Opposition Leader Godwin Friday has a theory on why the PM was not in Parliament for the four hours that he spent on Tuesday responding to Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves’ EC$1.6 billion budget.
“As I said, I don’t know what he was doing. Maybe he was in the back, you know, correcting Camillo’s mistakes,” Friday said of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is the finance minister’s father.
On Tuesday, the PM told Parliament the figures that the finance minister presented in the budget on Monday were incorrect and made the tax increases appear to be of a larger percentage than they actually were.
Earlier on Tuesday, the opposition leader used the full four hours allotted to him to respond to the fiscal package.
At the end of his presentation, Central Kingstown MP, St. Clair Leacock, an opposition MP, noted that the prime minister was absent for the entirety of the opposition leader’s presentation.
Leacock noted to the speaker that the PM was also absent when the opposition leader spoke during the Estimates Debate in December.
“I think it is a serious act of contempt and effrontery for the leader of this country not to make himself amiable for an exercise for which he is in charge – the annual budget,” Leacock said.
“And I want you to know that we in the opposition, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, have taken note of his carrying this position of not engaging or not conversating — that’s my language — with the leader of the opposition, a step too far.
“He ought to find himself here and he owes this country an apology for his disgraceful behaviour and I want to be on record as so saying. It is an insult and an injury to this parliament of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Leacock said.
The prime minister has maintained since August 2021 that he will not speak to the leader of the opposition, who he has blamed personally for an injury he suffered while walking amidst a large crowd of people opposing his government COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Friday has denied any personal responsibility for the prime minister’s injury.
In response to Leacock’s comment in Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel said:
“The prime minister indicated to me that he had a very important meeting to attend.”
He said Leacock has a right to his opinion about the whereabouts of the prime minister “but the prime minister is very much deeply entrenched as to what is going on at the Parliament”.
On Wednesday, the opposition leader said he was grateful for Leacock’s comment, adding that the central Kingstown MP has always been vigilant.
“On this particular point, it’s disrespectful especially for the Prime Minister not to be present when the leader of the opposition is dealing with a particular bill, or with in this case, my four-hour presentation on the budget,” Friday said.
“For four hours, he wasn’t present in the house for one second,” Friday said, adding that he could only speculate about what the prime minister was doing.
He said the prime minister and finance minister were like a parent looking over their child’s homework
“… The finance minister couldn’t even get his sums right … when he presented one set of figures and the prime minister had to come and correct it, like you’re correcting your child’s homework.”
The opposition leader said that the government was not prepared for the budget debate.
“These, sometimes they seem like trivial and mundane points when we say that in this document, he estimates that if you go through it this is supposed to be a complete document,” Friday said as he held up a copy of the estimates.
“There are so many pages of this document on the various ministries, including the minister of finance, his own ministry, where key performance indicators that are supposed to assess how the government is progressing with the plans and programmes they put forward in the budget are left blank,” Friday said.
“You know, it says to me this is being done sort of when people have spare time,” Friday said.
He said that his office should be respected. “You know, it’s not me personally, it’s the Office of the Leader of the Opposition; it’s the budget process.
“He (the PM) is going to be responding. Does he expect then that members on the other side would come and sit and listen to his rantings because he is the prime minister,” the opposition leader said.
“I am the leader of the opposition, whatever you may think of me. the people of this country made me the Leader of the Opposition,” he said, noting that his party obtained the majority of the votes in the 2020 general elections.
“… and when we start going on this road because of particular individuals holding certain positions, it demeans the office.”
He said the situation should be of concern not just for him as the current holder of the office “but for anyone who is interested in protecting our democracy and ensuring that the institutions of that democracy are respected …”
Friday said that while wrapping up the debate, the finance minister continued “to praise the prime minister for his performance and his role in the budget, when in fact he failed to deliver.
“In fact, he failed to show up except as I said, to correct the mistakes that the Minister of Finance made in his own presentation.”