Opposition MP St. Clair Leacock says that while the National Insurance Services (NIS) has asked his New Democratic Party (NDP) not to approach pension reform as a political football, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has used the same reform discussion to attack the opposition, politically.
Leacock said he represented the opposition at a meeting with NIS representatives on Tuesday, at which they sought opposition buy-in to a bipartisan approach to the reforms, which must begin next year, if the NIS is going to avoid running out of money in 2034.
“… I warned them that it becomes a full political football because the leader of the land, the prime minister, always attempts to seize national matters and bring them into this place of politics,” Leacock said on Wednesday on New Times, his party’s talk show on NICE Radio.
“And within 24 hours of that conversation and I leaving the NIS, that is exactly what happened. He is leading the charge that NDP playing politics with NIS when it’s he who is playing politics with the NIS,” Leacock said of the prime minister.
“We have clear-eyed understanding and the solution which we will bringing to bear on it. And Dr. [Godwin] Friday will make that determination when he wants to lead that conversation,” he said, referring to the opposition leader and NDP president, who missed the meeting because he was overseas.
“And we understand what national responsibility means. But I took time out to point to a lot of things that should not stand,” Leacock said.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Gonsalves took the NDP to task as he sought to assure the nation that their NIS investments are safe despite the need for pension reform.
“But I’m telling the people that the NDP is known for big lies before Trump and low-level civil war. Low level. not Bosnia, not Rwanda but confusion and get people fighting, fighting in quotation marks over domestic politics,” Leacock said.
On Wednesday, Leacock, who is also MP for Central Kingstown, said that he had decided to approach as an academician his 90-minute discussion with Stuart Haynes, executive director of the NIS, and its actuary Dereck Osbourne the previous day.
He said his presentation was based on his academic experience and expertise rather than the NDP’s point of view in the absence of the party’s leader.
“The closing statement from the NIS actuary present, supported by the director of the NIS, was a plea, … for the New Democratic Party not to be political with the NIS matter,” Leacock said.
He said the actuary referred to Grenada where there was unanimity of the opposition and government when the reform proposal came before the Parliament.
“He just hoped that in St. Vincent and Grenadines, when these reform measures come, you’ll have a similar response,” Leacock said.
He said that he made “some very potent and significant contributions” in the discission and “may choose time to deal with it”.
Leacock said that he told the NIS team that some of what he was saying to them as an academician, he could not say on radio, on a political platform, or even in parliament “because it represents different challenges….
“This is what I said to the NIS: ‘it is so easy for me to pay attention to this parametric study that you’re talking about the NIS, because it has resonance with my own core discipline — management…”
He said the government cannot at the same time be saying that the NIS would go belly up in just over a decade if reforms are not undertaken but at the same time say all is well at the social security agency.
“The two things cannot coexist. And the reality is that NIS has a problem on its hands. And the problem requires statesmanship and proper decision-making to alleviate the problem in the interest of our pensioners and the people getting in to old age.”
He said that the NIS asked him personally to speak to their communications consultant and he discussed with the consultant the communication challenges the NIS has to overcome to get out of the situation.
Leacock said that there are things he would not say so as to respect the privacy of the meeting with the NIS officials.
He, however, said he told the NIS chairman and the visiting actuary that “where, trust is not present, communication will never flourish…
“If the people of St. Vincent and Grenadines don’t trust Ralph, if they don’t trust the director, if they don’t trust the NIS, they can talk from now til thy kingdom come, the people will not believe,” Leacock said.
“So don’t take the NDP and its leadership and Dr. Friday for granted and assume that you have some God-given rights of intelligence and you’re talking to school children or that you’re intimidating us into a course of defensive action.
“We will act in the way that is most appropriate for the success and progress of the New Democratic Party and the liberation of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, from your hands and your tyranny.
“This is a time people have to stand up, you know. This is a time we have to stand to Ralph E. Gonsalves, that we are not going to be a creature of his own making on his plantation and he will manipulate all of us into a state of fear and paralysis, that we can do nothing about ourselves.”
Leacock said that when the then National Commercial Bank was in trouble and needed to be privatised, the then manager met with then Opposition Leader and NDP president, Arnhim Eustace and sought their support in averting a run on the bank.
He said Eustace decided to act in the interest of the bank so as to preserve the small deposits held by thousands of poor Vincentians.
“That same bank would later turn around and bite Mr. Eustace’s hand and almost suggest that they never sought him out for his assistance or sought out the assistance of the New Democratic Party,” Leacock said.
He said that one more time, the NDP finds itself in a situation “in which it has to act with great prudence and national responsibility.
“And the question that always pops up in these circumstances is the one that I was captured in song by the Ipa. To what extent you always can put country before party?”