Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace’s former secretary, Rishatha Nicholls, whom he fired in 2013, mounted the platform of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) Saturday night and announced that she, her husband and their 18-year-old dyslexic son will vote against Eustace in the upcoming general election.
Nicholls, a constituent of East Kingstown, which Eustace has been representing since 1998, was fired without severance pay on March 28, 2013, after almost 12 years on the job.
She told I-Witness News, days after her dismissal, that she was not shocked that she was fired but was “dissatisfied” with the reasons given.
The former secretary has since complained to the Labour Department, which ordered Eustace to pay her EC$16,000 in compensation, which he paid after losing an appeal.
Nicholls has also taken her former boss to court for defamation.
Saturday night, Luke Browne, the ULP’s candidate for East Kingstown, who will make his second attempt to unseat Eustace, called Nicholls on stage as he addressed the ULP rally in Sion Hill.
Nicholls, who was wearing a red “Luke Browne for East Kingstown” campaign t-shirt, told party supporters that she “wasn’t prepared for this but I am grateful for the opportunity to address you…”
She said that growing up poor, her grandmother taught her that manners and behaviour — not politics — will take her through the world.
Nicholls said she started working with Eustace when she was 25, at a time when she was already married the mother of two children, ages 4 and 2 years old.
Before joining Eustace’s staff, she held a job, but the pay was small, so she resigned the position “to take up serious responsibilities with the Leader of the Opposition.
“At that time, NDP was just trying to restructure from losing government and having to function in opposition,” she said of the party, which was voted out of office in March 2001, after 17 years.
“So there was nothing for me; there was nothing to say that Rishatha was after politics. So, I worked for seven years before I gain any vacation.
“My children suffered in the process. It took me about 16 years before I discovered that my son was dyslexic. And so, even though he is 18 and would be able to vote for the first time, he is still at the secondary school level, while his sister has gone on to Community College. But God is good, he just starting to show improvement,” Nicholls said.
Recounting how things went sour between her and her former boss, Nicholls said:
“You have to understand the psycho (sic) of Mr. Eustace. He creates problems to solve problems. I was his secretary. You can’t tell me. I could tell you,” she told the small crowd that braved heavy rains to attend the rally, and media audiences.
“Mr. Eustace, when things going not the way you want it to go — it is understandable, it happens everywhere, things will not always be smooth, but you have to be patient, you have to incorporate the ideas of other people, you don’t lay blame willy-nilly.”
Nicholls said that sometime in 2012, after the health of then NDP radio programme host, Eduardo “E.G.” Lynch, deteriorated, he started to raise funds to assist himself.
“It wasn’t something I liked, I had preferred for him to take the offer to go to Cuba. But he chose to do the public assistance, if you want to call it that,” Nicholls said, adding that Lynch asked her to do a favour and assist.
“It took some persuading, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I will be honest with you. But then I took it upon myself to help him, because I knew he wanted the help.
“So, he entrusted in my care the responsibility to collect his funds and deposit it. E.G. did not even know his head or elbow as it regarded how much money I collected for him. So it [was] left up to me to be responsible and care for somebody who is my friend,” Nicholls said.
“… Remember the old saying, yo’ tek thing from people and them tears what will happen?
“I have children, so all I did, is stole from myself and give back E.G. Because if you telling me I am a thief, the only person money I lose is mine. So I stole from myself and give back E.G.
“So, how you could go court and win me? Which one of the court will tell me I wrong? Because my money is mine and if I make a mistake in the process by leaving Lynch money on a desk, I have the obligation to give him his money. And I took my money and gave it to him.”
The Law Firm of Marks & Marks, in two letters to Eustace on Nov. 12, 2014, wrote to Eustace on Nicholls’ behalf accusing him of defaming their client and demanding apologies and compensation.
They said that Eustace defamed Nicholls in calls to “A.M. Mayhem” on Hot 97 radio on April 23 and 24, 2014.
The firm said that Eustace’s alleged statements on the radio programme on April 23 “meant and were understood to mean that Mrs. Rishatha Nicholls was involved in corruption and had committed the criminal act of theft, an offence that is punishable by imprisonment.
Nicholls noted at the ULP rally on Saturday that she went to all the levels of the Department of Labour without a lawyer and won Arnhim Eustace on the matter of her severance pay.
“… and he had to comply. It didn’t matter how long he took, he had to pay me my $16,000. Maybe I am the first person to ever set precedent but understand the type of person you are dealing with,” she said.
“You don’t know, but you have to be strong to work around Eustace, and NDP knows that. They know that. They know the struggles I went through working there. I even had to go to lawyer for employees because they [had] been slandering me name long time. You now hearing about it. I had to go to lawyer for one from Walvaroo and the other one from Murray’s Village and Eustace name boss.
“I was the youngest employee there, married, have children, have my level of education and I couldn’t get peace to do my job,” Nicholls told I-Witness News.
Shortly after her dismissal, Nicholls told I-Witness New that she will try to seek clarity.
“I will, in fact, try to have as much clarity being given to the reason in an orderly way, without any damage, any bias; without any bitterness or anything, because I am still grateful for the opportunity to have served the New Democratic Party through the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
“So, I do not wish to be ungrateful or to create the impression that it was never an enjoyable experience. I will not create that kind of thing. It is just an unfortunate stuff and I will, in fact, try to have as much clarification done to that situation,” she said then.
She said she initially had a good relationship with Eustace.
“Initially, it was very good. Along the way, we had problems, which I believe were unresolved,” she told I-Witness News in 2013.
Nicholls told the ULP rally on Saturday “it is important for you to know of the significant accomplishment from Eustace to East Kingstown.
“The first one is, he fired Anesia and she had to sell everything she and she husband work for.”
Eustace fired Baptiste, a former senator, in 2012, after she wrote him a strongly worded letter that some persons have described as insulting about the NDP’s policy on candidates or prospective candidates making untoward comments about people’s religion.
“Then he turned back and he fired me and it nearly killed my husband,” Nicholls said, adding that her husband took ill 2 a.m. one day and had to be rushed to hospital.
“At least, it drained us, but God is good,” she said.
“And instead of grumbling, Dr. Gonsalves was wise enough to say, ‘Girl, yo’ young. You have to think about your future. You have to think about where you are going to be in the next two years and four years from now,” she said of Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves.
“So I am pleased to let you know by December I will be finishing my associate degree in business at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community college as one of their top students,” Nicholls told the crowd.
“So, you see, all things really work for good you know. Because, if I been dey, I wudda still have to dey a struggle to wuk, wuk, wuk for Eustace to benefit, and nothing for me.
“But there comes a time, as the Bible says, things will change. So, if East Kingstown think they have the best, look at me. You don’t even know what’s awaiting you.
“Remember you know, if my memory serves me right, Eustace is about 71. I am not yet 40. So it means he has already passed all the legal ages of retirement: 55, 60, 65.
“But the country must continue to pay him to fire… But, him and I still battling it out. He think I was soft, he thing I ‘fraid him,” she said.
She told the crowd that in court last week, it was asked if there was theft how come there was no police report.
“So interesting things are ahead,” Nicholls said.
“One behalf of my husband, Leroy Nicholls, our first-time voter son, Caleb, our daughter — she is not yet able to vote, Leriesha, we will be voting for Luke Browne.
“I thank you most kindly. The last two and a half years have been a real struggle, but I didn’t grumble. I am still here and will be going on.
“… I thank God for all the support, all the Labour love. I mean, they abandon me; they throw me out. Ain’t do them nothing. So, at least, if you love people, you will still continue to function among people who will accept you, who will receive you and who will support you,” Nicholls said.