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Jomo Thomas

Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)

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By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” April 1, 2022)

Warning!

If we were to take the ULP leadership at its word that a revolution was initiated with its electoral triumph and ascendancy to the corridors of power in 2001, it would be equally fair to say that a virtual counter-revolution is unfolding before our eyes as Gonsalves celebrate 21 straight years as Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines. 

You can’t make this up. It is true. It is real and quite damaging to the legacy of PM Gonsalves, who stormed into power with so much promise. One will have to judge Gonsalves’ current performance on the broadest political spectrum to maintain that he governs as the heralded progressive this nation embraced on March 28, 2001. 

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Only the diehard ULP loyalists, the most unabashed cynic and change agents nostalgically yearning for a star to steer by, can foolhardily claim that we got what we bargain for. It is sadly disheartening to look on as Gonsalves self-destructs before our very eyes.

The man who promised so much now presides over an increasingly undemocratic government. In 1998, Gonsalves drafted and published in THE VINCENTIAN newspaper a foreboding indictment of James Mitchell’s government entitled “Fear Stalks the Land”.  The letter detailed the many ways in which the then governing New Democratic Party captured government machinery and despoiled the body politic. 

It was a passionate and compelling manifesto for change.  The people bought the message, and evolution did come. So confident was Gonsalves that when challenged, he declared, “We are the change.” His use of power and authority best discloses the heart of a man. If he is not awestruck by power, say Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, he is bound to misuse it. We offer up Gonsalves as exhibit A. 

Rather than salve the nation’s yearning for an improved and more perfect democracy, Gonsalves punishes those who adopt his very advocacy methods to challenge what they perceive to be his misdeeds. We are guided by the maxim that while we may disagree with the stridency of your advocacy, in a democracy, we are committed to defending your right to legally enter and participate in the marketplace of ideas.

In present-day SVG, Gonsalves police snatch placards and drums from protesters, restrict the rights of citizens to protest and routinely arrest opposition activists on the most frivolous of charges, charges that are unsustainable in law and inevitably fizzle, are withdrawn or are dismissed by the law courts. His police brutalise, beat, shoot and kill young men, and the administration does not bother to investigate or hold a coroner’s inquest. Citizens report being stalked, their children taped by foreigners and the authorities turn a blind eye offering succour to suspected offenders.

The auditor discloses that over EC$95 million has been unaccounted for over five years. The government offered the disingenuous answer that our “Smart Stream” computer software intended to track and trace public finance is woefully inefficient and ineffective. We are none the wiser about whether the government’s money is being misappropriated. 

Increasingly, there is little or no consultation with citizens.  The manner in which 59 acres of national property at Richmond was leased to foreign investors without regard for the health, safety, financial and environmental wellbeing of Vincentians is clear proof of an uncaring government. Fortunately, there is a growing civic consciousness, which helps people push back against strong undemocratic tendencies. The public uproar over the Richmond quarry, the denial of planning approval for the destruction of the coral reef at Villa and the construction of a jetty at Layou are positive signs of what can be achieved when the people remain vigilant.

On top of all this is Gonsalves’ approach to law-making, his response to court rulings and declarations and his interpretation of the Constitution. In April 2020, Gonsalves passed the Miscellaneous Amendment Act. This act, reminiscent of the dread bills passed by the Labour Party in 1981, gives the minister the power to amend any law, including the Constitution. This amounts to a veritable power grab that transforms SVG from a society governed by laws to one ruled over by the whim and fancy of men.

The total effect of this thinking is boldly reflected in how the government dealt with the COVID mandates. Gonsalves cynically and callously declared, “No jab, and you lose your job!” Hundreds of teachers, nurses, police officers and other public servants were dismissed, thus creating a financial crisis that made worse the mental health emergency which pervades the land. Once heralded as a champion of workers, Gonsalves morphed in the Caribbean ayatollah on COVID matters. The ULP government vamped on sanitation workers forcing them to be vaccinated to ramp up vaccination numbers. Last month, Health Minister Jimmy Prince declared that the government made an error because the COVID mandate did not apply to sanitation workers. 

