Opposition Leader Godwin Friday has rejected Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ likening of the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) time in opposition to a jail sentence.
“I mean, who talks like that?” Friday said on Monday on his weekly appearance on the NDP’s “New Times” on NICE Radio.
“I have been elected to serve the people of the Northern Grenadines consistently, with large majorities all the time,” said Friday, who has been representing that constituency since 2001.
“Other members of the New Democratic Party have been elected to serve their constituencies, others have put themselves forward and continue to do service, elected or not. Service to our people can never be considered a jail sentence,” Friday said.
At a July 28 press conference, Gonsalves sought to link major developments in the country — including the gunning down of five men in Kingstown on July 19 –to the workings of “foreign political operatives”, who he said were not linked to his Unity Labour Party (ULP).
“I’m telling you, follow your eyes to what is happening in this country and don’t worry about the naysayers who want to pull down St Vincent and the Grenadines; those who can’t stand the fact that they have been out of office,” Gonsalves said.
“Twenty-five years in opposition make men brain addle,” the prime minister further stated, adding, “It’s a long jail sentence, metaphorically speaking. And when you see the prospect, you’re going to get another long period…”
Gonsalves spent 15 years contesting election before winning a seat and a further seven in opposition before coming to office.
The NDP, which came to office in 1984, has been in opposition since 2001, when it lost the vote to the Gonsalves-led ULP.
But Friday rejected Gonsalves’ view that the NDP’s time in opposition was akin to a jail sentence.
“I don’t care whether you’re in opposition, whether you’re doing it as a teacher, whether you’re doing it as a member of government, then anyone who thinks like that is thinking only of themselves and not thinking about service. They’re just thinking, ‘I can only serve if I am at the top, if I am calling the shots, if I can decide who gets this and who gets that.’”
He said that perhaps the “jail sentence” that is referred to is “an indication of the mindset that is brought to governance because … NDP supporters cannot expect to have any kind of treatment from the government, if they don’t vote for the government in place to get good treatment.
“Because if you’re thinking that is a jail sentence, that is one conclusion that persons reasonably can draw and say, ‘Well, listen, this is how the government is going to treat me.’”
The opposition leader noted that the NDP won the majority vote in the November 2020 general elections and said the approach suggested by Gonsalves’ comment should not be the attitude towards governance.
“… many people see it in the way that this ULP has governed. If it is evident in the way they govern, then you know it is a sad state as to how governance is treated by those in power now, that power is what matters; not service,” Friday said.
“Just think about that. I have been in Parliament all the time, the same time, the same length of time, longer than many of them will have been there, providing service. And somehow that is discounted as being a jail sentence, metaphorically; imprisonment.
“So, the only service that matters is if you are the boss. I don’t believe in that. Because if we do that, then we are telling people all around the country, that all work that they do on behalf of others not expecting any reward, not expecting any claim, not expecting people to call them ‘World Boss’ or anything else, that that service is somehow discounted; that only when you are the boss that you are you are to be recognised.”
During the campaign for the 2020 general elections, Gonsalves styled himself the “World Boss”.
Friday said that Gonsalves’ jail sentence comment does not really faze him.
“I just thought that it needed a comment because it struck me as being so odd for somebody who says that they are representing people to call that representation, to refer to it in such a negative way…
“I have seen the time that I have served in the New Democratic Party, served my constituency, as an honour… I feel so special and honoured that my people here who vote for me here in my constituency, continue to support me over and over again, more and more opposition or not that they have faith and confidence in me,” Friday said.
“I feel blessed that people have that confidence in me. And of course, when we form government, and we will, then we will be able as well to do more in the service of those people and the people of the entire country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Nobody has to feel that they are suffering a jail sentence because an NDP is in office; everybody will be treated as though they are entitled to the fruits of their labour and what we produce in this country together,” Friday said.
“That is how I intend to govern. That is how anyone who puts him or herself forward in service, that is how they should govern. And that is how they should approach it and that’s how they should speak of it — as an honour. And I do regard it as such.”
He said Gonsalves’ comment proves more and more that he is “out of touch.
“He’s in a bubble that he’s been there for too long and he just simply can’t connect with the people. He just cannot connect with the people because he’s just simply not able to empathise, to see how that service that is required, how it is appreciated, how it is relied upon, how people recognise it as something that they have entrusted upon us. And they expect us to revere it and to treat them with the same respect that they are treating us by electing us,” the opposition leader said.
“And so, I will continue to serve. And we will continue to serve the people of this country, the best of our ability, in whatever capacity we are. But, naturally, when we do form government soon, we will be able to do a lot more to extend that service in a more effective way because we will have the means to do things that we see that are necessary in this country to improve the economy, to create jobs for our people, especially those young people,” Friday said.