April 8, 2011
Another Gonsalves/Mitchell accord?


Vincentians breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday of this week when the House of Assembly met without a repeat of last month’s histrionics and the debacle which occurred then. The Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) did, however, boycott the sitting as it had done on several occasions during the previous Parliament.{{more}} It also kept up its protest against the proposed amendment of the Representation of the People Act, even though the amendment has been put before a Select Committee and the Government has agreed not to proceed further, pending discussions with the Christian Council.

In fact, the NDP has spurned the call of the Christian Council for both sides, Government and Opposition, to desist from further actions concerning the proposed legislation, in order to permit the Council to mediate on the issue. The Government has acceded to the request not to push through the legislation, allowing the Council some time for an independent assessment and mediation. However, the Opposition has flatly rejected the call to desist from further protest in the meantime. It staged another march and picket on Tuesday, a willful and most regrettable slap in the face of the Christian body.

Significantly, if one is to judge by the response, support for the continued protests is waning and participation dwindling. It may be too early to say whether this is a temporary cooling-off or if public opinion is turning further against the intransigence of the NDP. What is clear is that the tactics being employed by the Opposition are most confusing, and even counter-productive. To continue to obstruct or boycott the work of Parliament, rather than using that forum to advance and publicise its views and policies is tantamount to shooting oneself in the foot. It is a gross dereliction of duty and the sacred responsibility conferred on it by the electorate.

Refusal to participate in the work of Parliamentary bodies, such as select Committees, and above all, the Public Accounts Committee, is also highly irresponsible. One can appreciate, even if not agreeing with, the Opposition’s strong sense of objection to Government’s policies, but surely such abdication of responsibility does the country, and the NDP’s supporters, little good.

While this failure to cooperate is perpetuated, developments concerning proposed discussions between NDP founder, former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, and current Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, is raising eyebrows. Dr. Gonsalves has disclosed that he had met with Sir James and his daughter Louise and a senior official from one of the largest cocoa-trading companies in the world, ARMAJARO. The subject of the discussions is reported to be the possible production of cocoa here, an idea strongly touted by Sir James.

World cocoa prices have been rising rapidly over the past few years, a process which has accelerated with the political impasse in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), the world’s largest producer. ARMAJARO has three main business activities, with a trading arm (in cocoa, sugar, coffee and other commodities), an Asset Management arm, and a securities arm.So big are its activities in cocoa, in which it has been accused of manipulating world markets, that one of its founders, Anthony Ward, has been dubbed Mr. Chocfinger, a take-off from the infamous Goldfinger of the James Bond movie. Last July, Armajaro bought fully 7 per cent of the world’s cocoa stocks, driving up prices to a 33-year-high on the world market.

The company was the only one mentioned by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace when he said before the last elections that foreign companies are willing to invest in St. Vincent and the Grenadines but will not do so under the Gonsalves’ administration. So what significance are we to attach to the three-way cocoa talks between Armajaro, Gonsalves and the Mitchells? Why should Armajaro, which was supposedly unwilling to invest with Gonsalves in office, now be holding talks with that same government? Why would Sir James be facilitating such discussions when Mr. Eustace is agitating for elections within a year? Is Armajaro now satisfied with the legitimacy of the government and, therefore, prepared to do business with it? Does it mean that the continued NDP protests are not finding favour with the investors? What of Sir James’ own involvement? Is a local Grand Beach Accord in the offing?

There are more questions than answers.