When the law courts make declarations adverse to Gonsalves’ government, he refuses to abide by the court’s orders. Ask to pay damages and costs, he and his finance minister stand in defiant contempt of court.

This resume is not pretty, but it’s worth stating that there were points of light over these 21 years. 

Let no one say that Plain Talk said Gonsalves’ tenure is all bad. Gonsalves remains the policy wonk, the steadying hand, the tactical and strategic genius of the ULP. He is still highly regarded by a dwindling band of supporters here and across the Caribbean.

Many change agents will remember him fondly for his government’s commitment and drive to “right historical wrongs”, the training of hundreds of nurses, universal secondary education, 100% mortgages for public employees which allowed them to buy their own homes, scholarships and financial assistance to hundreds of disadvantage citizens for university education, his efforts in CARICOM to protect and defend the sovereignty and independence of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela from the clutches of U.S. imperialism as well as taking the reparations cause for indigenous and African peoples for the genocide, the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, slavery and colonialism to CARICOM and the world.

Over the last two decades, there has been much chatter about revolutions in health, housing and education. The evidence is now in. Most conscientious Vincentians conclude that we got less than we bargained for and that Gonsalves now presides over an undemocratic counter-revolution.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

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6 replies on “Ralph Gonsalves’ counter-revolution”

  1. How many of those years were rigged? Is it 4 times? It is written, What is in darkness will one day must come to light and all what is concealed will be revealed. Its only a matter of time, time alone will tell.

  2. Duke DeArment says:

    Yes, of course Gonsalves has done many good things. It has, however become obvious that the Covid crisis has revealed the true face of many leaders. We can see from Canada and Australia, New Zealand and other places that in spite of how little Gonsalves cares about the aspirations of his own people, there are some that are worse. On the other side we see leaders such as DeSantis of Florida or Lukashenko of Belarus who put the people of their jurisdictions in first place, instead of power grabs and believing fake news and/or fake science. Gonsalves has done well knowing what is fake news, but he certainly fell for and continues to fall for, ( just like the opposition) fake science. Ignoring all real facts about Covid and believing Fauci has led us and may again lead us into big troubles in the future when they release more and worse viruses.

  3. Jomo, from now on I could leave all the commenting to you cause when and if I comment I have to defang the comment to the point of making it pointless. I often think that the free press is under siege over there. I agree with you that no one is saying Come-rod bang-gut is all bad, what we are mostly saying is with all the inequity going around SVG it is strange that the one man remains in power no matter what. This doesn’t seem natural to us. Another thing is that there is hardly ever news from the Grenadines They have all but sold off the best tourism real estate we have to the highest bidder and there is no end in sight.

  4. Mr PM they say time is longer than twine..your popularity is waning faster than expected. Vincies are waking up to the realities of life in our country under you leadership..not a pretty picture.

  5. Rawlston Pompey says:

    ASSERTIONS: …MORE THAN THOUGHT- PROVOKING

    Indeed, ‘PLAIN’ and straight-forward ‘TALK,’

    More Than Thought-Provoking.

    ASSERTIONS: ‘…Serious, heartwrenching and troublingly damning’ [Paragraph 7].

  6. Calliaquaman says:

    big Beam eye syndrome

    When i was growing, this saying was very widely used ‘ “Old wine in new bottle do not change the taste”

    “A man in New Suit do not change the Character of the man”

    “take pig from the gutter, but he will return because that is his environment. Dirty water.

    “Empty drums makes the most noise” There nothing inside than wind blowing in all direction and unstable. The core emptiness fills up., like a tinkling cymbal to be heard and repeat.

    The Man with big Beam syndrome in his eyes always try to mote out his brother eyes, but here is a refrain, “Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thy own eyes, so that you can see clearly to cast mote out of thy brothers eyes” bible Matt. 7: 1-5.

    Thanks Jomo, to put the brothers in Remembrance.

    My two Cents

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