Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says he does not think it appropriate to respond publicly to House Speaker Jomo Thomas’ newspaper column in which he said there is a “discreet, but distinct position” taken by their Unity Labour Party (ULP) to exile him.
“No, I don’t have anything to say publicly about that,” Gonsalves told the media at a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, when asked if he had any comments on Thomas’ Nov. 24, 2017 “Plain Talk” column in The Vincentian newspaper, which he published on his Facebook page five days later.
“Jomo has a role as Speaker, Jomo is also a writer, a journalist, a columnist; Jomo is also a political activist, he was a candidate for the ULP and presumably, as the nominal caretaker for the constituency, he may wish to be a candidate again, and several other persons, like Carlos James may wish to be a candidate again,” he said, adding that candidate selection will come at a particular point in the cycle.
“The matter with Jomo as political activist, journalist, prospective candidate, caretaker currently, there is a forum within our party to address those so this would not be an appropriate forum. But everybody knows in your role as Speaker, there are two fundamental requisites of a Speaker: is that a Speaker must be impartial, and a Speaker must act on his authority,” said Gonsalves, who is also political leader of the ULP.
“And whether in the House our outside of the House, the tradition has been that a Speaker always must be mindful of his authority and his impartiality. I’m making a statement of a general kind in relation to the role of a Speaker.”
Thomas’ column came shortly after Gonsalves had told the media that he was pleased with Thomas’ performance as House Speaker, notwithstanding the criticism of him by some members of their party.
One of Thomas’ staunchest critics within his own party is Frank Da Silva, a former propagandist for the main opposition New Democratic Party, who threw his support behind the ULP after falling out with the NDP.
Among the media that Da Silva has used to launch his attacks against Thomas is the ULP’s own radio station, which has led some observers to conclude that Da Silva either has the explicit or tacit blessings of the party to engage in his attritions against Thomas.
Thomas, a lawyer, became house Speaker in 2015, after failing to win the South Leeward seat for the ULP on his first attempt.
In the columns, he said :”every discernable piece of evidence points to the incontrovertible fact that Unity Labour Party whose leader invited me to join 4 years ago is now settled in the view that it cannot tame, neuter or institutionalize me.
Therefore, a discreet, but distinct position has been settled on that I must be exiled.”
Speaking this week, Gonsalves referred to his comments last year about being pleased with Thomas’ conduct as Speaker.
“And if at anytime, as leader of the House [of Assembly] I have to talk to him or communicate with him, I would do so in a private way. On the floor of the House, if an issue arises where he and I have a different position and I think it’s worthy to ventilate that difference in relation to a ruling, [I would do so].”
The prime minister, who is also a lawyer, said that with the Speaker he would have the usual disagreement, as he did with judges when he was a lawyer or even in Cabinet.
“These are just normal things in the path of life. And sometime, you may give a response to something then and there, but, upon reflection, you may actually think that you were wrong, and the other person was right. It’s the nature of life, living, and working in communal activities.
“But I have ever-high regard of Jomo. I have said that more than one time. If I didn’t have a high regard of Jomo, I wouldn’t have asked Jomo to join the party and consider being a candidate and subsequently for me to suggest that he take on the role of Speaker,” Gonsalves said.
“But some of the things, I wouldn’t – there are different fora for different things,” he added.