Labour Senator, Ray Roberts has been branded as ‘mischievous and ignorant’ by President of the Senate, Chester Humphrey because of his call to Grenadians to vote “no” to the seven bills to be placed on the ballot on referendum day.
Sen. Roberts responded by making reference to Sen. Humhrey’s checkered past as a fugitive from justice in the United States after skipping bail on guns and ammunition charges in the 1970’s and fleeing to Grenada under the 1979-83 Revolutionary government.
The weapons were allegedly used by the left-leaning New Jewel Movement (NJM) of late Marxist leader, Maurice Bishop to stage the March 13, 1979 coup d’etat against the elected Eric Gairy government.
Roberts and Humphrey traded punches as guests on a local television current affairs programme last week Wednesday on the issue of Constitution Reform in Grenada.
Sen. Roberts has been calling for the issue of pension for public officers to be included on the Ballot Paper and considered it as more relevant than the proposed Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
“Workers pension is guaranteed in the constitution and I am saying if there is one thing that deserves major priority; if we have to reform anything let’s begin to treat with that and we have ignored that, that is my argument with this whole process,” he said.
Sen. Humphrey who is the former President-General of the powerful Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) took a slightly different position on the issue.
He said: “The restoration of pension rights is a constitutional matter which the unions won against the state so to say that the government is not respecting your constitutional rights and therefore you should not do anything to enhance those rights, I think it’s a case of absurdity. I think it’s a case of what I would call infantile leadership”.
The veteran trade unionist stated that unlike Sen. Roberts, he supports Constitutional Reform because this is something Grenada has been aspiring to for many years but is not in support of all of the bills.
“…There are some issues upon which I will vote yes and there will be some issues upon which I will vote no…I don’t buy the argument which says to the workers, if you don’t understand everything then don’t vote…that cannot be a solution to the matter…” he remarked.
Sources told THE NEW TODAY that the Senate President is against the Bill of Rights on the grounds that it seeks to give legitimacy to Gays and Lesbians and same sex marriage.
Sen. Humphrey tried to belittle Sen. Roberts as “misguided and not knowledgeable enough” on the seven bills and as such was motivated by “mischief” in promoting a vote “no” campaign in the October 27 referendum vote.
“When the state took away our pension rights on the urgings of myself primarily, we went before the Constitutional court and right now Sister Armstrong won the constitutional case and she is the first and only officer from the public service so far who has joined the service after the fourth of April 1983 to have had pensions restored.
“So when Sen. Roberts dismisses this as some conspiracy to do with people who have a coup or something that’s the mischief part but it also is an exhibition of ignorance.
“… These bills…for example … take the elevation and protection of the rights of the disabled to be treated equally… if that becomes law and I am a wheel chair bound person and Cable and Wireless is putting up a new building and where you’re going to pay your bills, they don’t make any provisions for a wheel chair bound person, I could go to the constitutional court and make an application to that court that I am not being treated equally…and a court can order them (to make the necessary adjustments).
According to Sen. Roberts, he has reservations since the constitutional reform process is being rushed and more time is needed by the people who are only now beginning to internalise the bills.
“Mischief is assumption but it’s certainly not opportunism…I don’t have a problem of being opportunistic…for the distinguish President (Humphrey) to come here and say that I am misleading workers… I have had a terrific response from the people who I’m speaking on behalf…400 and something of them are home and are not getting pension,” he said.
Sen. Humphrey along with Sen. Roberts were once close allies in the trade union movement and often led workers in some of the fiercest battles against current Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and his ruling New National Party (NNP) administrations over the years.
The relationship became strained after Sen. Humphrey was expelled as a card-bearing member of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) and decided to give support to Mitchell under an arrangement known as “Project Grenada”.
This is a loose arrangement in which a number of former revolutionary figures like ex-Congress General Secretary and former Foreign Affairs Minister, Peter David worked out an accommodation with the NNP.