KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – One opposition lawmaker thinks that Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves is “too expensive to mind”, a statement which Gonsalves has described as “awful”.
Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown St. Clair Leacock made his feelings known during the debates on the estimates on Tuesday.
Some EC$1,540,000 of the estimates for the EC$793.9 million budget in 2012 that Parliament approved Tuesday night are for services related to the Office of the Prime Minister.
“Mr. Prime Minister, yo’ getting too expensive to mind yo’ know. Yes, yo’ almost sounding like a government within a government,”
Leacock said in dialect in Parliament
“I mean, in this hard guava crop, now that we are trying to do more with less, … you have G7, G77, G777 … but you looking for another vehicle for your residence for EC$80,000. … Vehicle upon vehicle, Mr. Prime Minister?” Leacock said.
“Then, when all of us in here are suffering … You want EC$500,000 for special development projects,” he further stated.
“Well, if I was on the platform, I would have put it a differently. I can’t say here that it is for kadooment and all those kinds of things,” Leacock added.
“But you have EC$500,000, yo’ won’t even give us EC$50,000 to do a little thing in we constituency for weself. Then yo’ say yo’ house leaking. Yo’ want refurbishment of yo’ residence for EC$260,000. Well, that is a house. Tha’ ain’t refurbishment. … The roof dropping in?” Leacock said of the Official Residence of the Prime Minister, commonly called the “Taj Mahal”.
Leacock further noted that EC$200,000 was allocated for security quarters at the Prime Minster’s Residence, adding “and only 6-inch blocks separate you from the main barracks in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Mr. Prime Ministers, have a heart,” Leacock said.
Leacock further noted that yet another EC$500,000 was allocated for special works and services that only the Prime Minister can choose.
“Is you one the people elect? I mean, this vex me yo’ know. And ah know yo’ would cuss me stink. And yo’ have some things yo’ does say, but ah waiting. The language isn’t quite good, Mr. Speaker. But I don’t know why the Prime Minister always wants point five million dollars,” Leacock said, noting that only EC$1500 per month is voted for every other parliamentary representative, to be used according to their discretion in their constituencies.
“I know you are first among equals, but don’t tek all. Gi’ we a little piece ah de action, too. Tonight, if I had that, I could have been in a bit more celebratory mood you know; make the people of Central Kingstown feel appreciated for having me here to give representation to them,” Leacock said.
But Gonsalves, in wrapping up the debate, described Leacock’s comments as “a kind of a real awful, low kind of proposition about expenditure at the office of the Prime Minister”.
He said that the vehicle attached to his residence breaks down “all about.
“Vehicles do get old. So, they have to buy a new one. It is as simple as that.”
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, further said that special development projects and special works and service projects funds of EC$500,000 each also existed under former finance ministers and prime ministers Sir James Mitchell and Arnhim Eustace, the current opposition leader.
He said there are small projects that are not listed in the estimates, and things that come up form time to time.
“I don’t control the funds. The Cabinet Secretary is the accounting officer,” Gonsalves said, adding, “These are small project littered across the country.”
Gonsalves said Leacock “wants that allocation to him and to other members individually in the Parliament. But there has to be control mechanisms in the government for the spending of public monies.”
He, further told Parliament said the quarters for security officers at his official residence are inadequate.
“Police officers are not boy scouts. They must have proper accommodation and, frankly speaking, I feel very bad that there have not been improvements there already.”
Gonsalves further reiterated that his official residence is old and although it was renovated before he moved in on March 28, 2004, three year after coming to office, the building has “serious design flaws”.
“There are parts of the residence that are leaking. I don’t have to go into the details, it would shame the country to know,” he said.
“I didn’t know that in the year 2011 I had to come here to defend some money to buy a vehicle for the Residence of the Prime Minister; to repair the house or to provide better accommodation for the security officers who put their lives on the line in respect of the protection of the Prime Minister. And, as I say, I apologise to them publicly for having not improved the facility that is there …
“I am really sorry that the prime minister of a proud and independent country has to be dragged into this miry when the member for Central Kingstown says that I am becoming too expensive to mind,” Gonsalves said.