ST. VINCENT:- Although they will not announce their candidates until Nomination Day, Nov. 26, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Green Party is asking Vincentians to consider them as a serious alternative to the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) and the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).
Political observers in SVG have dismissed the Green Party as a non-starter for the December 13 polls.
However, party leader Ivan O’Neal and his colleague Ras Bongo-Shines believe that Vincentians have had enough of the two main political parties.
While Ras Bongo-Shines is a newcomer to politics, O’Neal has faced the electorate twice.
O’Neal served as treasurer of the ULP, before breaking ranks with the party in 2000 to join the now defunct People’s Progressive Movement (PPM).
He contested the North Central Windward constituency seat on a PPM ticket during the March 2001 general elections and received 30 votes.
In elections held in December 2005, he contested the East St. George constituency seat representing the SVG Green Party and won14 votes.
The Green Party fielded four candidates and garnered less than one percent of the popular votes in the 2005 elections.
In 1996, O’Neal led a relentless, one-man protest to abolish the Cable & Wireless telecom monopoly during which he was injured when a vehicle drove over his leg. He returned to his picket spot, leg in cast.
That same decade, O’Neal, a veteran, chained himself to the Cenotaph in Kingstown amidst proposals by the then NDP administration to relocate it the Botanical Gardens to provide for the construction of the Central Market. The monument was relocated to the vicinity of its original position.
“People [are] fed up with both two [parties]. … They well want a change because you can’t run a country when you have no jobs for the working class of people of this country,” Ras Bongo-Shines told Chris “Too Cool” Jones on Hot FM’s “AM Hayhem” show on Wednesday, Nov. 17.
He said the party is disciplined and focused, has respect and will advance the interest of the working people.
“The shortage of revenue is our core problem in this country,” said O’Neal, who also appeared on the show.
He said Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and his ULP administration has not improved the country’s fiscal situation since coming to office in 2001.
He further dismissed the NDP’s proposals as “digging a hole to fill a hole”.
“We cannot run this country without revenue,” said O’Neal, a former ULP treasurer.
“The bottom of the begging bowl has collapsed so no longer can Ralph go out and beg for money and come back and – begging is not sustainable,” he said.
“It is very important that we change the direction and go into manufacturing, industries and other ways of creating revenue. When young people leave school, they want jobs to go to,” he added.
O’Neal said a “green economy” could bring in “new technology, a knowledge-based economy” and create “high tech jobs”.
O’Neal believes that the ULP erred when it allow Gonsalves to become minister of finance.
“Ralph is not a university graduate in finance. He’s a man of words. They made a very, very serious mistake and we are paying the price for that,” he said.
“The economy, the finance of our country, is in a deep hole and we have to work together to get it out of that hole and I am saying the ULP cannot do it,” O’Neal added.
He said the ULP administration was ignoring the advice of the Director of Audit.
“You have to respect your Constitution and respect the advice given by the Director of Audit or we are not going anywhere,” O’Neal said.
“The name of the game in the world now is to be able to manage finance. Managing words are not the new thing now. You have to be able to manage finance prudently and that is what we need in our country,” he said.
O’Neal said “it’s left to be seen” if Leader of the Opposition, economist Arnhim Eustace, could turn around the country’s fiscal situation.
“We have the expertise,” he said of the Green Party, adding, “I am a university graduate in finance.”
O’Neal dismissed Eustace’s proposal to float bonds to pay state debts to the private sector and monies owed to civil servants.
“Mr. Eustace, the SVG Green party, whoever runs this country, you have to create revenue to pay debt. When you borrow money to pay debt, you are digging a hole and the hole gets bigger… I am saying that if the NDP employs that solution of selling bonds to pay debt, they are not going anywhere….
“I am so pleased that he (Gonsalves) has called the general elections, because there has to be a new government …” O’Neal further said.
Gonsalves announced the date for gnereal elections at a ULP rally in Calliaqua on Sunday.
The party’s proposals
The Green Party, which released a manifesto earlier this year, is proposing to build a university in SVG.
O’Neal said that during its two terms in office, the ULP built a prison rather than a university.
“They built three new police stations and not even one factory. You see, the focus is wrong,” O’Neal said.
The aspiring Members of Parliament will also relook the country’s foreign relations and the agreement regarding developers in the grenadine island of Mustique and Canouan, saying this will earn the country at least EC$400 million (US$148.15 million) annually.
“What we have for you is revenue creation, job creation, we talk about building factories, we talk about building a canning factory for fish,” O’Neal said.
“The Taiwanese are the world leaders in manufacturing and they’ve been here 30 years … and they have no built one factory. If they had some love for us, they would have built at least one factory here,” he added.
He further said that Taiwanese fishing vessels flying the Vincentian flag are violating fishing laws and offload their catch in Trinidad to avoid the government in Kingstown.
“Not only that, what they are doing, they are building a dependency culture in this country …. We always have to beg them for money. The Taiwanese are very corrupt people. They are running a social engineering programme in this country so that we always have to go to them for a few dollars and that is bad,” O’Neal further said.
The Green Party will also focus on agriculture and agro-processing and pursue markets for the country’s agricultural produce and strengthen the rural economy.
“We have to have some proper [mechanism] for the farmers and we are asking the farmers to be focusing and vote Green Party for the betterment of this country,” Ras Bongo Shines said.
“Build a strong rural economy and our country is strong,” O’Neal further said.
The party also identified a need for a halfway home for destitute Vincentians.
“Our society is judged by the way we look after the disabled and the disadvantaged and I am saying it is immoral and wicked to give the rich in Mustique and Canouan and the Taiwanese so much preferential treatment here and we can’t even look after the disabled and the disadvantaged properly. Terrible!” O’Neal said.
Candidates and the campaign
“We are making very good progress,” O’Neal said of the party’s preparation for the Dec. 13 polls.
“The most important thing is that we have to register the 15 candidates for [November] 26th and we have to make sure that we have that in place. And once we have that in place, then we could come with the policy. But, right now, we are looking at registering all the candidates,” he said.
O’Neal said that the party have identified all 15 candidates but added, “We are not going to name them this morning. Wait until they are registered.”
Ras Bongo-Shines said that they are “working in the public, we working in secret”.
“It is very important. Not everything yo’ will expose because it aint good to beat up yo’ chest and next thing yo’ be defeated,” he said, adding that some candidates where state employees.
“We are not following the status quo of the two big parties in the way they conduct the election,” O’Neal said of his party’s campaign strategy.
They are focusing on house to house campaign and “candidate meetings”.
“It’s very important that the candidates meet together and map out the policies. But I want to say, up to this point in time, the ULP and the NDP, they have not have presented to this country their manifesto. So, where is the plan?” he said.
O’Neal said there was no difference between Gonsalves and Sir James Mitchell, who was Prime Minister from 1984 to 2000.
He said he broke ranks with the ULP after the meeting between Gonsalves and the Mitchell on the heel of the ULP-led “Roadblock Revolution”, political unrest that shut down the country’s capital in April 2000.
Gonsalves and Mitchell agreed to early elections during the now famous walk on Grand Anse beach in Grenada.
Both leaders have remained tight-lipped about what they discussed during that stroll.
“I thought someone would have been there. Basically, they had their meeting and only the two of them decide and up to now we don’t know what happened. In my opinion, there is no difference between Sir James and Ralph Gonsalves,” O’Neal said.
He further said that former SVG Green Party General Secretary and co-founder Ordan O. Graham was no longer in SVG.