Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says he stands by his decision to boycott the Budget Debate over last week’s decision by Speaker of the House of Assembly, Jomo Thomas, not to allow debate of a motion of no confidence in the Ralph Gonsalves government.
He told a press conference of his New Democratic Party in Kingstown on Wednesday what while persons are calling for opposition lawmakers’ salaries to be docked, he is prepared to lose his entire pay over what he presented as actions in defence of the nation’s Constitution.
“It was not a decision we took lightly. We had very many debates and discussions among ourselves and we had advice, we spoke to other people, we saw what happened elsewhere in the region, we saw what we did with respect of St. Kitts,” Friday told the conference.
The NDP president said that when the opposition in St. Kitts and Nevis had failed to have a similar motion debated in the federation’s assembly, his party had stood up for them.
“When I consider that we organised a protest [during the CARICOM heads of Government meeting] down at Buccament Bay, that the NDP went and brought this matter, in essence, shamed many of the governments in the region for not taking a stance against Denzil Douglas, we did that.
“We brought Timothy Harris here when he was in opposition, gave him a platform, he sat right in this room here with us as he thanked us for standing up for the people of St. Kitts, giving them a platform to defend their constitutional rights. How can we say to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines we will do less? I cannot, in good conscience do it. And I don’t care if the members of the government are upset about it,” Friday said.
Last week Wednesday, Jan. 31, the opposition failed to have its motion of no confidence debated, with the speaker allowing the government to make an amendment that turned it into a motion of confidence.
Thomas said on Facebook one day later that he had erred in that decision.
And, as the Budget Address was about to commence on Monday, opposition lawmakers presented to the Speaker a letter outlining why they thought his decision last Wednesday was “unconstitutional”.
The opposition lawmakers then walked out of the Parliament and the budget debate concluded Tuesday morning with only Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves, having spoken on it.
There have been calls for deductions to be made to opposition lawmakers’ pay because they stayed away from Parliament.
But this does not seem to be shaking Friday away from his position.
“I heard some of them say they are going to dock our pay. I will give up my entire salary if it means defending the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines… The main point is that we must recognise that there are rights and obligations that we, as a democracy, must uphold.
“Whenever these rights are being trampled upon, it doesn’t matter how powerful the person, how persuasive they are, how bellicose they are, people must stand up and if we, as the legislators, who know the significance of it, if we don’t give leadership in it, most of the people would just say let the Budget go; it’s fun, I like the debate last Wednesday, leh we have some more fun in the House.”
Friday was speaking about the three hours of debate in Parliament last week Wednesday as the speaker tried to decide how the national assembly should proceed on the motion of no confidence.
Some persons have said that they found the debate informative, while others said it was entertaining.
“It’s more than that,” Friday said. “It is much more serious than that. So that is why we took the stance that we did.”
He said that most people, when he explained the situation to them, said they think that the opposition made the right decision.
“Even so, I am still committed to the decision as the right one on behalf of the people. Sometimes, you have to take unpopular decisions if you think they are right. And this one, I believe it is popular and even if it weren’t, I’ll still do the same thing,” Friday told the media.