By Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk”, Nov. 1, 2019)
My departure from the ULP was long in coming. All that was left was timing.
Intolerance and demonisation of persons with opposing or contrary ideas and opinions; confusion and conflation of governing party’s interest with the national interest; the neglect of large swaths of the country and selective approval of the rule of law, are key reasons for my resignation. But this piece is personal because the people of South Leeward and SVG were robbed of the opportunity to elect a disciplined, committed and determined representative.
The 2013 invitation to join the party proved to be a ploy intended to silence me, rather than to utilise my training, experience and advocacy to assist in the development of our people and country. When it became clear that I could not be bought or silenced, the effort to deny me an elected seat in Parliament and to sideline and ostracise me, began in earnest.
I am a serious man who loves SVG. This is no mere rhetorical flourish that is so often mouthed by politicians. It is a commitment that comes from deep within my being, and one for which I am committed to die for. This is no idle boast. I have been serving this life sentence since I was 14 years old, and one which nothing — not money, fame, fortune, or women — could detour.
I really have no vices. Many accuse me of having a boring existence. I don’t eat meat, smoke, take or sell drugs, engage in money laundering, cheat clients in my law practice or the government of taxes due. I am a social drinker for whom three drinks are plenty. Except for my mouth and brain, which I did not leave in my mother, as well as advocacy of “unpopular causes”, there is nothing I say or do on which society will frown. I have a voracious appetite for reading and learning, criticism and self-criticism, and quite frankly, don’t suffer fools gladly.
I joined the ULP in 2013 because I was convinced, at the time, that it constituted the best avenue through which the people could realise some of their most basic dreams. My first central executive meeting was a revelation of what was to come. It lasted all of 171 minutes, of which Prime Minister Gonsalves spoke for 136; and so, it went on, whenever infrequent meetings were called.
At most meetings, I became either bored, nervous or angsty. From my YULIMO/UPM days, I had grown accustomed to challenging and testing my views against those of Renwick Rose, Adrian Saunders, Mike Browne, Oscar Allen, Caspar London and Ralph Gonsalves in a spirit of camaraderie. Not so with the ULP.
Before you could finish your thought, you were cut off in mid-sentence. There is only one fount of wisdom.
As the elections of 2015 approached, there was a concerted effort to steer me away from South Leeward and into West Kingstown, a constituency where I had neither presence nor electoral interest. The leader was committed to a candidate for South Leeward who had little or no chance of winning. My team out hustled the contender. A Peter Wickham pool in May 2015 showed that on all trending points, I was the choice of the people. That poll also indicated that I was ahead of the New Democratic Party incumbent Nigel Stephenson by a 49/48 percentage. Sadly, by July 2015, a top party official had predicted I had “no chance of winning”.
Edgar “Cookie” Cruickshank, who died tragicallys ubsequently, was convinced by the party leader I would not be the candidate and, therefore, must support my rival. When I emerged as the candidate, Cookie felt betrayed, became confused, and spent his last days campaigning against a leader and party he had once sworn to defend with his life.
The ULP activist we all know as Garfield “Coals” Joseph, who had welcomed my candidacy since, in his words, “what better man we could have to represent us than someone fighting for reparations”, admitted to members of my campaign team that he had been directed by the party leader not to support me. He became cold and was “fired up” to attack me in meetings and on radio. When he died, few followed him to the cemetery. No one from his Vermont community paid him a tribute. But I was there to witness how good sons and daughters of our people were used, abused, discarded and forgotten.
Every Nov. 15, I posted the following on Facebook page: “On this date in 2015, the ULP lost the South Leeward seat.” It is true. Jerry Scott had represented South Leeward for 17 years. He liked my advocacy, and on more than one occasion, implored me to return to SVG and contribute to national development. When I got into the race, I engaged Mr. Scott in quiet diplomacy. I knew he was estranged from the NDP and I wanted to keep him out of the campaign. I also knew that he was still loved and respected by many in the area. He committed not to do anything to affect my electoral chances. I, however, made the cardinal error of telling Dr. Gonsalves.
On Nov.15, 2015, at Clare Valley, the Prime Minister spent 14 minutes talking about how great Jerry Scoot was and that he would make him the point man for developing Campden Park into the 7th Town. On that night Mr. Scott received close to 100 calls accusing him of selling out to Ralph Gonsalves. On Nov. 22 at Campden Park, Mr. Scott, bending to pressure to prove he was not a sellout, mounted the NDP platform — for the only time in the campaign — and spoke for 11 minutes. It was enough. The old guard became convinced the old bull was in. The ULP handed the seat to NDP, and Stephenson won by 118 votes.
But there is more. Our campaign team also found that there were 83 known NDP supporters registered in South Leeward but who lived in West Kingstown. The party leadership was asked to make representation to the Supervisor of Elections to have them switched. Nothing was done. Seventy-one of these persons voted.
Because of the general lack of material support and inattention of the party leadership, I told Dr. Gonsalves in the presence of his wife and daughter: “I know you don’t want me to win, but I will still win.” We fell short through no fault of ours.
Since 2016, the nation has witnessed a jaundiced, venomous and scurrilous barrage against me. These persistent attacks were sponsored, sanctioned, coordinated and executed by the party leadership. Star Radio was the medium of delivery.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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