Political activist, Sehon Marshall, who is being considered for appointment as this country’s Deputy Consul General in New York, could see his career as a diplomat ending even before it begins.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Tuesday told a press conference he was “sorry” about disparaging statements Marshall made within the last three weeks about the occupations and the economic circumstances of some Vincentians in the United States.
Gonsalves said Marshall will take to “Voices” on WE FM, which is hosted by Jomo Thomas (a journalist and lawyer who is also a senator and candidate for Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party –ULP) tonight (Wednesday) “to say that he misspoke and speak in terms similar to what I have said here without any polemical flourish…
“And I believe that given his energy, if the Cabinet accepts my perspective on it and the appointment goes through, I believe that the people will see his energy and they will appreciate his contribution,” Gonsalves said, confirming that Marshall is still being considered for the post.
But the Prime Minister also told the media that Marshall has told him that he would understand if he is no longer considered for the position.
Speaking on Cross Country Radio in late August, Marshall said that before the ULP came to office (in March 2001), civil servants used to quit their jobs and migrate to the United States and become nannies and dog walkers.
“I want you to tell me since the ULP has taken over in 2001, which teacher, which nurse, or which policeman has resigned his or her job and gone America to babysit people children or walk people dog?” said Marshall, who taught school from 1991 to 1999.
He further said that some of these Vincentian migrants cannot afford to buy a ticket to return home, even as Vincentians who have stayed in SVG can go to the United States on vacation.
Speaking at the press conference on Tuesday, Gonsalves, who was acting Minister of Foreign Affairs when Marshall made the comment, said he heard about the development when he was in Jamaica last week.
He further said that persons in SVG and overseas have telephoned him about the comments.
He said he later listened to an unedited recording of the comments and spoke to Marshall on Sunday and on Tuesday.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sen. Camillo Gonsalves sat in on part of the conversation on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said.
Diplomats must not be the news
The prime minister said Marshall is qualified to serve as the nation’s Deputy Consul General in New York.
“I also would say the following things. A hallmark of an ambassador — a hallmark, not the hallmark — high commissioner, consul general or deputy consul general is that he or she must not be the news. The news must be the quality of your output of your work, whatever your job is, whatever area of diplomatic service you enter,” Gonsalves said.
He also said his Government, more than any in the history of the country, has sought to elevate the diaspora into public policy and to give especial consideration to them.
“It is incumbent on every single diplomat, whether ambassador, high commissioner, consul general or deputy consul general, to represent every single one (Vincentian). There is no differentiation between a ULP or an NDP person or a no party persons — none whatsoever! You are Vincentians, you get equal treatment — equal quality treatment. That is what we want our diplomats to do with our nationals abroad,” he told the press briefing.
“It means, therefore, that not only must an ambassador, consul general, deputy consul general, not involve in polemical political discourse, they have to avoid discussions such as what happened before the NDP came to power and before the ULP came to power.
“That’s the business of Ralph (the PM), speaking as politician, and Hans King (press secretary to PM Gonsalves), and Elson Crick (communications consultant in the Office of the Prime Minister), and if you are on radio as a talk show host and a political commentator.
“A diplomat is of a different nature,” Gonsalves said.
“So you have to treat equally and respect them, a professor, a lawyer who is a Vincentian, a doctor, construction worker, someone who sweeps the street, a clerical officer, someone who walks a dog and someone who is a domestic worker, and somebody who is a migrant from St. Vincent without proper legal status — everybody!
“And nothing disparaging must be said about any such person, in any political sense, acting as a diplomat or in relation to any category of persons. And anything said which can be reasonably interpreted as disparaging by a person who is a diplomat or hoping to be appointed as a diplomat would be seen as misspeaking.”
Marshall qualified to be a diplomat
Gonsalves spoke of Marshall’s training as a teacher, his master’s degree (in international relations), his experience as an entrepreneur and former employee of Invest SVG, the government’s investment promotion agency.
He further said Marshall is also from the bowels of North Leeward and is “a good human being” who is qualified to be deputy consul general.
But in light of the comments, Gonsalves said, it is clear that Marshall himself, “has to make the requisite corrective to this misspeaking.
“Something may be completely appropriate for a commentator to say, but not for someone who is entering the diplomatic service. And therefore care has to exercised about speaking.”
