By Kenton X. Chance
When the Ralph Gonsalves government managed to turn a motion of no confidence again them into a motion of confidence and proceeded to shower praise on themselves in Parliament on Wednesday, they engaged in a second day of “political masturbation” this week.
That was the view of opposition lawmaker St. Clair Leacock at a rally of his New Democratic Party (NDP) in Kingstown on Wednesday.
“This was a tough week for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It was a rough week and today, indeed, was a very sad day. And the New Democratic Party did everything in its power to defend and advance the democracy of our blessed land, and we felt very proud,” the Central Kingstown Member of Parliament said.
Court’s view needed
He was speaking at the end of a day in which intense debates by opposition and government lawmakers and the rulings by House Speaker Jomo Thomas left many wondering if it is ever possible to bring a motion of no confidence against the government, although the constitutional provisions for the same.
Gonsalves and other government lawmakers have unsuccessfully argued that the opposition needed majority support in the House before a debate on a motion of no confidence could take place.
But, when the government side was overruled and the debate on the motion was about to begin, the prime minister rose and ask to make an amendment to the opposition’s motion.
The amendment that Gonsalves proposed essentially replaced the motion of no confidence with a motion of confidence in the government, thereby triggering further intense debate about whether the government or the opposition’s motion should be debated.
In the end, the speaker decided that the motion of confidence would be debated.
Opposition lawmakers did not return to Parliament after the luncheon interval and the government showered praise upon itself in the debate of the confidence motion.
Gonsalves has told Parliament that, with the approval of Cabinet, he would ask the attorney general to get the High Court to give an interpretation of the constitutional provision for a motion of no confidence.
The opposition has also said that it would go to court over the matter.
The prime minister later said he took that approach because the government had refused to debate the Estimates laid by the new Finance Minister, his son, Camillo Gonsalves.
He further said that the opposition could have raised in the Budget debate the issues they wanted to discuss in the no confidence motion.
Gov’t MPs ‘playing with themselves’
Speaking at the NDP rally in Kingstown later on Wednesday, Leacock said he has been in politics for quite some time.
“But this week, I had the experience. On Monday, we walked out of Parliament when we should have had an important debate on the Estimates of St. Vincent and the Grenadines…
“And when we left and I listened, I heard those who remained playing with themselves.
“Today (Wednesday), after they messed around with our motion and I left, for a second time, I heard them playing with themselves. That’s a bad sign. Anytime you see politicians reach that they start to play with themselves — they call it political masturbation — the country is in trouble. It is time for them to go.”
On Monday, the opposition walked out of Parliament after they failed to convince the speaker to allow them to ask the finance minister, 45, to explain allegations of a sexual relationship that a 23-year-old former model has made against him.
Leacock said he spent a lot of time preparing for the Estimates and Budget debates “because ours is a sacred responsibility of translating the mandate you have given to us to serve you, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
The Budget debate is scheduled to begin on Monday.
He said that when opposition lawmakers went to discuss the motion of no confidence, “it was to present you with the evidential basis upon which we were taking our stand.
“You cannot lie indefinitely to a people, mislead a people, misrepresent a people, fool a people when they are trying to develop some hope in you. Put simply, anybody who is prepared to give a you five dollar bill and send you to [a supermarket] to bring back $10 goods has no respect for you.”
He said the Unity Labour Party administration is “broke and lying through their teeth.
“When you have a government that says to you they have a small surplus on the recurrent side of the estimates or their budget.”
He presented an analogy, saying that if someone goes to the supermarket and gets to the cashier with more goods than they have money to pay for, the cashier cannot decide for the person what to put back.
“She didn’t pack the trolley, but you, in your decency would know you keep those things which are most important to you.”
He said that, in the same way, the government does not have enough money to provide for the people of SVG.
The government collects just over EC$500 million in tax revenue annually. Of that, EC$350 million is to pay public servants, Leacock said, adding that he has no problem with this.
“The problem is that it only takes care of 6,000 Vincentians. We are 110,000 people. So when 6,000 people gone home with all of your VAT and all of your tax, how are the other 100,000 of us supposed to live? That is the question they had to answer on what we were prepared to ask and get answers for in Parliament. That’s what they are running from: not facing the truth.
He said the country has a government that is, year after year, living beyond its means and fooling the people for “tea, breakfast and dinner”.
