LABOUR Minister Jennifer Bapiste-Primus has expressed unease about the constitutionality of the president and executive of the Public Services Association (PSA), who hold office in the union she once led. Baptiste-Primus’s concern arose from the deferral of the union’s election, constitutionally due in November 2017, but postponed when one of the teams opposed to PSA president Watson Duke filed an injunction based on allegations of an irregular list.
A conference of delegates subsequently fixed February 2018 for the election, but shortly before that, a ruling on the injunction by High Court Judge Justice Nadia Kangaloo voided the list, and this date was quashed. At a general council meeting, a conference of delegates gave Duke up to two years to present a sanitised list.
Pronouncing on the issue Monday, Baptiste-Primus said, “It is a cause of concern that PSA’s Watson Duke would have stated that he called a general council meeting and a conference of delegates would have put off the constitutionally due election to 2020.”
She argued, “A conference of delegates cannot be called in an election season to put off that election. It is my considered opinion that Watson and his executive are not constitutionally or lawfully in office. That is of grave, grave concern to me.
“An executive or a president cannot, in the middle of an election season, cause a conference to reschedule the election two years down the road. The framework of the constitution never envisaged that.” Baptiste-Primus said she was part of the team which in 1979-1980, oversaw the amendment to the PSA’s constitution which came into effect in 1981. “The framers of the constitution never anticipated this kind of autocratic behaviour. That is simply not respecting the democracy that has thrived and grown in the PSA over the years...I am wondering why the members of the PSA are sitting so silently and not raising their collective voices against this kind of autocratic behaviour.
“I gave more than 30 years of my life to that union and what I see happening, what is being placed in the public domain is just simply incredible and amazing.”
Oral Saunders, former PSA executive and leader of the United Public Officers team challenging Duke’s presidency, said members are not showing disagreement by pounding the pavement but by leaving the PSA. He said while he agreed with Baptiste-Primus on the illegality of the executive, she had to take some responsibility for where the PSA is.
“Mr Duke does not have the legal right to be in that position. He does not have a mandate from the leadership, because his period, at the end of four years, has elapsed. To give him up to two years now is contrary to the PSA constitution.”
He said approximately 33 people, including the current executive, made up the delegates who voted for the 2020 deferral, on behalf of 33,000 public servants.
But he added, “What Mrs Baptiste-Primus has not said is that there is no mechanism in the constitution to rein in Mr Duke.