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As the year winds down

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It is almost hard to believe that we are into the final days of November and that the end of the year is really just around the corner. Many of us are happy to see the back of 2008. It was such a difficult year, but the question is: what will follow it? There appears to be little optimism, particularly because of the terrible news coming from overseas about the global economic crisis and particularly about the American economy with the view of its President Elect echoing in our ears that it is likely to get worse before it gets better.{{more}} The presentation of the 2009 budget by Prime Minister Gonsalves will be carefully listened to as we speculate on what might be in store for us next year. The Prime Minister will have to play his cards straight. He will have to tell it like it is for we cannot continue to live in a fool’s paradise. The only way we can begin to take any serious steps to deal with the current malaise in the country is to talk straight to the people. With elections likely to be held next year and earlier than later, there is always the temptation to masquerade the real issues but to do so will be disastrous. The economy cannot be seen, in any event, in a vacuum, for an economy has to do with people and how they function.

It is going to be hard for the people of the country to endure another year as hard as this one, but the signs are not encouraging. With Vinlec charges mushrooming, gas prices having gone through the roof and VAT confounding the issue, we have taken more than we bargained for and tolerated more than we thought possible. The middle class in this country is under siege. Working people are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Could you imagine what life is like for those who are unemployed or under-employed? The budget will have to be a carefully crafted one that seeks to stimulate the economy while being cognisant of the fact that some of the pillars of the economy are likely to be even harder hit next year. I am putting out a challenge to civil society to have discussions about the budget independent of the political players and to play a part in educating the broader populace about the challenges that lie ahead and in searching for prescriptions for dealing with them.

As happens at this time of year, we are beginning to hear stories of robberies, of break-ins and violent encounters in the process. I have heard of robberies in the Villa area and of residents of homes being beaten. Last weekend papers carried news items about some 4,000 missing Digicel phone cards and an undisclosed number of Blackberry phones. The News newspaper reported as follows; “A few weeks ago, Digicel ordered a number of Blackberry phones but received only the chargers and other ancillaries and not the phones. When personnel at Digicel checked they found that the bottom of the boxes were cut and the phones removed and the boxes taped.” The criminals are clearly getting sophisticated, even if we are not.

There is a great deal of speculation about the possible impact of the slow down in the American economy on remittances and on the large quantities of barrels that come to this country at this time. Vincentians, like other West Indians, have a strong commitment to relatives at home and once able, will do as much as they can. They know what Christmas means to their relatives and will, I am sure, rise to the challenge. This is, admittedly, easier said than done, but we have to keep hope alive, for our relatives abroad will also have to balance this against the uncertainties many of them undoubtedly face, and in situations where some might have no jobs or fear that theirs will be the next to go.

Airport Security

The news that two pre-teens were able to get past security and onto a parked LIAT plane where they had a feast with what was available on board and slept on the plane would have been funny, if it were not so serious. The API release that the incident did not pose any security risk to the flight that left next morning was one thing, but the issue leaves room for a lot of questions. Clearly a complete overhaul of security and other related arrangements at the airport is needed. We take things so much for granted and seem to lack the sophistication that living in the global world in the 21st century requires. How do we handle a terrorist attack? We are lucky that no terrorist wants anything from us, or if there is by chance something they want, it is quite easy to have it without resorting to anything of an extreme nature. Terrorists sometimes like challenges and surely we offer no such challenges for them. But of even greater concern is that we are thinking of putting down an international airport. Would we wait until this becomes a reality before we begin to address some of the basic things that are required? There is, moreover, a mentality involved that is an important requirement.

We have long lost our innocence, but we act as though we have not. We are obviously not the country we were even thirty years ago. A lot has changed for the worst, but we still see ourselves as ‘The Land of the Blessed’. That mentality again! It continues to enslave us.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.