Former Speaker of the House of Assembly, activist Jomo Thomas, on Monday, fired back, saying Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves should take his own advice and “just shut his mouth”.
“If the ULP leadership knew anything about communications, they would take Prime Minister Gonsalves advice to me and shut up,” Thomas, a former senator under Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration, said on Boom FM.
“Because for every second, they carry on with what they’re carrying on with, everybody pulls out a microscope … and they zoom in on what the issue of bleaching is,” said Thomas, a lawyer and journalist.
“And if you ask me, … because they persist in raising this issue, even aliens have now pulled out their telescopes and are trying to see what is this issue on the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. So, PM Gonsalves, if he does not want a public relations nightmare, should just shut his mouth,” Thomas said.
Thomas was speaking on Boom FM one day after Gonsalves, speaking on WE FM, defended his newly minted Minister of Foreign Affairs, Senator Keisal Peters, saying that she “emphatically does not bleach her skin”.
In his commentary on Boom FM last Thursday, Thomas, a former chair of the Reparation Committee that Gonsalves had set up, alleged that Peters is bleaching her skin and asked how she would address the issue of reparation at the United Nations or other international fora.
“She is a strong, bright, beautiful black woman who emphatically does not bleach her skin,” the prime minister said.
“… he doesn’t know anything about her skin, so he must just shut up and not degenerate in this kind of a nasty puerile manner…” Gonsalves said, adding that Thomas made the comments because Peters belongs to the ULP, which Thomas left.
In 2015, Thomas represented the ULP in South Leeward in the general elections, but lost to Nigel “Nature” Stephenson of the opposition New Democratic Party.
Thomas was then appointed Speaker of the House of Assembly, but quit the ULP in October 2019 and resigned as speaker in February 2020.
“We have so many serious issues to deal with in this country … and what look at where he gone — about something he doesn’t know and just wash his mouth, in this nasty way, in the gutter, against this beautiful, talented, patriotic black women of the highest quality,” Gonsalves said.
But Thomas questioned Gonsalves’ moral authority to accuse other people of engaging in “gutter politics”.
“I mean, I don’t know why he talks about people engaging in gutter politics. Gonsalves? Gutter politics? Look in the damn mirror,” Thomas said.
“Who says that Bassy was a ‘nasty dutty dog’? Could you go any lower than that? Who says that Bayliss sent away a girl and she came back a boy? Could you go lower than that? Who said that Anesia Baptiste was a nappy head girl? How do you go low?” Thomas said, referred to some of the derogatory terms that the prime minister has used over the years to describe his political opponents.
“But when they go low, as Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama, said, I swing higher and higher and higher. I don’t need to go to the depths that these guys go.”
Thomas, who also writes a weekly commentary that is published in a number of local media outlets and a weekly radio show on WE FM, said he has “a consistent record of speaking.
“I speak on every single issue of national importance in this country,” he said.
“So when Gonsalves talks about oh there are so many issues, well, if he is talking about unemployment. I speak on it time and time again. That the World Bank says we have 47% youth unemployment. If we talk about poverty, I speak about it time and time again — that the report which they have hidden, the government has hidden from the population, says that we have 37% of our population living in poverty.
“If we’re talking about violence against women, I speak about it. If we’re talking about violence by the police against citizens, I speak about it. So I have been consistent in speaking about important issues that the authorities want to push under the rug,” Thomas said.
“So, I don’t have any time at all for sideshows because I’ve been doing this for a long time. But this is like a life sentence for me. So, I’m in a kinda Bob Marley mood this morning. What Bob Markey says again? ‘Ambush in the night.’ Remember that song? They can’t make me surrender though. All guns pointed at me but they can’t make me surrender because I committed to stand on the side of the people. And that’s where I will stand,” Thomas said.
During his stint as house speaker, Thomas in August 2017 flagged the issue of skin bleaching in SVG, telling Parliament there was “a looming health crisis as it relates to the issue of bleaching”.
Commenting on the issue then, Gonsalves told Parliament that he agreed with Thomas “one hundred per cent…
“There are views that it be banned, but let’s talk about it as to see if the bleaching should be banned or not,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister, however, said that a point to be noted was that “it goes beyond that.
“I mean, if you start to ban those for bleaching, are you going to ban these hair pieces?” Gonsalves said to laughter.