Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves (L) and former prime minister Sir James Mitchell.

TAIPEI, Taiwan: – Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) says he does not need permission from anyone to collaborate with his predecessor, Sir James Mitchell of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).

Gonsalves and Sir James recently discussed cocoa cultivation in SVG. Sir James had, on behalf of the NDP, proposed cocoa cultivation during the campaign for the general elections last December.

The politicians have also “exchanged letters” about the Interaction Council’s work on a Declaration on Human Responsibilities to be dealt with at the United Nations.

NDP president and leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace said that Sir James had not informed him or the NDP — which Sir James founded in 1975 — of his discussions with Gonsalves.

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Eustace, however, said that he welcomes any benefit to SVG that comes from the collaboration between Gonsalves and Sir James.

Gonsalves noted to Vincentians in Taiwan that together he and Sir James have been Prime Minster of SVG for 26 years since the nation gained independence in 1979.

Gonsalves, who came to office in 2001, said that only he and Sir James know what it is truly like to be prime minister.

Eustace was prime minister for five months before his party lost the March 2001 general elections after almost 17 years in office.

“I tell you, you do not understand the office of prime minister if you are prime minister for five months,” Gonsalves said last week.

“I don’t understand where this kind of vanity comes from. I certainly don’t require permission from anybody to talk to Sir James and I don’t think he requires permission from anybody to talk to me. I call up Mr. Eustace and talk to him. He is Leader of the Opposition. I don’t need permission from anyone,” Gonsalves added.

“The word prime before minister means something you know. … I am not being arrogant … but, as a leader, I must have room, some scope to manoeuvre and to talk to people I want to talk to. That’s why you are called leader,” he further said.

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Gonsalves said that while Sir James, an agronomist, had raised the issue of cocoa during the elections the NDP did not include the proposal in its manifesto.

“It came as an afterthought because Sir James raised it on the platform and it sounded interested and they caught on to it,” he said.

Gonsalves said that he had discussed cocoa production with Hotel Chocolate 18 months ago but the company was interested first “in dealing with St. Lucia”.

After the elections Sir James’ daughter spoke to Gonsalves and organised a meeting with Amajaro, a cocoa company with which Gonsalves was scheduled to meet during a trip to London this week.

“Amajaro has its own arrangements and how it does its work and so forth. But, we have to organise our matters in relations to cocoa properly – a cocoa association and all the rest of it,” Gonsalves said.

“Now, it says something about the fragility of the NDP leadership and their own sense of their own weakness that Sir James and I having conversations about matters that make them very skittish,” Gonsalves said, adding that he was not interested in the party’s “internal problems”.

He said he was willing to work together with Sir James to the benefit of SVG, adding, “I don’t know what is going to happen on the cocoa project because we don’t know what the feasibility study will bring.”

The ULP thinks that cocoa could attract several hundred farmers but will not transform agriculture in the way the way that banana did.

“[C]ocoa is one of a number of commodities which they need to look at and have been looking at for the purposes of broadening the base of a diversified agriculture,” Gonsalves said.