The Prime Minister, however, said it is “unfortunate that the issue has taken on, in part, a political colouration and that the entire 16 or 19 minutes of what he (Marshall) said, all what he said, is truncated for political purposes by the opposition or persons associated with the opposition.
“Well, that is part of the competitive political course,” he, however, commented.
I know that people who leave St. Vincent and the Grenadines, whatever their job which they had here, they go overseas to improve themselves and the lot of themselves. And sometimes it is difficult and you have to do work which is necessary in all the circumstances and you have planned out in your own head what you are doing and what your achievement is going to be.
“So if you have to do any job which some may consider menial, you would have in your own mind decided that it’s honest labour and would be said in some circles you are stooping to conquer, and you will conquer — you will rise,” Gonsalves said.
He said he has constituents who have left SVG and worked as domestic workers in the Untied States and help to take care of their families in SVG, and make important contributions to the United States.
“When I go to the town hall meeting, many of them would be persons who are working as domestics and in other jobs, which may not have the social status as others, but people are doing honest labour and they are not lazy. Laziness is an absence of virtue and the people who go overseas and they are working, whatever they are working at, are virtuous people, and I applaud them and this government applauds them. And everybody who is working as a diplomat or [who] is to work as a diplomat must applaud them. That is the position of the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Gonsalves holds a town hall meeting in New York with Vincentians annually, and this year’s meeting is scheduled for later this month.
Gonsalves said that in the 1950s and 60s, the Canadian government specifically recruited persons to work as domestic servants in middle and upper middle class homes, and teachers deliberately left SVG and went to Canada to work as such.
“And very quickly, their intelligence would have been made obvious to their employers, and these persons went to universities and got first degrees and masters, became very good professionals,” Gonsalves said, adding that the same thing happens in New York and other parts of the diaspora.
He further said that, as a student, he also worked at what may be called “menial jobs”.
“I never lost sight of my goal in education. And that happens to lots of Vincentians and some Vincentians are doing better than others, and that is the nature of life. Some may feel that, ‘Boy, I was doing better at home you know; I wonder if I shouldn’t come back.’ But that is the nature of migration among all sorts of people. The vast majority of people, of course, stick it out. Some do come back before retirement, in the prime of their lives, some come back after retirement.
“Those are individual choices and we must all applaud those individual choices, and people who are overseas, they make important contributions to their communities over there and to their families here.
“And to the extent that on this matter Sehon misspoke, I am very sorry about that, and I want everyone in relation to this issue to accept the regret that I have that there was a misspeaking, a lack of clarity, and if there was any misunderstanding beyond those who are trying to make it narrowly political, I am very sorry, because there would be persons who may not have even heard the whole thing but got a little snippet or even a gist of it and say, ‘No, no; that should not have been said.’ You have that understanding, I am sorry about it,” Gonsalves said.
Sehon will learn from mistake
“But [that] does not mean that I should as prime minister hold a young man who is qualified from a job, come from humble beginning, and throw him under the bus, metaphorically. I say no. Of course, I will discuss it with my colleagues at Cabinet tomorrow…” Gonsalves said, adding that he thinks most reasonable persons will agree with his position.
Gonsalves said that Marshall, a former co-host of the morning show on the ULP-owned radio station, Star Radio, “can have in his commentaries a sharp tongue.
“But you have to have now more a listening ear than a sharp tongue, particularly in the position in which you are going to find yourself,” Gonsalves said.
“In a way, it is a good thing that this thing has happened to Sehon Marshall and we will see whether he learns from it or not.
“I believe that he will learn from it. There are some who doesn’t like him or who wants to see that a black eye be given to him would say, ‘Don’t send him; I don’t think he should come.’ I say reflect on what I have said. And I say this other matter. Today Sehon Marshall said to me, ‘Prime Minister, I would neither as an individual, as Sehon Marshall, or my family would feel in anyway hard put upon if the government, and you in particular, if you were to consider stopping the process for my appointment as Deputy Consul General’,” Gonsalves said.
Marshall is being considered to fill the diplomatic post, which became vacant after the government fired former deputy consul general, Edson Augustus, in February after he admitted, the government said, to taking money from persons and promising to help them source US Permanent Resident Cards.