PM looks ahead at second term
December 16, 2005

PM looks ahead at second term

SEARCHLIGHT’s Hawkins Nanton conducted an exclusive interview with Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on the weekend, focusing on his second term in office. The following is a condensed version of their conversation.

Q: Prime Minister Gonsalves, by now you must have completed mapping out the basic plans for your second term in office. Can you share these plans?

A: Sure! First of all, the priorities for the second term are laid out in the Manifesto. {{more}} The letter of the political leader in the Manifesto detailed 21 top policies. The first seven were listed as the main priorities and they included the continuation, deepening, and extension of the Education Revolution; secondly, waging an ongoing war against poverty; creating more jobs especially quality jobs; going for continued sustained and sustainable growth in this period of tremendous external shocks on the basis of justice and equity; maintaining fiscal discipline and enhancing good governance. Those are among the principal and major policies for the next period. They reflect the people-centered vision of the party, of the Government. These particular programmes and policies reflect and emerge out of a philosophy of social democracy as applied to the conditions of St.Vincent and the Grenadines and the wider Caribbean civilization.

Q: Have you decided on the composition of your Cabinet, and if so, can you disclose how you went about choosing your Ministers and who would be responsible for what post?

A: In relation to the composition of Ministers of the Cabinet and also of the Parliament, that is to say senators, we looked at the election results. That’s an important event in a democratic country. we looked at where we are with the evolution of our programmes and policies, saw things which need to be emphasized and put things together in that light and to match those objective factors with the personnel which are at hand. There will be a portfolio known as Urban Development because we have to lift the lives of people in the city, parallel to that, because of the challenges in the rural economy, there will be a portfolio also called Rural Transformation.

Similarly, we have to mobilize our people towards these goals and several others and to help in easing the issue of the disconnect which some representatives may have experienced. There will be a ministry, among other things, which relates to national mobilization and NGO relations. I would not want at this stage to signal the names of the persons in the Cabinet because I’m doing that on Monday and have not [yet] spoken to the Governor-General. But individuals who have performed well, say like Montgomery Daniel, you will see him getting a full ministry. You will also see a strong youth presence in the Parliament because we have to begin and prepare for the future.

Q: What is your perception of the Unity Labour Party’s performance in the December 7, 2005, General Elections?

A: This Government has received an overwhelming mandate. We got 55.5 per cent of the votes. Last time we got 56.5, so it’s now one percentage point less than 2001. That’s a remarkable performance! We lost no seats, we have made North Windward stronger, we have made South Central stronger and in North Central we have increased our vote percentage rise. We have held our own in South Windward and Marriaqua. Belmar (Northern Grenadines) increased his support by three percentage points. René Baptiste (West Kingstown) increased her support even though her seat was marginal, so too did Conrad Sayers (Central Kingstown). They were minority winners the last time, now they are majority winners. We have lost one percentage point at the polls and we have done that despite all the difficulties which we have had: 9/11, the Banana fallout because of the trade liberalization; (Hurricanes) Lily, Ivan, Emily, the rain storms, SARS, the instability in Iraq, rising oil prices.

If you look at the statistics, we have lost only 811 votes. In 2001 we got 32,925, this time we got 32,014. The NDP got an increase of 1,811 but 1,515 were PPM supporters the last time. They basically got the PPM support plus about 300 more. So we start our second term politically in a very strong position. The leader of the Opposition though he increased his margin his seat is still a seat which will always be up for the grabs. And take this: he is older than I am by a year or two. In 2010 he will be 65, 66 years. A leader of the Opposition who is 65, 66 years will have a real difficult time convincing the electorate to put him in office. If he is 65 or 66 and he is a sitting prime minister, that’s a different story, but if all the experience you’ve had in the prime ministerial business is five months, facing in 2010 the prime minister who would have been in office for 10 years with young people coming on to the team and with all these projects we are talking about, they are in real trouble.

They are likely to change leadership midstream and if they change leadership midstream, who leader they are going to come with? The people are not going to know them and be accustomed (to) them. Let us not forget this: Leacock and Cummings lost their seats because they are flawed candidates. They are presenting near victories as being superior to a victory. And there is a tremendous optimism in the country. that is why the people voted for an optimistic party and an optimistic leadership.

Q:I have observed that some of your ministers most likely by 2010 will be getting down in age and may not be able to keep up with the rigours of political life. What plans do you have for the smooth transition for youthful candidates into the Unity Labour Party?

A: Some of the candidates have already indicated that this is their last term. Some, before the elections, said this will be their last. Like, for example, Minister (Louis) Straker (Deputy Prime Minister). In some cases it will be done by individuals, and in some cases it will be done by groups; in any case always operating within the framework of the party. Be assured that I am not going to make the mistake of James Mitchell, where he did not prepare properly for succession, either in constituencies or at the leadership level. When you see the young talent, which we will unveil for the parliament, you will have an idea about the embracement of the party of young persons, holding office and more will come on stream.

Q: After the 2001 General Elections you initiated the ‘Together Now’ philosophy. Do you plan to continue pursuing the ‘together now’ philosophy?

