BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – THE High Court in Basseterre on Monday (Mar. 25) had ruled in favour of Senior Customs Officer and Accountant at Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Department, Leon Natta-Nelson, who had filed a motion challenging the code of conduct and ethics rules that prohibit public servants from engaging in political activities.
According to one of Natta-Nelson’s legal representatives, Sylvester Anthony, the case was brought by his client because there was an attempt to prevent him and impede his ability to run for public office as a member of the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party.
“In fact, this action started because of a letter that Mr. Leon Natta Nelson received on October 10, 2018 in which he was told that the Human Resource Management Division of the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis had received an adverse report (without saying the source of the report) alleging that he had been involved in political activity contrary to Paragraphs A and D of Section 38 of the Public Service Conduct and Ethics of Officers Code number nine of 2014,” Anthony said.
He pointed out that the relevant sections of the Code were Rules 38, entitled “Engaging in Political Activities, and under that Rule it provided that a public officer shall not engage in any party political activity at any time, including holding office or taking active part of any political organisation; and B, canvassing in support of political parties or in any way publicly supporting or indicating support for any political party or candidate”.
Anthony explained that based on that report, disciplinary charges were brought against Natta-Nelson by the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis.
“The first disciplinary charge was Misconduct, and the particulars of that charge was that they alleged that sometime at the end of June 2018 he introduced himself to a resident of Christ Church Village in Constituency Number Seven as a candidate of the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party running against the Hon. Dr. Timothy Harris for the next general election.
“The second charge was that he, on or about the same time, June 2018, did seek to solicit and or canvas support for his political campaign from a resident of Christ Church Village,” Anthony explained.
In the wake of those charges, Natta-Nelson was due to attend a hearing, but “as a legal strategy” Anthony said, “we sought to pre-empt the hearing of those charges by filing the constitutional claim that we did”.
“In our claim, Mr. Natta Nelson asked the Court for a declaration that Rule 38 under which he was charged, also Rule 36, that both of those Rules were unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect. He also sought a declaration from the Court that he was entitled to take active part in a political organisation and, more particularly, to run for elected office. Those are the two declarations we got today,” the Attorney-at-Law said.
The case was heard before His Honour Justice Eddy Ventose, who ruled that the restrictions imposed by the Public Service Act Statutory Rules 36 and 38 are indeed unconstitutional.
Anthony described the ruling as a victory for all public servants in the twin-island Federation who are desire to participate in active politics.
“Today, not only Leon Natta Nelson, but all public servants who wish to run for political office are entitled so to do. And all public servants who wish to become involved in active politics can do so. And the judge, His Lordship, was clear. It doesn’t mean that the Government cannot restrict them, but those restrictions have to be consistent with the Constitution of St. Christopher and Nevis and must now take into consideration this decision as well as a number of other decisions which His Lordship referred to in his decision.”
He further explained that the Government, the Executive and the Legislature are entitled to place restrictions on the participation of civil servants and the levels of participation of public servants in various forms in political activity.
Anthony continued: “But what his Lordship said today is that they cannot do so under the guise of Rules 36 and 38, which have now been declared unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect. And they certainly cannot do so under any guise that by virtue of being a public servant there is some common law duty of loyalty, which means that public servants must self-regulate themselves in relation to participation.”
Speaking on the successful outcome of his motion, Natta-Nelson said the judge’s decision was not only suitable for him, but for the entire civil service.
“Today this decision by Justice Ventose is vindication not solely because the Government, through the Office of the Prime Minister, thought it best because of my presumptuous candidacy in Number Seven, whether or not he’s trying to run unopposed. But the importance of it is that, one, the justice system works; two, the civil servants now have the opportunity to express themselves responsibly and respectively in and about the political arenas of St Kitts and Nevis and that by far is the biggest achievement today when it comes to civil service in this country.”