MP for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock is questioning the “genius” of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who recently said that loan agreements his government has signed with Taiwan have “put a hook in the gill of anybody” who wants to break Kingstown-Taipei ties.
Gonsalves made the statement as he signed with Taiwan an agreement under which Taipei has lent Kingstown EC$120 million for road repairs to be spent through 2027.
The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), of which Leacock is a vice-president, announced in 2016 that it would break ties with Taiwan if elected to office.
In March, Honduras ended its 82-year diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and established ties with China, becoming the sixth Latin American nation to do so in recent years.
This leaves Taiwan with 13 diplomatic allies located mainly in the Caribbean and the Pacific.
China regards Taiwan as a rogue province and has not ruled out the use of force as part of its long-term plant to reunite the self-ruled island with the rest of China.
The NDP has not formally renounced the One China Policy it adopted in 2016 but public statements by senior party officials, including Leacock, have suggested that the NDP is no longer committed to the position or is willing to review it.
The issue came up again in Parliament on April 4, when MP for East Kingstown, Fitz Bramble, a first-term lawmaker, as well as Daniel Cummings, the NDP’s chairman, who is into his third term as MP for West Kingstown, spoke favourably about Taiwan.
The following day, Gonsalves, at the signing ceremony, noted that Taiwan’s loans to SVG have risen from EC$99.7 million last September to EC$577.9 million.
He said the loan amount is likely to increase to between EC$700-EC$800 million by the next general elections, which are constitutionally due in March 2026.
The prime minister said that the loan agreements include a clause which he said means that SVG would have to pay back the total outstanding loan amount immediately if it severs ties with Taiwan.
Leacock commented on the prime minister’s comments on Wednesday during his weekly appearance on the NDP’s “New Times” on NICE Radio.
He said the point that Cummings and Bramble were trying to make is that the NDP “has no quarrel with Taiwan”.
Leacock, however, said he was not going to be drawn into commenting on the situation where the party had announced support for China under then NDP leader, Arnhim Eustace, who has since retired from politics.
Leacock said that the party’s current leader, Godwin Friday, who is also leader of the opposition, “would represent us properly in those conversations”.
He, however, said that what Gonsalves was saying was that his government had built on the relationship with Taiwan, which Leacock noted the NDP had maintained for 17 years while in office.
“But, the point that he wanted to emphasise was that today, the existing debt with Taiwan is in excess of $500 million,” Leacock said, noting the prime minister’s projection for the loan portfolio.
“But, … what he’s suggesting is that the wording, the language, the contractual language, the legal language that is contained in the agreement as it is now is as such that you can’t get out of that,” Leacock said.
“And I think his language ah put a hook in the language. Solve that if you could, you so-called bright NDP people. That is, there is no way out of this. In fact, that the central theme that the NDP would want to identify or refocus, but there’s nothing in life anybody can get out of, even with sovereign debt…” Leacock further said, adding that this is “not the concentration” of the NDP.
Leacock reminded the public that Gonsalves was not always a supporter of SVG-Taiwan ties, adding that former NDP spokesman, the late E.G. Lynch had repeatedly reminded the public that Gonsalves had criticised the NDP for maintaining ties with Taiwan.
Leacock said that while in opposition, Gonsalves had described Taiwan “as a repressive, a renegade organisation”.
He said the prime minister might think that “enough people not around who remember these things,” adding, “But he wasn’t always of this view, and that’s when he was ripping Sir James Mitchell apart for continuing where Cato had left off, where Mitchell continued in the same path…”
Milton Cato’s St. Vincent Labour Party administration established Kingstown-Taipei ties in 1981, two years after SVG gained independence and Sir James Mitchell continued the diplomatic relations under the NDP from 1984 to 2001, when Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party came to office.
“And, in the fullness of time, all of this will be resolved properly. We have no quarrels with Taiwan; absolutely none,” Leacock said, adding that he was “not deepening that conversation” and re-emphasised that Friday would do so.
“But, our prime minister, for all of his brilliance and professorial eloquence, is watching Vincentians in the face and telling us that what he has succeeded in doing for the last 22 years is building a modern post-colonial economy — I ain’t going on to the rest of it — many sided, multi-sided — the word that comes to mind, ‘jackassish’ but that is not for radio.
“But to borrow one of the expressions he likes to use, he must be really take us for a cunumunu (fool). He like that word too. What in St. Vincent’s economy today really represents us to be modern and post-colonial?”
As at Sept. 30, 2022, the total public debt amounted to EC$2,166,560,802 — a 4.1% increase over the total disbursed debt for the comparative period in 2021.
The public debt comprises domestic debt of EC$555 million or 25.6% of the total; external debt EC$1.61 billion or 74.4% of the total.
Leacock said that the prime minister was admitting that one-third of the external debt was to a particular country, namely Taiwan.
“Does that make you some brilliant genius? And your projection that in the next two, three years you will get up to a billion dollars by which time the national debt for St. Vincent will be around $2 billion. So, if you have that time, it will be about 50% of your debt would be to a particular country. Does that make you brilliant? How come? How come? And by what logic? What reason?
He asked what was the return on investment of the monies owed to Taiwan.
“Or let me put it another way, how come … that with a half a billion dollars investment by a particular source you find yourself at a stage where your national insurance scheme is bellying-up, is going broke?”
The government has said that reform of the National Insurance Services (NIS) must come by next year if “draconian changes”, such as doubling contribution rates from 10 to 20% are to be avoided.
Leacock said the NIS should be the best reflection of economic growth, “where industry and enterprise have led to employment opportunities of a kind that the base of the economy is so rich with young people coming into the marketplace, that the larger numbers, the larger in quantity and quality of income that they are supporting the apex of the economy, the older generation who are going home into deserving retirement.
“But the national insurance scheme doesn’t say that. It is saying the dance can’t pay for the light and that only happens when you are a blight. That’s what it is basically saying: the dance can’t pay for the light is an indication when you are a blight,” he said.