Capital budget reduced
Leacock said that in the 2018 budget, the capital programme has been reduced.
“… even there, they are cheating and misleading. They truth of the matter is that, at the end of every single year, the government does not even spend what it has. So when you hear Minister after minister after minister gets up and speak, of every dollar that is voted for them to do something for you, on average, they are spending either 25 cents or 30 cents, because the money is not there.”
During his presentation of the EC$993,535,449, Estimates, the finance minister said he has tried to be “realistic and honest” about the capital budget that his government hopes to implement this year.
The government anticipates that the 2018 budget will be financed by current revenue of EC$620,658,138, and capital receipts of EC$371,877,312.
‘job, jobs, jobs, and more jobs’
However, Leacock told NDP supporters that time has run out on the ULP administration, which came to office in March 2001.
“And so, the time has come for you, who have been without work for years now, who cannot take care for yourself, to decide how you are going to put bread and butter on your table.
“And the only way that can be done is by a group of men, those of us in the New Democratic Party who understand those economic, financial and political issues to translate that reality for you. That’s the politics I am talking about, because it is far too serious to come here to have a good time and when you go back and you face your children and your spouse, you have nothing to provide for them on a daily basis.”
The job, work, and responsibility of the NDP, Leacock said, “is to secure for all Vincentians the best quality of life we can provide for you.”
He said that NDP is in the fortunate position, by dint of its members’ training, experience and honesty and integrity in politics and business, to deliver a better SVG.
“I am not talking through my hat because there is so much more we can do with our time. But we have to be preoccupied with a simple responsibility: job, jobs, jobs, and more jobs for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“None of who are in front of me tonight want to be at the door step of any politician begging for a rent, a light bill, a water bill, a transportation, a medical bill… You want to have the decency and dignity to help yourself and all you ask of us, give me a job and an opportunity for me to provide for myself and that is what we want to do.”
Citizenship by investment
Leacock said that, for years, former NDP President and opposition leader Arnhim Eustace has been making a point about citizenship by investment.
“You can’t hold on to a prime minister or a political party that is full of pride and false promise and while we are starving in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in neighbouring countries, they are making a hundred and something million, two something, three something, four something million dollars and are even giving an extra month pay every year to look after their people. We can do the same thing and provide that improve quality of life for all of our people.”
He said the NDP is saying to SVG that “where others are making empty and hollow promises because they do not know their A from their elbow, we know how to develop our society”.
SVG now has an opportunity to create income because many residents can earn money to take care of themselves by staying right in their homes.
‘an organic centre in the world’
“St. Vincent can become what we call in the New Democratic Party, an organic centre in the world.”
He said that Grenada is exporting nearly 20,000 pounds of soursop every month, adding that soursop is [touted as] a miracle food for which we can get tea bags and all kind of health foods.
Barbados does not have half the soil of SVG but is producing teabags from passion fruit all kind of things that SVG has a dime a dozen.
“There are so many things we have to do with our coconut and our flavours, there’s so much that we can be doing with our ginger and our spice, there is so much we can do with our mangoes, our guavas, our pawpaw, but they go rotten here, because you have a rotten government in office.”
Leacock said he has the training, knowledge and experience to deliver to the people of SVG a better quality of life.
“And I am happy, exceedingly happy and confident that I am under a good president and a distinguished team of men and women for a better St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
‘put people before self’
There is a need for the government to put people before self, the Central Kingstown MP said.
“You cannot have a country where, every year, the state, the government, improvises itself but at your expense. So that VAT may have started at 15 per cent and then it goes to 16 and then 17 and then 18. You pocket is getting more shallow, and the government’s pocket is getting deeper. It can’t work that way.”
He said it was never meant that the people would get poorer so that the government gets richer.
“The government’s responsibility is to improve the lot of all of you and not themselves. St. Vincent and the Grenadines is going in the wrong direction. You can’t also have a St. Vincent and the Grenadines in which, having enjoyed power or office for 10, 15, or 20 years … you feel it is you right to turn St. Vincent into a plantation or an estate and from you to son, to daughter, to uncle, to nennen, to tennen. No sankey nah sing so. Where horse reach, donkey would reach. And every one of our children have a right to be in the highest office in the land. And I say to you, in whatever remaining years of politics and commitment that I have, under the astute leadership of my president, I am giving you that solid commitment,” Leacock said.