Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says that his government moved against the no confidence motion brought by the opposition on Wednesday to protect its political territory and preserve the lustre of the new finance minister.
“Because, Mr. Speaker, you can’t stay away from an Estimates Debate and then, when there is a debate on the appropriation bill, you bring a motion in the week preceding, hoping, in some way, to take away the lustre from the new minister of finance in presenting his budget,” Gonsalves said in reference to the parliamentary opposition.
The prime minister said he was “heartened by the consensus which has been expressed regarding full confidence in this government”.
In addition to the prime minister, Senators Carlos James, Luke Browne and Julian Francis heaped praise on the government during the debate, which Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, an opposition lawmaker, said later on Wednesday amounted to “political masturbation”.
The opposition brought the no confidence motion on Monday, one week before Camillo Gonsalves, the prime minister’s son, is slated to deliver his first Budget.
The younger Gonsalves, who was elected to Parliament in 2015, after two years as a senator, replaced his father last November to become the second finance minister since the Unity Labour Party came to office in March 2001.
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday tabled the no confidence motion and walked out of Parliament on Monday, ahead of Camillo’s presentation to lawmakers of the Estimates of Income and expenditure for 2018.
Later Monday evening, the prime minister suspended the Estimates debate until Wednesday and said that the no confidence motion would be debated that day also.
However, when the motion came up for hearing, Gonsalves said that it had to get the approval of the majority of the house before it could be debated.
House Speaker, Jomo Thomas ruled against the government in this regard, but upheld an amendment by the government that turned the no confidence motion into a motion of confidence.
Opposition lawmakers did not return to Parliament Wednesday evening.
In winding up the debate on the confidence motion, the prime minister said that his government had moved against the opposition as it had to preserve the “lustre” of the finance minister.
Camillo has been the centre of national discussion after Yugge Farrell, 23-year-old former model, said she had an extra-marital affair with the 44-year-old finance minister, who is married to Senior Crown Counsel, Karen Duncan Gonsalves.
Political observers say that the no confidence motion was the opposition’s way of discussing the matter in Parliament since Camillo has remained silent.
The finance minister seems to be taking the advice of the prime minister to maintain “a dignified silence”, even as the prime minister has been commenting publicly about the scandal.
Gonsalves said that all the representatives on the government side had signed the amendment to the motion on confidence.
The prime minister said that when he was told Tuesday night that the opposition leader had said that he (Friday) would have been successful on Wednesday in the vote of no confidence, “I had never heard something so foolhardy.”
At this point, the house speaker, Jomo Thomas, interjected: “I was a little concerned a little earlier when the Honourable Minister of Agriculture said that Ralph Gonsalves couldn’t speak for him.”
Thomas was speaking about Member of Parliament for South Central Windward, Saboto Caesar, who said, during the intense debate about which motion should be debated, that the prime minister does not have the moral or legal authority to speak for him in any part of the country.
The prime minister responded: “The thing is this, Mr. Speaker, he spoke for himself because he had signed the amendment to the motion of confidence. That is why I don’t have to speak for him. He spoke for himself. And in speaking for each other, in speaking for ourselves, we also speak for each other.”
Gonsalves said another matter on which there has been a consensus in the debate and by speaking to “independent minded people” is that that “the NDP had engaged in an abuse of the process”.
He asked whether the opposition New Democratic Party, NDP, having made a calculation, which politically is an abuse of the process, seriously expect that the ULP would yield one inch of political territory to them.
Gonsalves said he has received many congratulations since the debate began, including some he met at his office
He said one female who travels between SVG and Trinidad had written saying, “Dear Comrade, I write to congratulate you on your handling of these challenging times of little foxes that want to spoil the grapes by doing the serious work of governing. I wish to congratulate the honourable minister of finance for composedly delivering financial solutions and achieving a masterpiece budget. He must zero in on the helps this budget will give to citizens.”
The prime minister said the note from the woman, whom he did not name, ended with passage from Ecclesiastes, which, among other things, speaks of a time to be silent and a time to speak.
“The ULP government, in this Parliament, has now spoken,” the prime minister said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Member of Parliament for West St. George, Cecil “Ces” McKie had not signed the motion of confidence. The government says that he did.