Washington-based Vincentian political activist Luzette E. King, a member of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP), told the opposition New Democratic Party’s (NDP) annual convention on Sunday that while she helped to bring the ULP to office in 2001, it is time for a change in government in this country.
“Today I stand here convinced that after helping to bring about change 12 years ago, it is now time for me to stand and be counted. It is time to stand up to the politics of fear and victimization …” Kings said to applause as she delivered the featured address at the NDP’s 37th annual convention at Democrat House, on Murray’s Road.
After 17 years in government, the NDP was voted out of office in March 2001, and King said the change was “necessary”.
She said that when 32,925 persons voted for the ULP in March 2001, they “did not expect the star to fall out of the sky only months into the life of the administration. No one had a clue that the twinkling light of the star was a tale of ‘all that glitters is not gold,” she said.
“If only we knew. If only the Organization in the Defence of Democracy (O.D.D) knew. If only the Christian Council knew. If only the trade unions knew, if only the ‘Greedy Bill’ opponents knew that voting for the star meant ‘Together Now’ only for some but hell and victimization for over 3,000 struggling Vincentians who supported the NDP,” she said.
The O.D.D and the trade unions were instrumental in galvanising support for the ULP. “Together Now” was the slogan adopted by the party after it won the March 2001 elections, replacing the “Labour Now!” elections campaign mantra.
“If we only knew that the murder of [Press Secretary to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves] Glen Jackson in  would have remained unsolved even after bringing in the Scotland Yard. If only the ‘I did it my way,’ evidence would not have been thrown out for lack of elementary evidential procedures,” King further said.
“If we only knew that laws made retroactively on a Sunday would be deemed a masterstroke on a Monday. If we only knew that the annual increase in the number of people, including farmers, on the poor relief list was progress. If we only knew that pointing your middle finger … in public had a positive meaning and can save lives. If we only knew!” she further said.
“Dare I or anyone complain about the present challenges facing this nation? The authority to speak on issues of a socio-economic and political nature is reserved only for those so appointed to speak in glowing terms on a daily basis of and about a so-called and self-styled poor people government,” she said.
“The mishandling of the economy, … boldfaced nepotism and cronyism for family … and friends, … the elected Cabinet and the appointed cupboard of former ministers” must change said to applause.
In her speech, entitled “Re-engineering a St. Vincent and the Grenadines for all of us”, King said that over the past 12 years “we seem to have lost sight that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is simply you and me, without title or prestige, without prefix to our names or job titles.”
She spoke of the nation’s challenges, saying that the global environment has been harsh to small open economies like SVG, adding that despite these challenges, the nation has weathered the storm and is surviving, and this speaks to the resilience of Vincentians.
“The reality is that Vincentians by and large have and are willing to play their part. However, there are some upstream currents that the poor, the single mother, the youths on the block, the farmer, the unemployed, the school child has to confront daily…”
Among these, King mentioned the “alarming salaries of ULP big wigs and hangers-on” and the “promotion” of senior civil servants who have been found by audits and other reports to commit serious infractions.
“Instead, those in authority are allowed to run side businesses as account officers in these ministries. As the calypsonian says, there is a class language division in our society. When the regular man is caught in similar situations, he is called a ‘thief’ but the big men and women too, are said to have just ‘misappropriated funds’,” King said.
She also spoke of “the deep love to take over and discontinue cases in this country”.
She said that no other point in the nation’s history have women been so “threatened, marginalised and fearful of high offices.
“The seemingly discriminate use of legal authority to prevent those accused of rape and other ‘nasty’ offences from facing their accusers in a court-of-law is abominable.
“In this country, women, including girls, receive second class justice to those in financial complexes. When the shoe is on the other foot, they hound you down with the SSU, Black Squad and other police units while eating with friends and family to embarrass you and destroy your womanhood,” King further said.
She said, “Our thirst for public promotions, cameras and media spotlight, style over substance is retarding needed progress.
“We have been sold that charisma, broad smile and white teeth are leadership and action. We have proven we cannot trade these attributes at the bank. Even with masterstrokes, charisma and white smiles did not save our own National Commercial Bank from a sell-out to help pay only part of our national debt.
“They did not save our banana industry from escalating harm by the Black Sigatoka disease. How impressive the photo-op with our Minister of Agriculture in water boots and cutlass in hand while at the same time we ship less than 100 boxes of bananas per month; some of which were rejected at the point of destination.
“We have the best and brightest in leadership but our health services face severe and critical shortages, our roads have become dilapidated; feeder roads inaccessible…
“Despite a ‘coalition of the willing’ and a promised debt-free airport, we are still to know how much of our public funds have been spent and how more do we need to finish it,” she said of the EC$652 million Argyle International Airport the country largest capital project ever.
“This list can go on and on. In other words, while we appreciate the global challenges, while we acknowledge our inherent difficulties, we must and can do better!” King said.
She said it is “incomprehensible” how the government’s priorities are to build beautifully designed buildings and state of the art complexes “but unwilling to build the glue that holds our society together—the spirit of the nation.
“Civil servants are now asked to be lower level politicians, conscripted to be foot soldiers of the party in government. But, when you look for the real politicians, you can’t find them,” she said.
“They don’t do house to house anymore. They are too busy to sit at the rum shops and to attend the local football competition. When they do present themselves, it is with the media, a few goodies in hand and it’s goodbye until you are the masters of their political fate again. This is unsustainable.”
￼She said the platform of the NDP must break this cycle or the nation’s present and future stand to fall in abyss.
“This party must resolve not to be a party focussed on isms. Isms cannot solve our problems. Isms do not create livelihoods and empower new landowners.
“It’s the truth when I tell you, if we look closely, we practice all the isms — socialism, Marxism, communism, capitalism, third world-ism and on and on.
“Where the party must differ is on the premise that the leader or ministers will not spend more days in the air than on the ground while many of our young people are out of the productive sector and willing to work. The penchant for speech making should not inhibit the action needed to move beyond rhetoric and implement electoral promises,” King said.
She noted that all experiences are important and can only make us a nation stronger, wiser and bolder going forward.
“Therefore, we do not expect a future NDP administration to parrot things like ‘Together Now’ and national reconciliation but at every turn refuse to rise above partisanship. That is the ULP experience that we must learn from. To heap scorn on a Social, Spiritual and Redemption Charter, a blunt refusal to enact integrity legislation and refusal to walk a middle ground during the constitutional review exercise is the politics that the future must not look like,” King said.
She said she firmly believe in the leadership of the NDP to bring about “the much-needed change that we yearn for.
“I believe that an Arnhim Eustace led New Democratic Party as shown now in opposition, would practice a different type of political management. One that is not of theoretical doctrine but of real people centred origin.”
King said the NDP has shown its willingness as a to help those in need and has refused to score cheap political points.
“They have done this by reaching across the aisle and ￼supporting government initiatives that they think are in the best interest of the country,” she said, adding that the party has given strong opposition and rebuke to the many shortcomings of the government.
“We expect Mr. Arnhim Eustace and his team to take this foundation with them in governance and build from there. This integrity and excellence in leadership must filter down to all sectors of the economy, every department and reach the ears of all employees both in the public and private sector.”