Caribbean News

St Vincent Speaker quits ruling party

The Speaker of the House of Assembly, Jomo Thomas,  Tuesday announced that he was quitting the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and would leave his post as Speaker early into the new year, 2020.

Thomas, a human rights lawyer and activist, who was the ULP’s candidate for South Leeward in the 2015 general election, told reporters that he had no intention of offering himself as a candidate in the next general elections.

Prime Minster Gonsalves said, on Monday, that general elections would be held by the end of 2020, ahead of the March 2021 constitutional deadline.

Thomas told reporters that he had come to his decisions primarily because “the time, the energy, the money, the effort, cannot be properly justified, considering the current state of play in the party.

“Consequently, to allow for the ease of transition and to allow for a sense of clarity to prevail, particularly among the long-suffering and neglected people of South Leeward, I formally remove myself as caretaker for the constituency so that others  who may desire to represent can move forward,” he told reporters.

“I think these decisions are important because they allow me to do a number of things. They allow me to free myself up from any strictures I may have, to say and do what I want to so as the year 2020 rolls in,” Thomas said.

Recently, the retired deputy executive director of the National Insurance Services, Meneva Glasgow, has been seen canvassing in South Leeward, telling constituents that she is the ULP candidate for that district in the next general elections.

Thomas, a social commentator with a 15-year-old weekly column, has long been a critical of the ULP, which he has always publicly said he supports.

However, that criticism did not wane much after August 2013 when he became a senator for the ULP administration and went on to become one of the party’s candidates in the 2015 poll.

But after he lost to the incumbent, Nigel Stephenson, of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), Thomas accepted the position of the Speaker of the House of Assembly on the grounds that he would be allowed to continue his law practice.

Since the 2015 vote, Thomas and his law firm have won a number of prominent lawsuits against the government including violating citizens’ rights.

“I believe as someone who has been in the heat of the battle and the struggle for the advancement of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines since I was 14 years old, I still have a contribution to make to Vincentian development and Vincentian reality. And I want to not be hindered or hampered in any way as I go forward,” he told the news conference.

Thomas said he tendered his resignation as a member of the ULP earlier on Tuesday but that he did not want to disclose to the public the reasons he had given to the party for doing so.

“This is a position that I held since in 2013 and all Vincentians who have paid close attention would know that it was a rather contentious relationship.

“It was a relationship which was marked by accusations, it was a relationship which was marked by venomous and scurrilous statements about me and my practice and what I do and what I said and I don’t think I can properly remain a member of the Unity Labour Party in that kind of atmosphere.

“I believe that St. Vincent, like every other place, should be a market place of ideas where ideas contend and I believe that these ideas should be allowed to contend without wild, jaundice, scurrilous torpedoes landed by persons who are powerful, persons who are masters of the state,” he said.

Thomas told reporters that he had initially planned to make the announcements last week but he thought a lot of what he said might have been “cluttered with” the Independence celebrations last weekend.

“And I thought that once we get past Independence that maybe we could have a chance and an opportunity to say and do things with much more clarity and that is what I make the statement today rather than to make it last week.”

Thomas said he had planned to make the statement even before last week “but each time my better judgement told me that I should hold off. But, today is the day and here we have it.”

Regarding his pending resignation as Speaker, Thomas said it “is not unnatural” for one to announce a resignation months in advance.

“I just want to indicate where my mind is and where my mind is going so that persons who are in the business of selecting and nominating and doing all of those good things may have some time in which they can think it through and come up with somebody who is best be able to take up the mantle and proceed as speaker.”

The announcement of the intended resignation came about 19 days after Gonsalves told Thomas in Parliament that if he has something in his “craw” he should speak it.

“If you want to pick on me on for other reasons, pick on me for those reasons. Alright? If something is in your craw, Mr. Speaker, speak it,” Gonsalves said.

The prime minister’s comments came after the speaker had reprimanded him for abusing the rules, shortly after the speaker had issued a similarly stern rebuke to an opposition lawmaker.

The October 10 outburst came less than a week after Thomas, in his weekly media commentary, contrasted his own treatment by the ULP to that of Camillo Gonsalves, the prime minister’s son.

He told the media, on Tuesday, that he and Gonsalves had not discussed what transpired in Parliament and that while the Speaker’s term runs until parliament is prorogue, “I always felt that I would not want to sit the entire term because there are so many other things I wanted to do”.

The post of Speaker, which was made a full time position when the ULP came to office,  gets an annual salary of EC$82,000 (One Ec dollar=US$0.37 cents) annually, before tax deduction.


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