Prime Minister, Dr. Hon. Ralph Gonsalves addressed several issues at his first news conference on Tuesday 2nd January.
Dr. Gonsalves prefaced his first press conference with New Year’s greetings. He wished everyone, “a happy, productive, prosperous, and peaceful New Year. If we bear in mind each of these words, I think we will be in good shape,” the Prime Minister said.
He urged persons in the private and public sectors to “make greater effort to be productive” and to “work hard and smart”. On the other hand, he acknowledged that some persons do not choose peace, which leads to confusion, pain and suffering, so the result is “too many persons are getting unlawfully killed in our region and Saint Vincent”.
Prime Minister Gonsalves also made the following announcements: the budgetary estimates are scheduled for Monday 29th January and the Budget Address by the Minister of Finance, Hon. Camillo Gonsalves, on Monday 5th February; the extension of duty free concessions on Christmas barrels to 15th January; the appointment of several graduate teachers; the visit of Taiwan’s Foreign Minister, Dr. David Lee, on Thursday, 1st February; the Government’s interest in medical marijuana; the country’s bid for a seat at the United Nations Security Council, and other diplomatic affairs; and the upcoming first anniversary of the Argyle International Airport.
Dr. Gonsalves referred to his Independence message where he had announced the appointment of several graduate teachers. In this regard, Dr. Gonsalves said he has already notified the Director General of Finance and the Accountant General to begin this process to come on schedule this year. According to Dr. Gonsalves, over 100 teachers will be appointed as Graduate Teachers at a cost over $2 million additional expenditure.
In agriculture, Prime Minister Gonsalves disclosed that he recently held a meeting with Senior Legislative Drafting Consultant-Commonwealth Secretariat (assigned to the Government of Jamaica), Mrs. Petrona Sealey-Browne, and Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Saboto Caesar. “I want to see us have a business in medical marijuana”, Dr. Gonsalves affirmed.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said he wanted to see foreign and domestic investment in it. He noted that marijuana as a plant has beneficial uses but it is a plant, because of its narcotic properties, that has “been misused and abused”. Dr. Gonsalves made it clear that he was “not talking about the decriminalization of marijuana”, that the “Government is serious about it” and there is unanimity in the country about its medicinal uses. As a consequence, Prime Minister Gonsalves is hoping that a bill will be tabled in Parliament by the end of the first quarter this year.
Next year, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines will “ramp up its campaign to become a member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council”, according to Dr. Gonsalves. If elected, Dr. Gonsalves stated, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines will be the smallest country to have a seat on the UN Security Council. The UN Security Council deals with matters of war and peace in the world; in light of this, Dr. Gonsalves said that it is only fitting that this country should have a voice for world peace and other matters including climate change.
With reference to two incidents involving Vincentian Diplomats within recent times, Dr. Gonsalves said that over the years Diplomats have given a good account of themselves and this country at the Organization of American States and the United Nations. He referred to a colonial mindset that seems to affect Vincentians to the point where they see a need to “beat” up on themselves and take delight in making a bad situation worse.
Overall, Prime Minister Gonsalves stated that he is pleased with the work and conduct of Vincentian Diplomats abroad. He further stated that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has a good showing at several international organisations for example, “Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was the Chair, up to September 2016, of the 5th Committee which deals with the budget and administration at the UN” and “less than two months ago in Paris, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was elected to the 54 member Executive Committee of UNESCO”.
With just one month before the 1st anniversary of the Argyle International Airport (AIA), Prime Minister Gonsalves said the AIA has had “immense progress” for an airport which has just been opened. He mentioned chartered flights from several destinations, and the onset of regular flights from “an important capital”, Toronto. Prime Minister Gonsalves has responsibility for Air and Seaports in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. He disclosed that soon there will be flights to and from New York and Miami.