Former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell is at one with Opposition Leader and President of the New Democratic Party (NDP), which he founded, on that building a new parliament building during the COVID-1p pandemic “is wrong”.
Parliament last month approved, without opposition support, the borrowing of US$20 million for a new national assembly complex, a hall of justice and a temporary Parliament building to be used during the construction of its replacement.
Sir James, who had been at loggerheads with former NDP leader, Arnhim Eustace, who is MP for East Kingstown, is said to be having a better relationship with the party since the former prime minister and opposition leader was replaced by Godwin Friday four years ago.
“… my business is communicating with the people. I want to get a result,” Sir James said Tuesday on Boom FM.
“Now, first of all, let me give you a statement recently made by Dr. Friday, about borrowing $54 million dollars to do a parliament building. And he has said, and I quote, ‘$54 million loan now for building a parliament building during the COVID crisis is the wrong thing at the wrong time and it shows that the government is out of touch with the people’s feelings.’ I am one hundred per cent in support,” he said.
Sir James, who was prime minister from 1984 to October 2000, said he is concerned that the Unity Labour Party could have “the effrontery to say they want a new building, and they’re not allowing a no-confidence motion to go”.
He was referring to the decision of then House Speaker Jomo Thomas to allow the government to amend a motion of no confidence, a constitutional provision, and turning it into a motion of confidence in January 2018.
Sir James said:
“I am concerned about democracy and I will support democracy in this country. And I will go all the way to ensure that democracy thrives in this country. And I will be silent when I choose to be silent, and I will speak when I want to speak.”
“Democracy is not a building,” the 89-year-old retired politician said.
“Like some people say, you got this thing here, a beautiful setup here. But without Bing, what’s the use of all this equipment,” he said, referring to the radio studio and the host of the programme on which he was a guest.
“Democracy is a very important element of our society. And you look at this situation with no confidence motion when Jomo Thomas did not allow it. And when he then apologized, I advised the party when people saying ‘carry it back’, I said, ‘No, don’t carry it back. Let that be his legacy for life as a destroyer of the democratic process.
“And we have got to ensure how we deal with the democratic process,” Sir James said.
He said he was alone in opposition “pretty well for 10 years” and had to fight against six lawyers alone — Prime Minister Cato, Hudson Tannis, Arthur Williams, Grafton Isaacs, St. Clair Dacon and Taffy Woods…”
He said that one night, while in opposition, he exited parliament to meet his car tyres slashed.
“I know what democracy is like. And I know the struggles in opposition to fight against the government using the Treasury indiscriminately for advancing a particular cause. And I am very upset about those kinds of things. And I am concerned about policies, etc.”
He said that close to independence in 1979, then prime minister Cato wanted to get a new Parliament building, which the British wanted to fund.
Sir James said that British consultants went to see me in Bequia and they presented their proposals.
“I looked at them. I said, ‘Gentlemen, what you have here is not as elegant as what we already have. And when I formed government, I am going back into the old building, because this rubbish you have here, I’m going to use it as a Magistrate’s Court’ and that buried the project because we have to recognise our history and say where you’re going.”
The Parliament is still located in the 200-year-old building in Kingstown that also houses the High Court.
NDP Chairman Daniel Cummings has accused the government of neglecting the building for the past 20 years.
The opposition had initially supported the loan before the COVID-19 pandemic but has since said that using the money this way during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic would be insensitive.
Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves had defended the loan, saying such spending could help to stimulate the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.