By: Precious Mills
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts (Sunday 10th February 2019)- Lawyers representing Leon Natta wants the court to make a declaration that the well-known senior customs officer is entitled to contest the upcoming general elections, and come tomorrow (Monday) Justice Eddy Ventose is expected to make a judgment in the matter.
On Friday 8th February, legal teams involved in the Leon Natta (the claimant) vs the Attorney General (the respondent) case assembled at the high court for arguments mostly surrounding the Public Service Code.
The session spanned more than one and a half hours, with a 20-minute break, resulting in the judge reserving his judgment.
Sylvester Anthony of Natta’s legal team argued that rules 36 and 38 of the Public Service Code 9 are unconstitutional because they seek to prohibit public servants from expression of their rights to freedom of speech and association and assembly as provided in the constitution.
Such documentation restricts all public servants from engaging in political activity and from involving themselves in political organisations.
Anthony was persistent in highlighting that there is no statute providing for that class. He also added that such class has not been determined by Parliament.
According to him, due to the action taken by the executive “the claimant thinks he’s disqualified” while also stating that those of the executive “believe (Natta) has a duty of loyalty.”
As understood, Natta’s legal team wants the court to make that declaration of entitlement so as to address the “contractual arrangement to bind him.”
Even though both side agree the Code rules are unconstitutional, Natta’s team is of the view that it is “necessary” for the judge to make the declaration.
The claimant’s team is of the opinion that the other side does not want the court to make that declaration because it “would open the flood gates” for all public servants who wish to become involved in political activity.
Anthony, in further supporting his team’s request spoke about it being important “so that it cannot be left to each claimant to figure out if [he/she] can or cannot run [for elections].”
Douglas Mendes of the Attorney General’s legal team spotlighted the code of ethics which speaks to how public servants conduct themselves which raises the questions if the declaration can be granted.
In speaking to Natta’s work function in the public, he listed certain areas such as impartiality, mutuality and neutrality as it relates to his visibility and interaction in the public.
He outlined that Natta “accepts that he is part of management…he makes recommendations…”
Mendes, in trying to make his point about Natta being part of management, talked about his blue customs officer uniform which makes such distinction including components such as the “swords.”
However, Anthony in his rebuttal to Mendes’ managing position argument told the judge that Natta’s “rank is in civil service not customs” while stating further that “none of that is in the Customs Act about uniform and so on. The Customs Act does not have class ranking.”
He stressed the point that the Code does not categorise public servants.
Natta’s legal team is of the view and that the Attorney General’s legal team is asking the court to put him (Natta) in a particular class and to determine that such class of public servants ought to be restricted from involvement in political activities.
In October 2018, in a letter addressed from the Office of the Prime Minister, Natta was suspended from his job on the grounds of participating in party politics having introduced himself as the next candidate to individuals.
In response, Natta’s legal team took the issue to court.
Natta is expected to run on a St.Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) ticket in the next general elections going up against Prime Minister and Leader of the People Labour Party Dr. Timothy Harris of Constituency Seven.
At one point during his presentation, Anthony told the judge: “This is not about him (Natta) standing on the corner canvassing people; this is about him going to run against the Prime Minister.”
In court that day showing support to Natta were the SKNLP Deputy Leader and Parliamentary Representative for Constituency Two Marcella Liburd and fresh candidate for Constituency One Dr. Geoffrey Hanley.
To date, the SKNLP is just one candidate short of its eight member slate to context the next general election constitutionally due 2020.
Rumours are abuzz that the approaching elections would be called earlier, and as close as March this year.