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Opposition Leader Godwin Friday in a Nov. 18, 2023 photo.
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday in a Nov. 18, 2023 photo.

Opposition Leader Godwin Friday has described as a “love-in” the rally that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) held at Arnos Vale to celebrate its 23rd anniversary in office, saying that the event ignored pressing issues in the country, such as crime and violence and unemployment. 

Speaking on his weekly radio appearance on NICE Radio on Monday, the opposition leader noted that the celebration rally took place three days after Parliament passed stiffer penalties for firearm and sexual offences. 

“And there was a lot of talk and the two bills that took us well into the evening. People waxing lyrical about what needs to be done on the government side,” the opposition leader said.

“And in their function yesterday, the prime minister talked for I don’t know how long, he didn’t mention crime once,” the opposition leader said.

Friday said this shows where crime ranks in the government’s priorities. 

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“Of course, he would mention my name. And he would mention the NDP; that’s his obsession. But the matter of crime, the things that matter most to people doesn’t get mentioned.”

The Unity Labour Party will seek a sixth consecutive five-year term in office in general elections constitutionally due by February 2026 but expected by the end of 2025. 

Friday said the ULP knows that throughout the country, people have done their assessment of the performance of the government. 

“They gave them time,” he said, adding that he was telling a college in St. Lucia that the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are very patient.

“They give the party and government time to say, show us what you can do,” Friday said, recalling his conversation in St. Lucia. 

“And they have been more than patient with this present administration. But the reckoning has come. And they have found them wanting, seriously so, on the matter of crime, on the matter of gun violence.”

The opposition leader said that in 2022 and 2023, there were a total of 96 homicides, with each year breaking the previous record.

He said that 71 of those were gun-related deaths. 

“We don’t make guns in St. Vincent. How are they getting in? The government hasn’t said how they’re going to deal with that. They’re always talking in generalities without saying or doing what it is they promised to do,” he said.

He said the ULP came to office in March 2001 promising to be tough on crime and its causes. 

“And crime has been tough on them where they now seem to have surrendered. Some people now and in the public, they will tell you, ‘Well, we will always have crime.’ That is a surrender. And to lead people along the path to think that this is normal and this is acceptable is wrong,” Friday said.

He said this attitude will create a society, “where we are getting there now, where you feel unsafe, you can’t go out your home, you can’t go and participate in the things that you enjoy, you have no real interest in doing so because you feel afraid. What kind of a society is that?”

The opposition leader said this is not the kind of society that he knows and that Robert Milton Cato and others envisioned when they led the nation into independence in 1979.

“It is not the one that had been toiling over the past number of years, as a member of parliament, as a political leader in this country, it is not the sort of country that I have in mind for the present and the next generation, we can do better than that.”

Friday said the prime minister, who is also minister of national security, “seems like he’s not focused on this particular problem. 

“And the time has come to say get somebody there to specialise in dealing with the crime issues that are plaguing this country and get a new minister of national security in place to give priority to this problem.”

The opposition leader said this sends a signal not just to the people but also to the international community “to say that we are serious about dealing with this terrible problem and we don’t want to be ranked second in the world for homicides, for murders”. 

Friday said there will always be crime regardless of which government is in office.

“… but in a free democratic society, … there is a limited, you would say it’s tolerable, we can live the life that we choose to live in this country. The goal has to be to get it to zero but we know that that is unrealistic.”

The opposition leader said the ULP seems to only want to have a party  “to just tell people that whatever they are feeling that somehow it’s a figment of their imagination, that poverty is not real and unemployment. 

“They should talk about the 41% of unemployment among young people. Talk about the 20, 25% unemployment in the country overall. Talk about the rising poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines; talk about the hardship people have making ends meet, the cost-of-living crisis that is crushing the life out of people.  

“Talk about the lack of medicines and bandages in the hospital. Talk about the terrible roads that we have throughout this country, the potholes that have grown into swimming pools.

“This is something that really the country will have to hold them accountable for,” the opposition leader said, noting the photographs and videos of dilapidated hardcourts that the party published recently.

“And you see the state, the terrible, terrible state, things that you could fix so easily, but just don’t give a damn because people, they feel, they could just come at the end and the election time and throw some big promises, a tunnel under Cane Garden and city at Arnos Vale, all that crap that they’re talking and feel that people are going to always say okay, give them a chance again,” Friday said.

“Well news for them. The people of this country have decided enough is enough, and that they are going to bring a change,” he said of his New Democratic Party.

“We are offering a better alternative to the present government, we are offering a better alternative to the people, one that focuses on what the people’s needs are to try to meet those needs for jobs, for better-paying jobs, for health care that they can trust, for better infrastructure that respects them,” Friday said. 

“When they purchase a vehicle that they don’t have to be dodging potholes and fixing the tyres and the rims on their shocks, their suspension every weekend — well before the time that they’re supposed to do so were it not for the terrible conditions of our roads. 

“That is disrespecting people. That is what they will be held accountable for.”