Labour Representative in the Senate, Raymond Roberts has said that he is not surprised by comments made by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell on the disabled members of society standing against bills up for vote on referendum day.
In an address at a recent sitting of the Lower House of Representatives, the Prime Minister slammed those members of the Disabled Community who are advocating a vote “no” against bills he said that were aimed at assisting their own.
“All rights to education and other services you want to vote against that and you wanna make the government look bad. How could the government look bad? When you vote against all disabled people and even those who are disabled are telling people not to vote for it,” the Prime Minister is quoted as saying.
His comments were seen as an unwarranted attack on two prominent members of the disabled community – Sen. Roberts and Citizen John Rullow – who have been voicing objections to the Referendum.
Sen. Roberts has been calling on civil servants to vote against the Referendum Bills since it did not address the burning issue of pensions for civil servants while Rullow has been calling for the establishment of a Constituent Assembly of the People to facilitate Constitutional reform.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference at Camerhogne Park last Wednesday, Sen. Roberts said as he sat at home witnessing the sitting of the Lower House, he was anticipating such an outburst and “antics” from Prime Minister Mitchell.
However, he said what disturbed him most was “the fact that some of his colleagues seem to find great joy after in talking about disabled people”.…
“To me, he could’ve said “Break up Ray Roberts as far as I’m concerned”.
He could’ve said “Blind John Rullow” because I don’t know why you would want to go down that road”, Sen. Roberts told reporters.
The Labour Senator compared the behaviour of PM Mitchell as opposed to those members of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC) including Chairman Dr Francis Alexis QC and Ruggles Ferguson.
According to Sen. Roberts the committee members had problems with his stand against the referendum but never sought to make derogatory statements like the Grenadian leader.
“At no time in their discourse did I hear Dr. Alexis say a disabled man shouldn’t be doing that. No time have I heard my good friend Ruggles saying…you don’t know if anybody was whole…but here we have in the Parliament of Grenada, the Leader and the Parliament having fun and I was kinda disappointed that the Speaker…didn’t really draw the PM’s attention to it.
“…I am not hurt but I would think it’s a let down when leaders of that stature…he (Prime Minister Mitchell) has a huge vocabulary, he has a PHD. He is not an ordinary person, so to me that kind of behaviour does not speak well for a society in which we’re trying to integrate people of all classes…I think it was a mistake by the PM”.
Sen. Roberts re-iterated that in spite of the backlash from the Prime Minister, he will continue to rally the people against the referendum because there are other things that were left out that are equally important.
He cited the burning issue of those civil servants who joined the Government Service after 1983 being excluded from receiving a pension from the State.
“The public workers have in excess of 400 police, teachers, nurses, public officers who have retired, they entered the service and they are not getting what the constitution guarantees them, which is a pension after retirement.
“Dr Alexis is a pensioner, he is getting taxpayers pension too. Sir Lawrence Joseph is a pensioner. So you have two men who were Ministers of Labour, who are aware of that growing point…and yet you have persons going home poor. So to tell me that you putting an E in Petit Martinique and I must not draw attention to people who are suffering?.
“I am protesting to get a 60% support until we give priority to what is priority. Putting an E in Petit Martinique I don’t mind it, I will vote for the Carriacou thing, I don’t have a problem with it but at my age, I could eat that? I could eat outta wedlock or in wedlock? That is important? What is important has to be my daily bread and butter.
Persons who serve in the nation’s Parliament for two consecutive terms are entitled to a State pension.
President of the Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (CIWU), George Mason also voiced disappointment with the comments made in Parliament by the Prime Minister about the Disabled.
“I George Mason, has a disability, I have a speech impediment. When the Prime Minister said even the disabled are saying to vote no…that includes me and I take strong umbrage to that because the United Nations on the Rights of the Disabled said, you have the right to enjoy everything that the able-bodied person have”, he said.
“…This (comment) is an affront to our dignity and I strongly disagree with that and I think the Prime Minister if he does not apologise, he has lost the moral right to be Prime Minister of this country, he added.
The Office of the Prime Minister has indicated that persons are taking his comments totally out of context as it was not intended to make disparaging remarks against Disabled persons.