***Source- Caribbean.loopnews.com, First published July 08, 2023
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has hinted at changes in his government when Parliament meets next week for the first time in its temporary new home.
“When the Parliament is opened on the 13th back here, you’re likely to see one or two changes in the political configuration on the government side. But that is a discussion for another time,” Gonsalves said in the east coast town of Calliaqua Thursday, as he addressed the official opening of the temporary Parliament building.
Last month, lawmakers met for the last time in the dilapidated 200-year-old building that was built to house the National Assembly and the High Court.
The government says it will build a new parliament building in Richmond Hill on the outskirts of the city and has built a temporary building to host the National Assembly in the interim.
Political observers have speculated that Prime Minister Gonsalves could replace one or more of the four government senators, in keeping with a practice he has adopted at the mid-term of the election cycle since coming to office in March 2001.
Urban Development, Energy, Airports, Seaports, Grenadines Affairs and Local Government Minister, Julian Francis, has attended just two meetings of Parliament since suffering a stroke last July and Gonsalves has been shouldering the additional ministerial burden.
However, political observers have speculated that the government is more likely to replace Deputy Speaker, Ashelle Morgan, an attorney, and/or Rochard “Pitbull” Ballah, parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Security, Legal Affairs, and Information.
Both legislators have failed to make an impact politically since being appointed senator after the November 2020 general elections.
In fact, Morgan, along with Karim Nelson, an assistant director of public prosecution, went on trial last November in connection with the April 13, 2021 shooting of then-60-year-old block-maker Cornelius John at his Diamond Estate home.
Morgan was acquitted of the charge that she assaulted John on April 13, 2021. Nelson was also acquitted on charges that he unlawfully and maliciously wounded John and unlawfully discharged a firearm at him on the same date.
There is no indication that either Morgan or Ballah would emerge as a candidate in the next general elections, constitutionally due by February 2026, when Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party will seek a sixth consecutive term in office.
Some political observers say the Prime Minister’s comments could mean that he will reassign some ministries, as he had done in the lead-up to previous general elections.
Gonsalves Thursday outlined the legislative agenda when the new Parliament meets saying the government would table a bill to grant a compassionate pension to Stephanie Browne, a former opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) legislator who did not serve for the requisite nine years in order to become pensionable.
“She should have been getting a compassionate pension but everybody seemed to have thought that she had done nine years and getting a pension until she wrote me about it,” Gonsalves said.
He said a similar bill will be brought in the name of Offord Morris, a former Labour Party MP, and noted that rather than receiving EC$1,500 (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) monthly as a pension, the two former lawmakers would get EC$2,000.
He said some people might question the decision to grant the pensions.
“… you want people who serve you to walk ’bout the place begging bread? Is that dignified? Is that worthy of our civilisation?” the prime minister said.
Lawmakers will also debate a bill to extend Vincentian citizenship to second-generation Vincentians born overseas. Gonsalves said the bill will be sent to a select committee of Parliament.
Currently, the Constitution and Citizenship laws grant automatic Vincentian citizenship to children of people born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, regardless of where in the world the child is born.
“You know, at the moment you’re allowed, as a first generation Vincentian, you’re born overseas, to get citizenship. Well, we want to do it for second generation,” said Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibility for citizenship matters and national security.
“I want those who are second generation to get a chance also at citizenship.”
He said lawmakers will also consider bills to amend the Finance Administration Act and the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) Acts.
Gonsalves said the amendments to the NEMO Act will address “some technical questions dealing with damage assessments”.
Also on the Order Paper are two “developmental bills addressing two …fixed interest loans, US$16 million dollars in all”.
Gonsalves said the loans from the Saudi Fund will attract two interest rates.
The temporary Parliament building was constructed at a cost of EC$5.5 million under an EC$20 million loan from Taiwan that Parliament approved at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The opposition had objected to its inclusion in a supplementary budget approved in April 2020 in response to the pandemic, saying that the building was not a priority and that the government should “put the money where the pain is”.
The opposition boycotted Thursday’s opening ceremony.