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PM Gonsalves: Much more needs to be done

PM Gonsalves: Much more needs to be done

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Ecumenical Service of Thanksgiving Kicks Off Silver Jubilee Celebrations

by Nelson A. King in New York

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says that his country has done “reasonably well” since attaining political independence from Great Britain, but he lamented that a lot more since needs to be accomplished. {{more}}

In his independence message to nationals here, read by Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Girlyn Miguel at an Ecumenical Service of Thanksgiving in Brooklyn Sunday, Gonsalves said that despite the nation’s achievements, much more is required in light of surmountable global challenges.

“We have travelled far and well. For this, we must thank Almighty God and our forebears,” he told the mass congregation at St. Luke and St. Matthew’s Episcopal (Anglican) Church, on Clinton Avenue, Brooklyn.

Several prominent Vincentian clergymen – including the Rev. Dr. Glyger Beach, senior pastor at Vanderveer Park United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, who delivered the homily, and Fr. Ulric Jones, rector at St. James The Less Episcopal Church in Jamaica, Queens – officiated at the church service, organized by the umbrella Vincentian group, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO).

“It is great to celebrate this 25th anniversary of independence,” the Vincentian leader said. “Our quest is to further ennoble our Caribbean civilization in every sphere of human endeavour.”

But he said that it was very salient that the Vincentian component of that civilization be well constructed, pointing out: “It is a requisite of our life and production, individually and as a nation.”

Dr. Gonsalves said that St. Vincent and the Grena-dines’ middle-level income ranking of 79 – by the United Nations Develop-ment Program on its Human Development Index, out of almost 200 countries – is “fairly good” for a “resource-challenged, small-island state in an increasingly hostile international environment.” But he quickly added: “Still, we can certainly do better.”

Socio-economic Indicators

He pointed to a number of socio-economic indicators, which, he said, Vincentians should be proud of after 25 years of independence.

These include: universal primary education; sound primary and secondary health care system; life expectancy over 70 years; 100 per cent immunization, on average, for children under five years old; quality, affordable water-supply to 95 per cent of households; reliable electricity service; telecommunication service to the entire population; and an extensive and sound social security system.

The prime minister, however, said that numerous challenges and problems were still extant in the socio-economic realm.

He said that poverty still remains a major headache despite “a commendable, focused approach” to poverty reduction in the past three years. In 1996, poverty was assessed as existing among 37.5 per cent of the population, he said.

In addition, the Vincentian leader said that inequality of incomes and opportunities remain very challenging, unemployment is still “unacceptably high”, and much work is still needed in social services.

He attributed a stable currency, low inflation, and current account surpluses on the central government’s accounts to 4.06 per cent real economic growth last year. He projected that growth this year would be over 5.5 per cent.

“At the level of the central government,” he said, “fiscal prudence coupled with a carefully calibrated ‘counter-cyclical’ fiscal stance, to stimulate growth, are sensible, non-ideological, practical measures designed to facilitate economic advance.”

But Dr. Gonsalves – who, for over three years has been leading the incumbent Unity Labour Party (ULP) after 17 successive years of New Democratic Party (NDP) rule – said that the country’s productive apparatus is being undermined by modern globalization and trade liberalization, especially in agriculture and the manufacturing sector.

“Our nation is on the frontline of this global trade war and the fall-out from the revolution in information technology,” he said, while maintaining that “creative efforts” in tourism, international financial services, and information technology amid staunchness in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors have kept the economy very buoyant.

“But the challenges are immense,” he said, “and we cannot thus afford to succumb to the debilitating social and political disease of learned helplessness.”

Envoys: SVG Has Come

a Very Long Way

United Nations Ambassador Margaret Hughes-Ferrari said that St. Vincent and the Grenadines has come a very long way since independence, adding, however, that it also still has a similar way to go.

“Keep on reaching out to help with the socio-economic development of our homeland,” she urged congregants.

New York Consul General Cosmus Cozier agreed, saying that independence is much more than lowering one flag and raising another.

He said that the multi-island nation has made significant strides in politics, economics and culture, applauding calypsonian Alston “Becket” Cyrus, the nation’s cultural ambassador, for putting the country on the map, and soca artiste Kevin Lyttle for making “a name for us”.

But Cozier warned that even as Travel and Leisure Magazine, the ultimate in travel, has voted St. Vincent and the Grenadines as the “World Best Island” for travel, Vincentians must not rest on their laurels.

“We must persevere,” he said, “bearing in mind that, in small developing states such as ours, the private sector must assist government, the largest employer, in growing the economy.”

Rev. Beach urged his compatriots to give back to their country of birth, admonishing them not to turn their backs on the “rock” that nurtured them.

“Anything you do, do it to make a difference,” he implored in his homily. “God has helped you not so much to get so fat but to help.

“Let’s celebrate with a focus,” he added. “It’s time for some of you to set up a business in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and put people to work – that you came here and did not waste your time but will give back to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

Other Vincentian-born members of the clergy at the Ecumenical Service were: Rev. Canon Leopold Baynes, pastor, Grace Episcopal Church, Corona, Queens; Rev. Hoskins Prescott, pastor, Bedford Central Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn; Rev. Nelson Samuel, pastor, Love Tabernacle Fellowship, Brooklyn; Rev. Dillon Burgin, associate pastor, Vanderveer Park United Methodist Church; and Bishop Merton Cumberbatch, pastor, St. Anthony’s Divine Church of Healing, Inc., Brooklyn.

Deputy U.N. Ambas-sador Lenox Daniel and Deputy Consul General Cyril “Scorcher” Thomas joined diplomatic and consular representatives from the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, and Antigua and Barbuda at the service.

Erlene Williams-King, assistant to Cozier, brought down the house with an operatic rendition of the “Lord’s Prayer”.

The Silver Jubilee celebrations conclude this Sunday with a Council-organized gala luncheon at Le Cordon Bleu catering house, Jamaica Avenue, Queens.

Mas producer Wesley Millington and netball organizer Gailene Windsor will be honoured at the event. Former United States and Organization of American States (OAS) ambassador Kingsley Layne will deliver the keynote address.