A: Sure. A greater understanding is needed of ‘together now’. Some persons in the Opposition seem to think that together means their people must claim all the jobs and they must govern the country and I occupy the office. That’s not what ‘together now’ is. ‘Together now’ is the government that is elected runs the country in communion with the people and interfaces with the Opposition properly, but to make sure that everybody is given an opportunity to participate, to get jobs and so on, but not for you to get jobs because you are the NDP in preference to a ULP person.

Everybody must get jobs and the point is this: many persons in the system who are NDP people who have powers to hire and fire given their location in the bureaucracy and they would have been there for 17 years of NDP Government, they discriminate against ULP people. I would look at that a little more closely to see how they discriminate against our people and arrest that. But the point is this: all of us are Vincentians and there has to be some healing and sharing. But NDP has to realize, as I put it at the swearing in at the Governor-General’s residence, you can’t slap one cheek and then I turn my cheek and you slap me there again and slap me up and you believe that “together now” means I must not respond; that’s foolishness.

“Together now” means inclusion and we have been doing the inclusion, but the Opposition has been involved in very nasty, divisionist, confrontationalist, oppositionist politics. They have started it already but the people have voted against that too. And surely, at a personal level, the wide berth that I gave many of them, any time you hear them slander me, I will put them in court. And there needs to be a Broadcasting Bill with an independent authority to monitor and maintain standards of broadcasting. Otherwise what you are going to have is a deterioration in the politics and a kind of a verbal terrorism. I am not going to permit that.

Q: How do you intend, Prime Minister, to bridge the gap between ministerial duties and that of area representation?

A: We are doing it (a) through the Government; as I say we have a Ministry of National Mobilization and one of NGO relations. But from a party and governmental standpoint I am going to insist, as I had announced at Richmond Hill that every week, they (Area Representatives) go to the constituency, not just to the constituency office. Because when you go to a constituency office very often the same 20 people come and visit you week in and week out. But you have to go to people and when you note all their concerns and are addressing all the problems on a day-to-day basis, I am sure everyone will find it beneficial. It will continue throughout the duration of the term. Plus, there will be consultations and polls to address the issue of Representative Government and the nature of representation.

Q: You promised to continue the Ottley Hall inquiry. Is this one that will be pursued to the end?

A: It will continue. You notice Parnel Campbell is supporting me on that. I don’t think James Mitchell likes Parnel Campbell’s speech on the subject. I don’t think other persons involved would have liked that speech, but it was a sensible speech by Campbell. It will continue and there is a reference which has been made to the Director of Public Prosecution. He is presumably carrying out his duties in that regard.

Q: You presented plans for the Economy in the Manifesto, are there other comments that you will like to share on the subject and are there plans to establish industries?

A: There are targeted strategic interventions, (such as) the Capital Projects. But there are some private sector projects such as the Mt.Wynne/Peters’ Hope Project, the Buccama Project, those down in Canouan and Union Island. Then there is the National Properties Heritage/Tourism Project north of the Dry River, all those are very important projects coming on stream. One of the difficulties with establishing certain kinds of industries has to do with the competitive nature of those industries, but you would have noticed we are putting emphasis on agro-processing. There are agro-processing areas in arrowroot, the coconut water bottling plant, cassava, root crops, the vacuum packing plants, and the hatchery at Dumbarton, all those things are industrial plus. There are people who have brought in private sector industries since we have been in office. Allan’s Bakery for instance is a million-dollar investment. There is a group of Vincentians and Barbadians who are producing juices. We have to work, however, to see what we can do in fishing, particularly processing. So all those are areas that we will be working on.

Q: Most Vincentians are unfamiliar with the Value Added Tax and this is expected to come on stream in your second term. Can you give an update on this impending tax system?

A: A VAT Unit has been set up. The former Comptroller of Inland Revenue, Alma Dougan is in charge of the VAT Unit and that has been up and running. And they are doing preparatory work to put things in place. We have to get the legislation, we have to get all the systems together so there will be a lot of campaigning to do with education. So they will take up much of next year with that. So hopefully by 2007 we can do the implementation. The VAT is not an additional set of taxes, it’s a replacement of certain taxes and this VAT will be a tax where we will zero rate a lot of commodities used by the poor, food and beverage commodities so Vincentians have nothing to worry about. It is going to be a more efficient way of collecting taxes.

Q: And as we discuss the VAT, what can Vincentians expect from your 2006 Budget that you will be presenting in January?

A: It is going to be the typical Budget within the framework of our eight features for the economic approach and eight principles for the fiscal stance. I hear all sorts of wild things that I am going to increase taxes and in fact in our Manifesto we talk about reducing taxes.

Q: As we conclude this interview, can you give a summary of your overall predictions for this second chapter in the life of your administration?

A: The International Airport will be practically finished, the one at Canouan will be concluded, the Stadium will be built, the facilities for the World Cup would have already been placed and used down at Arnos Vale. We would have built more schools, consolidated, deepened and extended the Education Revolution. We would have revamped the hospital administration and in all probability we’d have the National Health Service in place, financed through the NIS. The library, the learning resource centres and the Cross Country Road, all of those things would have been finished. The hotel at Buccama would have been up and running, the one in Mt.Wynne/Peters’ Hope, our marine and other extensions in Canouan, the Trump Project down in Canouan, the marine down in Union Island, all those things would have been on their way and operational. And in the politics of it, we are going to win the next elections bigger than this one. These guys won’t have a chance. That’s the reality!