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

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – You can’t hire a leader but former prime minister Sir James Mitchell, who led this country for 17 years, is a leader, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said on Sunday.

Gonsalves’ statement at the 18th convention of his ruling Unity Labour Party came as he tried to discredit Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace as lacking leadership skills.

“Because of the recent battles, we have had with Son Mitchell – Sir James – we may blind our eyes. But the truth is this: he is a leader,” Gonsalves said of the man who he, in 2000, forced to negotiate early elections because of political unrest.

“And the people elected him four times and say you are a leader. But you can’t handpick somebody who could be hired and say that’s a leader,” Gonsalves said.

As the NDP began staring defeat, Sir James in October 2000 handed over leadership of the party and the prime ministership to Eustace.

Sir James said he was leaving with his bat over his shoulder, a cricket analogy for the batsman who leaves the wicket not out.

Eustace led the NDP in the March 2000 general election, the first of three losses with him at the helm.

“When people talk about leaders, we need to look with a sober mind; not with malice,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves noted that Sir James told a Vincentian journalist in a published interview that he gave Eustace every job that he ever had, including permanent secretary, fiscal advisor to the government, a seat to run in East Kingstown – which he has been representing since 1998, and prime minister – for five months.

“The fellas who occupy the other major political party in St. Vincent and the Grenadines don’t understand something that is simple but fundamental,” Gonsalves said.

“Yo’ could hire an economist, yo’ could hire an accountant, yo’ could hire an engineer, yo’ can hire a lawyer, but yo’ can’t hire a leader,” he said.

“When yo’ meet a leader and yo’ hear him or her talk, yo’ say ‘that is a leader’. Yo’ don’t have to go about and second-guess and try to make the lack of leadership a virtue in leadership. No!” he further stated.

Gonsalves, during the run up to the 2010 election said that he was the only person who has the requisite skills to lead this country at that time.

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