Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has objected to the secret recording of a closed-door meeting that his government had with trade union last month, December 2017.
iWitness News had received a record of the meeting in which the government discussed with union representatives some of the policy issues that the 2018 Budget hopes to address.
The meeting also heard from the labour unions their recommendations on a number of issues.
However, the record also contained some comments that could put Gonsalves himself in an awkward position.
Among the comments was an opinion on an Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Commission report on pension reform.
“We will appoint some fellas and some fellas write a lot of rubbish. If you read a lot of the things they write there, I mean when I saw the presentation, I said you all are not serious. That was not approved, you know. OECS commission can do something, a very generalist kind of a — so I wouldn’t even. I myself, in discussion of pension reform; I wouldn’t even bother with the OECS,” Gonsalves said in the meeting.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, Gonsalves said, “You can’t have an honest, open discussion if one side is surreptitiously going to tape the discussion, as has happened, as we have seen now, it has emerged.”
Gonsalves said that in his 17 years of consultation, it is the first time that that has happened.
“Because if somebody tapes it without your knowledge, it means that they are very guarded in what they are going to say, so that the conversation is not honest and open, as you must have consultations to be honest and open. Not that I said anything, which was untoward. I spoke what I have always said publicly but we need to observe certain elementary courtesies and protocols.
“Because if I am having a meeting with somebody, and I don’t know that the conversation is being taped, I will find that what you are saying may not well be your own honest expressions, but you may well be speaking for some other ulterior purpose. So I just mentioned that, parenthetically,” he said.
During the budget consultation, which was chaired by Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, the prime minister locked horns with head of the Police Welfare Association, Sergeant Brenton Smith, over comments the police officer made last year that he and members of his executive would “storm” the Office of the Prime Minister in an attempt to get redress for a number of matters affecting the constabulary.
Gonsalves told Smith he was rude and out of order to have made that statement, and the police officer asked him if when one says they are going to storm a wedding, it means that they have violent intention.
Interestingly, during the same meeting, the prime minister suggested that there would be a “class war” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines if pension reform is not handled properly.
The reaction at the meeting did not suggest that they understood him to mean that persons from various social classes across the country would inflict physical violence on each other.
Smith and another member of his executive have been brought up on disciplinary charges — which are yet to be disposed of – over the “storm” comment.
The comment became public after the voice note in which it was made and circulated to the executive of the Police Welfare Association was leaked.
Two years ago, Gonsalves quoted extensively from the transcript of a recording that he thought had been made surreptitiously.
In August 2016, he read at a press conference what he said was a transcript of a recording that he said a young woman had made two weeks earlier when she went to see Michael Goodluck, a state-employed physician, at a state-owned health facility.
“And all he begins with is a bare anti-Ralph politics,” Gonsalves had said, adding that the young woman had used her phone to record a part of the conversation.
However, it turned out that Goodluck had, in fact, sent the recording in a private conversation to the young lady, who, as his friend, had asked for his advice on dieting to deal with a medical condition.
Goodluck, who has admitted to having sent the recording, had interspersed his advice with commentary about politics in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Also, political commentator Frank Da Silva, who has become a main spokesperson for the Gonsalves government, had, while he was supporting the opposition, secretly recorded the prime minister, although repeatedly denying to Gonsalves that he was doing so, and played the recording on radio.
Da Silva’s action had angered senior members of the main opposition New Democratic Party, of which he was then a member.