— PM says sailors formed network and voted against his party
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is claiming that most of the Vincentian sailors who were in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on election day, Nov. 5, having been furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic, voted against his government.
“Despite what I did for the sailors, objectively, most of them voted against the ULP. Life really ain’t fair eh,” he said on his weekly appearance on NBC Radio on Wednesday.
Gonsalves, whose Unity Labour Party secured an historic fifth consecutive term in office in the general elections, winning an additional seat to take nine in the 15-member Parliament, said that the sailors formed a network across the country and galvanised against him.
He said that during the campaign, he met some sailors “who were vehemently opposed to me”.
The prime minister said that the sailors complained that his government had taken too long to allow them to come home after the pandemic was declared.
Gonsalves said he responded by saying he had to bring the sailors home “and not to be bullied” by the cruise ship or the oil rig companies.
“I said, ‘I brought you all in, the cruise ship were the ones who were playing the fool.’
“I said, ‘As long ago as April the 20th I sent them the legal opinion which I had. I repeat it all the time that we are the only government that went out of the blocks with a legal opinion from the attorney general, which legal opinion was confirmed and even extended by CARICOM.’”
The prime minister said he told the sailors that he was acting on the basis of international law “to make sure that things were done properly and to protect everybody”.
Among the demands that Gonsalves made as a condition of return of the sailors was that the cruise companies pay for their quarantine in hotels on their return.
Gonsalves said he told the sailors with whom he interacted during the campaign that they were being “unreasonable”.
“I say, ‘The opposition, at first, was saying to keep you all out. I say no; citizenship counts for something I have to bring you home but I have to bring you home in accordance with certain protocols.’ Then they say I must open the floodgates. I say, ‘Open the floodgates for what? You are a high-risk group. To create a problem? But they are blaming me and not the companies and they are not giving credit for what we have done.”
He said that the sailors also complained that the government was only giving them EC$300 in unemployment benefit.
“‘We need more than $300 because what we contribute’,” Gonsalves quoted the sailors as saying.
“I say, ‘Explain to me something, how can I give you more than $300 when that is what I give from the Treasury to an ordinary worker from the hotel or elsewhere who lose their job?’
“‘I say how could you justify getting more than them?’
“He said well, you have a point, I never look at it that way.’ And then he say, ‘Anyway, you should still give us more.’ He understood but yet I must give.
“I can’t deal with that kind of illogic. I even had to say to the person, I say, ‘The farmers haven’t gotten their first $500 yet and you have gotten several months of $300. Now, the $300 is not intended as a living wage. But is just to kind of help you.’
“And they form a network across the country, I am telling you, who opposed me,” Gonsalves said of the sailors.
He said that he was willing to bring the sailors home “when it was the NDP … was saying don’t bring them home, lock it down tight like a drum, on April the 7th and [I] insisted, no, I must bring them….
“But God is good and I will continue to support the sailors in everything, despite the fact that they unfair me at the polls on the basis of what they felt that I should have done, that I wanted to keep them out at sea, which is absolutely untrue,” Gonsalves said.
He said he has “several letters, several emails from sailors expressing appreciation for what I have done, but, you know, is life eh.
“You win some you lose some,” Gonsalves further said, adding that it is the first time he had spoken publicly about the matter.
“But I’ll tell you this. It’s one of the things in politics that even when you implement good policy, sensible policy and helpful policy for people, sometimes, they turn around and kick you in the pants, but there it is. You can’t do anything other than what you have to do, do it right and proper. I brought them home and I protected them, their families and the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said.