Opposition politician St. Clair Leacock is calling on Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to stop using government events “to enter into the realm of political mischief and maligning of people”.
Leacock made the call on radio last week, days after Gonsalves used a government events to comment on statement Leacock had made about prostitution in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Last month, Leacock said on radio that he was in a particular area of St. Vincent when he heard a woman say that she had provided a sexual service for a man who promised to pay, but had not done after three months.
The MP also said he had heard people boast about being able to get sex in return for a pack of Shirley biscuits — which retails for less than EC$5.
“That is to highlight how naked poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is,” the Central Kingstown MP said, adding that there are household in the country that have no income at all and, in some instances, mothers encourage their daughters in relations of a kind that would help to support the household income.
“The harsh truth is that a lot of people in St Vincent and the Grenadines have to prostitute themselves to make ends meet, and to survive in this country,” Leacock said.
However, speaking at a government event in Orange Hill on Sept. 1, Gonsalves suggested that the people Leacock had spoken about had been joking.
Gonsalves further said that Leacock spoke those “wayward and ridiculous things” and his party had said what Leacock said was true.
The prime minister went on to say that of the 67,000 voters in the country, 34,000 are women and two-thirds of women in SVG go to church on the weekend.
“You want to tell me the pilgrims at prayer, … is bare prostitute you have inside ah the church?” Gonsalves said and asked whether the women in the churches are “whores”.
He said that Leacock and the NDP had spoken “a defamation” against women and girls in the country and those that “he called prostitutes would give them a licking and send him packing at the next general elections.
Leacock responded to the prime minister on radio last week saying that in making the initial statement, his general line of argument was that because such a high proportion of our people do not have an income source that can maintain “a sense of independence, a sense of self respect, … it does force some people, regrettably — not that they’re bad people — into compromising situations”.
He said this was the case for men and women.
Leacock, who is a vice-president of the New Democratic Party, said that across SVG, “you’ll find serious incidences and pockets of prostitution … arising out of the extreme poverty that the very Prime Minister spoke about, or, as the poverty report has captured”.
After the April 2021 eruption of La Soufriere, the prime minister told a United Nations fund-raising event that there are high rates of poverty in SVG.
A leaked 2018 poverty assessment report that became public in 2020, showed that between 2008 and 2018, poverty in SVG moved from 30.2% to 36.1% of the population.
During the same period, the indigence level had moved from 2.9% to 11.3% in the country of 110,000 people.
Leacock said that when people cannot provide for themselves, other lifestyles become attractive, adding “and we also see what’s happening in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where every Monday morning we have lawlessness”.
He was apparently referring to the recent spate of killings in SVG, which has recorded 31 homicides this year.
The opposition lawmaker said he was “most surprised”, having made his statement about prostitution, to have received a media clip “of a person — I almost said gentleman — gone mad, almost mirroring senility, ascribing onto me comments that I didn’t make and suggest that I was in fact imputing or implying or accusing women in the Catholic Church, the Pentecostals, Evangelicals and I was referring to women by derogatory terms and expressions and so on and so forth, none of which I did. I was really taken aback.”
He said that not lost on his was “that vicious attack and assault on my person” by Gonsalves at a government event held to hand over houses to citizens.”
“And I don’t understand how having constructed his own straw man, his own argument, how what I said could have gone on to be an indication that come the next general elections, the people of Central Kingstown will reject me out of hand,” said Leacock, who is into his third five-year term as MP for Central Kingstown.
“Now, that is the right of the people of Central Kingstown to decide any and every occasion when they have had enough of me as a representative.
“But there are things that are called government occasions and there are things that are called party occasions. And Ralph is not to spend the taxpayers money or the public purse and to use those occasions to enter into the realm of political mischief and maligning of people. I will clearly answer him,” Leacock said.
The MP said that if he gets a sense that his constituents no longer want him to represent them, he would not wait for an election but would support a new NDP candidate in the district.
Leacock further challenged Gonsalves to leave North Central Windward, for which he has been MP since 1994, and challenge him in Central Kingstown in the next general elections.