Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says that while some people complain when the government buys SUVs to transport him, he was not riding in a donkey cart before he assumed office.
He made the point at a press conference last week as he responded to suggestions by Opposition Leader Godwin Friday to help to ease the impact of the high cost of living on Vincentians.
In a national address on Aug. 11, Friday proposed, among other things, that the government grants concessions to public service vehicles.
“Of course, a lot of the speech deals with Ralph at the party convention and so forth,” said Gonsalves, who was in Taiwan on official duty when Friday made the address.
“Apparently, the NDP is in a state of apoplexy because they have to face Ralph, they have to face De Comrade, God willing, in 2025, or whenever the next elections,” Gonsalves said, referring to his party’s decision to keep him as leader rather than transition to a younger person.
“They, like the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof — jumping and skipping — the state of apoplexy, in which they’re engaged,” he said, adding that he can understands why the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) is behaving this way.
“If I beat you five times in a row, chance is I will beat you six. If I’m a betting man, I’d bet on the man who beat you five times already.”
Gonsalves said it was he who, while in opposition, forced the NDP government to give 75% duty concession on public service vehicles.
He noted that parliamentarians were giving themselves 75% duty free concessions, and, as a lawmaker, he was entitled to it.
“When I bought my SUV, my long SUV, the Pajero, I paid nearly $40,000 duty. I refused to take the concession. I say, ‘I’m not taking the concession so long as you don’t give the minibus operators to transport schoolchildren’, and I paid it.
“I say, ‘I can’t pass Colonarie, the children can’t get a ride on a duty-free concession bus come into town and I driving duty free concession, I wouldn’t do it.’ I shamed them into doing it. This man. I refused the concession — nearly $40,000 on my SUV,” said Gonsalves, who was first elected to Parliament in 1994.
“By the way, when government buys SUV to drive me as prime minister, they talked about it. I wasn’t riding a donkey cart before I became prime minister, you know. Apparently, they want me to move from SUV to a donkey cart,” he said.
“You see why they’re in a state of apoplexy when Ralph is around. Because you know my tongue ain’t easy.”
Since Gonsalves was elected prime minister in March 2021, the government has bought at least four vehicles to transport him.
The first was a Mercedes Benz sedan, then a Volvo bought in 2007, a Toyota Prado in 2014, and the current vehicle is a 2019 -2020 Toyota Prado.
Former prime minister, Sir James Mitchell, who was in office from 1984 to October 2000, used one vehicle for 14 years.
Around 2000, the government budgeted EC$55,000 to buy a new vehicle to be used by Sir James but Gonsalves’ ULP, which was then in opposition, objected to it.