ST. VINCENT-POLITICS-PM defends cabinet re-shuffle

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KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Nov 11, CMC – Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has defended the decision to re-shuffle of his near two-year old administration that resulted in his son, Camillo, being named as the new Minister of Finance.
Gonsalves said that it was important for the new minister of finance to be in place before the presentation of the 2018 budget estimates.
“It was important that I make the change (and there is) some distance before the Estimates are presented to Parliament,” Gonsalves told listeners on the radio station owned by his ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) on Friday.
He said the Estimates of Income and Expenditure will be presented in Parliament sometime before the middle of January 2018.
“The new minister needs some time to familiarise himself in detail. Of course, all the Cabinet members know broadly what the numbers are because I have regular reporting sessions,” the prime minister said, adding that further consideration and reconciliation of the figures will now take place.
The 45-year-old Gonsalves will take up the position that was held by his 71-year-old father since the ULP came to power in the December 9, 2015 general election.
Prime Minister Gonsalves has been minister of finance here since 2001, when the ULP first came to office. Prime Minister Gonsalves will remain Minister of National Security, Air and Sea Port Development, Immigration and Legal Affairs.
But the younger Gonsalves, who retains the portfolios of Economic Planning and Sustainable Development, will however shed ministerial responsibly for Industry, Information, Labour, Postal Service and the Bureau of Standards.
Political observers say the cabinet reshuffle could provide an indication of the direction in which Gonsalves wants the ruling party to go as it prepares for a new leader and the country, a new prime minister.
Gonsalves told radio listeners that the discussion on the budget estimates is a Cabinet exercise and that he continues to chair the Cabinet.
“But Camillo assumes day-to-day responsibility for Finance as of today. In fact, yesterday, I had a meeting up here with a number of state officials and a delegation from the OPEC Fund for International Development … We had a kind of scoping discussion yesterday following up on preliminary discussion we have had on other matters and communications.”
The new finance minister will present his first budget to Parliament as early as December or January.
Apart from giving his son a new portfolio, Prime Minister Gonsalves, has given Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural Transformation Minister, Saboto Caesar, three of the portfolios that were previously held by Camillo Gonsalves, namely Industry, Labour and the Bureau of Standards.
Gonsalves and Caesar are seen as the two front-runners to head the ULP.
Gonsalves said that the economic ministries are really held by Camillo, Caesar and Cecil “Ces” McKie, who is Minister of Tourism and Culture.
“Outside of tourism, the economic levers, from a formal standpoint, are in the hands of Camillo and Saboto, of course, with the prime minister having oversight responsibilities,” Gonsalves said, adding that the state was about to make some announcements regarding broadcasting and information.
St. Clair Jimmy Prince will take up ministerial responsibilities for Information, an extension of his former role as director of the Agency for Public Information. As Minister of Information, Prince will also be responsible for the National Broadcasting Corporation, another state-owned media outlet.
The new assignment is in addition to his current portfolios of Education, Reconciliation, and Ecclesiastical Affairs.
“But Jimmy will shepherd those and we hope to have some numbers in the budget to deal with those matters too,” he said,
“But Jimmy has a long experience in that particular field, as you are aware, having been the Director of API for many years prior to his retirement from the Public Service,” Gonsalves said.

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