KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Minister of Agriculture Montgomery Daniel did not come here in a boat “in chains” nor under indentureship and neither does he want to be the nation’s second wheelchair-bound election candidate.
Daniel last night, for the second time since September, put his foot in his mouth, making in Parliament comments to which Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves is “particularly sensitive”, offended the opposition bench and are likely to displease the disabled.
At the beginning of his budget presentation yesterday, the North Windward representative noted that the last general election was held in 2010 and the next one is constitutionally due by 2015.
“And so, Mr. Speaker, if I, as an individual, is being affected terribly by back pains and there are four years to come to run for another election. I am not growing younger, I am growing older and so, my conditions would deteriorate … in the next four years. Mr. Speaker, is it that I want to make history to be the next wheelchair candidate for the next general elections coming?” Daniel said.
His comments was in apparent response to being asked to give way to West Kingstown representative and opposition legislator Daniel Cummings.
Cummings and Daniel rose about the same time to debate the budget and the Speaker acknowledged Daniel.
The opposition MP then told the Speaker of his condition and asked if Daniel would give way.
Daniel gave way but later made the statements at the beginning of his presentation.
“It is a very sad episode in our history, not just in the Parliament,” Cummings told I-Witness News late Wednesday night of the development.
“But, personally, I think that Mr. Daniel has a vey serious brain problem. … I feel sorry for him and for all persons with disabilities or shortcomings. You could see the expression on most of the Members [faces] even on his side. They were dumbfounded,” Cummings further said.
Cummings, who missed the Estimates Debate in December because he was seeking medical treatment overseas, said his back was injured when opposition MPs were thrown out of Parliament last March.
Cummings said that the injury has also resulted in pain in his knees and so he wanted to make his budget speech and go home to rest.
“And I notice a reluctance on his part. In fact, it took effort on the part of the Prime Minister and, I believe, other members, to persuade Mr. Daniel to give way; which he did with quite some reluctance,” Cummings told I-Witness News.
He further said that Daniel’s comments were made “with a very serious face”.
“And I just said to him, ‘Look at how you embarrass your colleagues’,” Cummings further said.
He said that while he had initially planned to go home after making his presentation, his colleagues decided, in protest, not to go back into the chamber after a break for refreshments.
Gonsalves, in wrapping up yesterday’s proceedings, said that he felt “particularly sensitive about this matter”, noting comments made about him by two opposition MPs when he had a foot injury.
“… but one in particular was not making a joke [and was said] in a manner which I myself didn’t think appropriate and I said ‘That is where we reach?’,” Gonsalves said.
“And this government has a very good record with how we relate with persons with disabilities,” he further stated.
“Of course, the Honourable Member for West Kingstown does not have any disability other than has been indicated that he has a bad back and I hope and pray that he recovers and I say so with all honestly,” Gonsalves said.
Daniel, in response to a protestor’s alleged comment about his Garifuna heritage in September, insulted this nation’s black, East Indian and Portuguese population.
“… one of the placards that I read on the [picket] line said ‘Gomery must go’. Well, I tell you, I know where I come from. I know where I can go. Comrades, from an individual, I heard certain comments. But I say to you, I am born of Carib descendants. Nobody ain’t gotta tell me that. I born right here, nobody ain’t got to tell me that. Comrades, no boat aint bring me here in chains and I did not come here in indenturedship. So, I know where I come from. And comrades, I know where I am going,” Daniel said at a political rally two days after farmers picketed his ministry for its failure to pray against black sigatoka disease.
Gonsalves said in October that there was “no racism” in Daniel’s statement.
“It is true that some of us born here and some, like ‘Gomery’s father, came here on a ship from Africa. And some, like my fore parents, came here in 1845 on a vessel from Madeira. But we are all one,” said Gonsalves, who is of Portuguese descent, at a meeting of Ministry of Agriculture workers, broadcast live on radio.
Daniel did not retract or apologised for the statement he made in September but said on radio that he hopes “that the public will understand” that he “did not intend to disrespect or disregard Vincentians” and that he hopes “that we do not try to divide St. Vincent”.
The late Larry Bascombe, a wheelchair-bound community activist of Marriaqua, was unsuccessful in his attempt to become the parliamentary representative of that constituency several years ago.
The House of Assembly, located on the first-floor of a two-story colonial-style building, is not fitted with amenities for wheelchair-bound and other disabled persons.