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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” July 14, 2023)

In his quest for a sixth consecutive term in office, Gonsalves may be knocked out on election night, but he is preparing to go down fighting or come out triumphant.

Last Wednesday, Gonsalves continued his mid-term tradition of shuffling and shaking, thus presenting new, fresh, young faces to the voting public. He nominated Benarva Browne as a senator and endowed her with the ministerial post of Urban Development, Seaports, Airports, Energy, Local Government and Grenadines Affairs.

Browne, 33, replaces Senator Julian Francis, a skilled and combative debater and the party’s chief political whip in Parliament, who occupied his parliamentary and ministerial posts since the ULP came to power in 2001. Francis, 71, was stricken with a stroke last July and must have told his cousin and political leader that he had had enough.

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Significantly though, Browne joins Keisal Peters, minister of foreign affairs, as yet another young “jewel” in Gonsalves’ experimental mantelpiece. Peters has nightmarish dreams of defeating Daniel Cummings in the next elections. Rumour has it that Browne, an urban planning professional, is politically ambitious and may be angling to push aside Attorney General Grenville William to tackle Nigel Stephenson for the South Leeward constituency. Whosoever emerges as Labour candidates will lose, but the appointments show that Gonsalves’ ability and passion for wooing up-and-coming professionals remain unabated. Williams joined the administration in November 2022. Last May, Hospital Administrator Grace Walters was nominated as the ULP candidate for North Windward.

In all of these reshuffling over the years, the party favourite to replace Gonsalves, as reflected in the “Caesar!  Caesar!” chant at the party’s last convention, Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar continues to receive Gonsalves’ perfect middle finger. Carlos James at Tourism and Culture, Keisal Peters at Foreign Affairs, and Benarva Browne have all been given substantive, high-profile ministries. Caesar continues his banishment at agriculture, whose halcyon days Gonsalves has repeatedly said are in the past.

With the announcement that Francis will take up a position as a special advisor to the prime minister, Gonsalves continues the tradition of offering cushy sinecures as retirement packages to his loyal servants. He tends his flock well. Sir Vincent was a special adviser long into his 80s; Sir Louis Straker is a special advisor; Rene Baptiste is the great helmsman at VINLEC; Elvis Charles is at Housing and Land Development Corporation; Debbie Charles is the new Clerk of the House of Assembly.

And the band continues to play ULP’s anthem, “Feathering the Nest”.  While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with hiring politically connected people to positions of power and authority, these postings must never be done so that some can “continue to eat ah food”.

Grace Walters’ nomination as ULP candidate with more than two years before elections are due is a troubling development. A senior public servant, Walters should be a model of professionalism and independence. How does she relate to known opposition activists or politicians who approach her for information and advice at the hospital? She can properly be charged with carrying a partisan agenda even as she holds a significant position in the public health sector.  Debbie Charles’ appointment as Clerk of the House of Assembly is equally troubling. The clerk’s position has historically been a civil service post. For the first time in living memory, it has now taken on a political flavour. Will Charles, a known minion of Gonsalves, bring the traditional and expected civil servant ‘objectivity’ to the post?

Is this how our government should be run?

There is a lot in Gonsalves’ style of leadership to frown on. Over the last 20 years, he has remodelled, some say dismantled, all state institutions, particularly the police force and the civil service. His tentacles dig deeply into Central Water and Sewage Authority, BoSVG, Port Authority, VINLEC, Financial Intelligence Unit and the Financial Service Authority. This pervasive meddling cannot be in the best interest of good administration. Favouritism and party affiliation are the central criteria for advancement in the public sector. Gonsalves may go down in history as the most intrusive, meddlesome and destructive. It may take decades to resurrect a transparent, functioning, efficient and effective state bureaucracy.

Because of the destabilisation, dislocation and wreckage Gonsalves has caused to the state institutions, all of his recent manoeuvrings may come to nought. Increasingly, more citizens see the window dressing as just that: new wine in old, dirty bottles. 

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and 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].

7 replies on “Gonsalves pours new wine in old bottles”

  1. Urlan Alexander says:

    Very well captioned. Don’t forget Jerrol Thompson was a given an advisory role to government as well before he was made head of the highpaying job at the cannabis authority. Jerrol building at Montrose is rented as an extension of a government ministry. This never went out to tender. If this is not double standard and corruption tell what is. The Gonsalves administration is at a point now where he beleives the party is invincible. In his heart he might even beleives like Milton Cato that his government is the strongest in the world. But like Cato he is at the end of the road.
    Being able to attract young candidates is easy once you’re in government and can make them lucrative offers. However putting the young ones to work in the national interest and showing the result is another story. Sabato, Carlos,, Luke and Camillo et al what have they done for us in svg to be proud of?
    As the caption says new wine in old bottles is well appropriate and as Boyea once said..”Same old khaki pants.”

  2. Take warning says:

    Strongly agree with the content of this article , . and every conscious minded person will. In my opinion the writer had two good opportunities to put that evil wicked dictator in his place. . When it was said , you have me in yo craw and with the vote of the no confidence ..

  3. Percy Palmer says:

    Jomo, you are right on! You have to do more to stop Ralph from winning again. Why is he giving many ministerial positions to unelected folks? He probably believes the elected candidates are all DUMMIES. He packed Camillo’s bag with lots so things and as you has reposted and leaves Saboto with an empty cupboard.
    The NDP should go after the candidates Ralph skipped over and offer them ministerial positions. For example NDP can offer the Central Leeward candidate minister of Health and Welfare. This candidate doesn’t have anything to fear because that seat is a Labour seat and not an ULP seat.
    ZION-I has brought out many bad and evil things during Ralph’s reign and his video has close to 40K which is close to SVG population of 100K.
    Jomo you have to do much more because you were there as is demonstrated in the following video. Nobody is asking you to join the NDP but you owe it to the country to help them defeat Ralph.
    https://youtu.be/wdee3b1oQhA

  4. Well said Jomo, wake up Vince people , you all a bin sleeping too long, it’s time to have your coffee, and taste the difference

  5. In a two party system everyone have some level of bias, you were a ulp candidate then you were the speaker of the house, as the speaker were you a Gonsalves minian or were you able to but you partisan bias aside and act impartially as the roll requirers you so to do. You were nominated for the post by Gonsalves was it so the you can eat ah food. One must remember that we are a small country with a small work force and cast someone aside because of there affiliation to a party even when they have the skillset and professionalism to do the roll is to our countries detriment.

  6. Jomo you can talk all you want but i tell you no one is going to defeat the comrade in the next election, Six in a row, six in their rectum.

  7. Take warning says:

    Ar yo never win but ar yo never loose either, ar we know how fo RIG, TEEF, BRIBE,, and Cuba and Venezuela technology and by what ever other means.

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