KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Worship at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve has spurred Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to take tangible steps at reconciliation here.
Gonsalves said Wednesday night that he would be withdrawing two High Court judgements against two opposition Members of Parliament (MP).
“Mr. Speaker, I personally have two judgements against the Honourable Opposition Leader [Arnhim Eustace] and the Honourable Member for West Kingstown [Daniel Cummings] — two High Court judgements — in relation to defamation action that I had brought — claims that I had been defamed.
“I want tonight to indicate to this Honourable House and to the nation, that as part of the process of reconciliation, I shall tomorrow instruct my lawyers to indicate to the High Court that I shall not proceed in any action in relation to those judgements,” Gonsalves said at end of the day’s debate on the 2012 budget.
But opposition Members of Parliament did not hear Gonsalves’ comments first hand as they had left the chamber in protest against a comment Agriculture Minister Montgomery Daniel made about West Kingstown representative Daniel Cummings’s back injury.
Cummings had earlier asked Daniel to give way so that he could make him presentation then go home and rest.
At the beginning of his budget presentation, Daniel then 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 terrible 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.
Gonsalves, in announcing the withdrawal of the cases, at the end of the day’s debate, said, “Mr. Speaker, we have to make sure that we send the signals for some healing and I hope that tonight that process will be accelerated. I know where is a lot of prayer on it.
“Mr. Speaker, I’ll tell you, I thought a lot on these matters when I went to Bethlehem and on the night when I was at the Church of the Nativity. And the next morning, when I visited where Christ was born, I got a feeling that I should ensure as far as is possible, within the cut and thrust of competitive politics, for us to just lessen the vitriol, the harshness of language,” he further stated.
Gonsalves did not announced his change of heart on the cases during his two-hour press conference on return to the state from the 15-day trip that took him to Bethlehem or his 5.5-hour budget address.
He said that lessening the vitriol “will be a process but whenever it comes, it shouldn’t be too difficult to say well, ‘We’re sorry’ in moving forward.”
Gonsalves noted that in his budget speech he had referred to the foundation by preceding administration for work on which his Unity Labour Party, which came to office in 2001, has built.
“And apparently, that signal had not been picked up by everyone and I am not saying just on this side because of certain comments made by the other side,” he said.
He said he feels “particularly sensitive about this matter”, adding that when he had a foot injury two opposition MPs commented about it.
“… but one in particular was not making a joke, about my injury but was speaking about it in a crosstalk 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,” Gonsalves 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 further stated.
“I think tonight that the country would feel that we have made a giant step forward,” Gonsalves said, adding that he was “sorry” that Opposition MPs had left the chamber.
Meanwhile, Cummings told I-Witness News late Wednesday night that he had not heard Gonsalves’ comments and, therefore, would not comment.
“… I have not heard it, nor have I seen [it]. I was not in the House. I will wait on word from my lawyers. So I really will not comment on the matter. I don’t have any first hand information from the Prime Minister nor have I heard from my lawyers,” he told I-Witness News.
“I know that the matter is before the court and I will wait on my lawyers to advise me on what decision the court have taken and I wait to see what they have to say on what, I am told, the Prime Minister said,” he said.