, it is nothing to shout about”.
Eustace told lawmakers that 10 more additional charges had been laid against the manager of NICE Radio and pro-opposition activist, Douglas DeFreitas, in connection with comments he allegedly made after the December 2015 general election.
He said that the opposition — which did not attend any of the Special Select Committee meetings that reviewed the bill – had its own concerns about the legislation that has already drawn concerns from regional and international media organisations.
Eustace said that the bill is very interesting in light of the amount of domestic and international attention it has attracted.
He said there are not many bills where international institutions write to the government, noting that all these communications expressed concerns about infringements on freedom of expression.
“And, therefore, something has triggered in these institutions’ mind the need to write about these concerns” Eustace said.
Eustace was also concerned about the size of the fines under the bill and told lawmakers that they are so heavy that prison is certain for anyone convicted if the legislation becomes law.
“Mr. Speaker, I say no more, and I do not support this piece of legislation,” Eustace said.
The International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM), have expressed concerns about the Bill.
But Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said their comments, some of which were similar, were also submitted to the Special Select Committee and that while he has taken their submissions into account, he is responsible to the Parliament rather than these organisations.
Eustace said as a legislator of more than 18 years the opposition has always had difficulties with matters of discrimination and victimisation among other issues and as a result, certain attitude had developed in the country where people just wanted to keep their mouths shut and not get involved in many of the activities in the country.
He said that in the first few months of the ULP administration, which came to office in March 2001, the NDP had p[resented to the Christian Council a list containing the names of 541 people that had been victimised by the government.
Eustace said these were low-level employees in the public service included watchmen and road workers and that the Christian Council had promised to discuss the matter with Prime Minister Gonsalves. He said he believed the discussions had taken place and yet nothing was done to reverse the situation.
Eustace said his New Democratic Party (NDP) could not get the matter highlighted in the local media and decided to have a press conference in Barbados and 24 hours later, a member of the local media, who had initially refused to meet with the opposition, questioned the decision to hold the news conference in Bridgetown.
“So that is the start and the development of an environment that has continued today. If anything, it has worsened and there is fear in this land, whether we want to admit it or not,” Eustace said, adding that he has learnt some significant lessons from that.
Eustace said this is one of the matters that have caused him to pay less attention to the Christian Council, given the role they were supposed to play under the Grand Beach Accord, which brought an end to political arrest in 2000 that triggered early elections held in March 2001.
He told lawmakers that there are several instances of inaction by the Christian Council over the years and that he was only contributing to the debate on the proposed legislation because he has a duty to do so.
“Now, I have sat here and listened and observed in our society on many occasions people who I believe heard about their concerns and felt that they were victimised for political reasons,” he said, recalling that 13 years ago, his wife was among the senior members of staff of the state-owned electricity company, VINLEC, who were fired without explanation.
“I have not forgotten it… and I will say up to now I don’t understand why the management of VINLEC was dismissed,” Eustace said, adding that these were not people who could not do their jobs.
“Those kinds of actions impact not only on people’s lives but also on their minds. They react in certain ways. That is the reality of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said, making reference to the recent arrest of New York-based calypsonian Paul “IMadd” Scrubb, and charged in connection with posts he allegedly made on the social website, Facebook, last year.
Scrubb has to remain in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for three months while awaiting a preliminary inquiry, a situation that his lawyer said puts his job in jeopardy.
Eustace said no consideration was given to allowing him to go back to the United States and then return to St. Vincent for trial.
“But, the man at Buccama who owes the government seven million (dollars) was able to leave here,” Eustace said in reference to Britain-born businessman, Dave Ames, who fled the country before appearing in court when summoned to answer tax evasion and theft charges.
The Opposition Leader asked what kinds of standards are being set and the messages that are being sent to the general population, adding “and we wonder why when we bring a bill like this some people are fearful? They have to be fearful!”
He also mentioned businessman Leon “Bigger Bigs” Samuel who has said that government action against him resulted in the closure of his mining and block-making business, putting 62 persons on the breadline.
“You hear about these things all the time. These personal impact and what it says to people is very debilitating.” He said, adding that citizens were fearful of expressing their views.
“…we have an environment here that we are creating of fear. We are supposed to be a democratic society, we have a constitution, we say we are a country of laws and people watch what we do. They don’t necessarily listen. They watch what we do in these areas,” he said, accusing the government of getting involved in petty matters to victimise people.
“For what? For politics sake? And we wonder why our youth are not doing more. We don’t get any example. We don’t set any meaningful example for them to follow.
“Mr. Speaker, I have looked at the situation here and there are aspect of the bill that I don’t have any difficulties with,” Eustace said.
The debate is continuing.
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