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PM: Major countries not doing enough for region

PM: Major countries not doing enough for region

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Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has given a tongue lashing to some developed countries, blaming them for some of the major challenges that this country faces.{{more}}

As he delivered his eighth Independence Day address last Monday, October 27th, at the Victoria Park, the Prime Minister, without naming names, linked these countries to the illegal guns and drug trade, climate change, and the economic hardship that the international economic meltdown could bring to this country.

Speaking to the large gathering of citizens and diplomats, including the United States Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Mary Ourisman, Dr Gonsalves made the case that St Vincent and the Grenadines is experiencing growth and success, in the midst of these crippling, externally caused problems.

“We are not satisfied that the major countries of the western hemisphere are doing enough to assist countries like St. Vincent and the Grenadines in addressing the burning questions of guns and drug trafficking,” he said.

While acknowledging this country’s flourishing marijuana industry, he said, as he has done on many occasions, that the guns being used by criminals in this country come from the United States of America.

“To be sure, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has its home-grown challenges of marijuana cultivation, but that is more manageable than the inflow of guns and cocaine from outside,” he said.

As he addressed the issue of the financial challenges small states like St Vincent and the Grenadines face, Dr Gonsalves juxtaposed the crippling effects of the international financial meltdown and globalization on this country with what he called the “stinginess and aid fatigue” that has become the hallmark of developed countries.

This, he noted, has caused this country, “by reason of principle and practicality,” to widen its circle of friends internationally.

Six weeks ago, the United States openly expressed their disappointment and spoke out against this country’s establishment of diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“We believe that now is not the time to engage in business with Iran,” Ambassador Ourisman had told SEARCHLIGHT in an exclusive interview.

The terrible impact of climate change caused by the “irresponsibility in the production and consumption systems” is among the other challenges facing St Vincent and the Grenadines that the Prime Minister noted.

Dr Gonsalves claimed, however, that despite these challenges, the country has done well.

“St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been able to build, maintain, and further develop a modern, highly respected sophisticated country with continuously improving living standards and quality of life and exemplary good governance.”

Sound political leadership was one of the reasons for this development against the odds that the Prime Minister identified.

Among the other factors contributing to this development, according to him are: efficacious use of our limited natural resources, remittances from abroad, and assistance from friendly nations and institutions.

He used the opportunity to make the point that while some persons with “hard hearts and ignoble souls afflicted by false pride and possessing minds which lack discernment” have confused the aid being sought and received by this country with mendicancy, “small, vulnerable countries simply require international assistance to put them on a path of sustainable development.”

As he ended his 29-minute address, the Prime Minister announced, among other things, that: the duty free Christmas barrel programme and the special Christmas road cleaning programme will continue this year.

A budget of $3 million has been allocated for the latter.

Beneficiaries of the National Insurance Services (NIS) will see increased benefits in a number of categories, to a further incremental cost of $1.8 million to the NIS.

  • Minimum pensions to be increased from $60 to $70 weekly. There are 1,066 such pensioners.
  •  Regular pensioners are to receive a maximum of a 9 per cent increase spread 4.5 per cent per year from the later of December 31, 2005, and the date of the award. In this regard 1,210 such pensioners will receive 9 per cent (awardees prior to 2007) and 190 such pensioners will receive 4.5 per cent (awardees in 2007).
  • Funeral grants to be increased from $3,800 to $4,330. In 2007, funeral grants were made to 320 persons.
  • Maternity grants to be increased from $550 to $630. There were just over 1,000 of these grants last year.
  •  The Non-Contributory Assisted Aged Pension Funeral grant is being increased to $2,165.
  •  Invalidity pensions will go up from $60 to $70 weekly.
  •  Survivors Pensions will increase from $15 to $17.50 weekly. There are 622 such pensioners.

“These increases will be effected without in any way increasing the ceiling on insurable earnings which remains at $1,000 per week or $4,333 per month. And the contributions rate will not be increased at this time,” he said.

While the parade went on with much pomp and pageantry inside the stadium, a handful of citizens was on the outside protesting the St Vincent Electricity Company (VINLEC).