By E. Glenford Prescott
Persons who make malicious statements against Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves could avoid being taken to court and forced to fork out thousands of dollars if they admit their mistake and issue a timely and genuine apology, he told I-Witness News in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
Over the years, Gonsalves, who was appointed this country’s Prime Minister in April 2001, has brought five lawsuits against persons who have made statements against him and his family, with the pro-opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) NICE Radio and persons connected to that station feeling the brunt of the consequences.
Just over a year ago, owners of the station, BDS Ltd., were asked to pay just over EC$200,000 to Gonsalves and his lawyers over comments made by the late Elwardo “E.G.” Lynch.
Asked about what some have termed as his apparent penchant for turning to the law courts to seek redress for what he perceives as malicious comments made against him, Gonsalves told I-Witness News that his first recourse is not the law court.
“I could sue NICE Radio almost every single day … What guides when I sue, … if you interfere with any of my family and drag them into your foolishness with your defamation, I will sue … like the one with my friend Elwardo [Lynch] about my old mother and my young daughter that I misbehave in public office by corruptly taking taxpayers money to take them to Rome when it’s completely false,” he said, a combative look in his unsmiling eyes.
Gonsalves, in making his point, mentioned the defamation case matters against two of his former supporters and confidantes turned critics, Mathew Thomas and Junior Bacchus.
He said that not only were they guilty of defaming him and his family, but it they also appeared unrepentant when they were made aware of it.
“In every case, instead of making an apology they go on radio and say they have the facts and I am left with no other option but to clear my name…
“In the case of Matthew, he read an article from a Trinidad paper about me taking five hundred thousand dollars from a person said to be involved in drug … and when he was told this was not the case, he persisted and said he had the facts…
“And with Junior Bacchus, it is where he said that my wife (Eloise Gonsalves) and I bought government land not at arms length, but below value and involved in a conspiracy or words to that effect with Victor Hadley at National Properties and so on … and misbehaving in public office … and he had the document…
“… Fact is this, I had … never bought … neither Eloise nor any of my children or family for that matter ever bought one square inch of government land… Not that I don’t have the right as a citizen to buy government land, but will have to buy it at the right prize going through the proper procedure, etc… These are things which go to the heart of a man’s reputation and character,” Gonsalves said, with what appears to be anger visible on his countenance.
Recently, Gonsalves has come in for some flack for spurning an attempt by Lynch (who has since died) to seek forgiveness for defaming him.
On a programme on Star FM, which is owned by the Gonsalves-led Unity Labour Party, Gonsalves, while hosting the programme “Conversation with the De Comrade”, told a caller that Lynch had come to him seeking forgiveness but he refused him.
“He came say that he begging me pardon … I say to him that the time to beg pardon done gone,” Gonsalves told the caller.
However, after coming in for heavy criticism from his opponents and reportedly having his comments frowned upon by others, Gonsalves as he had previously sought to explain the reason for his response to Lynch.
“If you defame me you must apologise quick, quick… Don’t wait until I have my judgement and am now having my assessment of damages to come tell that you are sorry… Three, four five years you (were) wrong and strong, but because is money time you have to pay you saying you sorry… That’s not sorry; you trying to mamaguy me,” Gonsalves said.
He said that there was only one instance of an apology being issued promptly and this was done when a news item was read three times on NICE Radio, making certain claims about ownership of some two LIAT aircraft that were reportedly leased to the company.
Gonsalves said that during a break in a meeting of the House of Assembly, he told Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace about the news story.
The Prime Minister said Eustace called Dougie DeFreitas, manager of NICE Radio, and De Freitas called him (Gonsalves) later that night and apologised, and also did so by letter, which apology he accepted.
Gonsalves said he has never taken legal action against a bona fide journalist, even though some have written or said things that are deemed to be defamatory.
“I only sue people who are political activists against me and who carry out a campaign of vilification against me and even in some cases incite hatred. Point me to one case where I have sued a bona fide journalist… Very often or sometimes, a bona fide journalist will write something I will call him or her and say, ‘You wrote something you know it’s not true, you should deal with …. If it’s somebody who is running a [web]site I will say, ‘You should delete it you know man because it’s not true.’”
Gonsalves, a veteran criminal lawyer, said people must deal with facts and even though they may wish to merge their opinion with the facts, they can do so but not by putting a spin that defames him.
“I have never been sued you know — for defamation,” he told I-Witness News.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Gonsalves had filed between 14 and 17 lawsuits. We have since been informed that he has in fact filed five.