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As I See It!

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Last week’s newspapers were all about the proposed international airport and bridge over the Dry River.

In fact in some circles there is a sort of hysteria as though we have reached the Promised Land. Let us first get the Rabacca Bridge out of the way. My understanding is that this was always part of the plan for the Windward Highway. Surely one understands the significance of seeking funds from the Taiwanese rather than from the Europeans since the Taiwanese ask few questions or perhaps none at all. By the way, what would we do without the Taiwanese? {{more}}

They have been supporting almost every project in this country, even donating a pot to the prisons. It would be interesting to list the number of projects they have funded for the past ten years, singling out in particular, the last four years.

A strong case can really be made for relocating them in the compound of the Ministry of Finance. This is just by the way, anyhow. But on a more serious note the Taiwanese, who have lost most of their Caribbean friends are staging their last hoorah in St.Vincent.

Would that relationship be able to withstand the pressures from a Caribbean community integrated into a single market and economy and the geopolitical pressures and realities that are involved? This is a serious question. Really, Taiwan has been a good friend of this country, more so because their funding is not constrained by the kind of rigid regulations that come with European funds. That, of course, has its positive and negative sides.

I believe that the Prime Minister’s projection for the completion of the airport is 2011, if everything goes well. One of his technocrats did, I understand, indicate that it is likely to start in the next three years, perhaps taking into account the need for wind studies. As I have indicated in a previous article, we would all want to see an international airport built here, but it is not as easy as wishing it.

I see multiple problems with the proposal as spelt out to us. As usual, to raise any question is to be against the airport and to be working against the best interests of the country; to be unpatriotic, even to be a terrorist, a word that is becoming common in this country.

I have made the point previously that after our experiences with the Ottley Hall project, we need to be very vigilant with any large-scale project, and of course an international airport would be our largest project.

The proposals that are the brain-child of the Prime Minister, at least that is how it is sold, should be put under thorough and careful scrutiny. We should not simply be expected to buy it by merely looking at the cover. We have to dig deeply into it.

The international airport is undoubtedly part of the election campaign, and as such, it would always leave doubts in the minds of sober persons. I believe too, that any project of such magnitude should never be politicized because it is going to demand a lot of us as a united people. Have we examined the sacrifices that the country would be called upon to bear and the overall costs involved? I am speaking about more than monetary costs.

Even if everything was possible and workable, we find ourselves extending all our energies into something that is still at the bare minimum six or seven years away and even this is to be extremely optimistic. But what happens between now and 2011 or 2015 for that matter?

So many things would have changed by then. Obviously one has to think ahead and plan, but are we prepared to take the difficult decisions that need to be taken if we are to survive until 2011? Do we see an international airport as the end of all of our problems? So why is all this energy being expended at this time, bragging, boasting and celebrating? We are happy to know that someone has actually come up with a proposal that challenges us, but this is really something for more sober times, not for the frenzy that accompanies an election campaign.

It is as if some of us have taken leave of our senses. The rhetoric that is heating up the country is frightening. I am of the view that we would not be able for sometime to create any semblance of unity and of stability. With the Caribbean Single Market and Economy upon us and as we thread further into the path of globalization the challenges are going to increase and to become more serious. Are we preparing ourselves to meet these challenges? When last have we looked seriously at our economy and the dynamics involved? Are we always going to be able to call on the generosity of the Taiwanese? Really, it is not simply a case of generosity because the Taiwanese are clearly aware of the realities staring them in their face, and are merely catering to what they consider at this time their best option. The question that must be asked is – are we positioning ourselves to do more than beg?

Clearly, before long the IMF, as it always does, is going to call on us with its traditional remedies, the old structural adjustment bit. In any event how much more borrowing would we be able to do? Are we simply prepared to sit back and hope that an international airport whenever it comes is going in the short run to allow the country to take off? And to take off to where!

In other words, there is life beyond an international airport and we have to seriously engage the challenges of that life. The debate about bananas is certainly not a moot one. In any event, however, no one expects even in the most optimistic of circumstances to have the banana industry restored to its former glory. My take on this is that things would get harder before they get better and this is my concern.

What will we be about in the next five years? Despite the spin that is being put on things, there is absolutely no doubt that the economy is not as vibrant as we would like to see and that our people are experiencing greater hardship than is imagined in many quarters. There are many more things than an international airport that should be preoccupying our attention at this time.

I know that there are many persons, who would dislike this article, but things need to be said and some of us will have to get behind the politics and raise the serious issues that would be lost in an election campaign. In fact, I have not even touched the serious issues. This is always a difficult time because the battle lines are drawn and the cold war is intensifying. The madness that prevails is frightening.

I have heard things being said that I would never have imagined, but some of us like it so. It satisfies our battle thirst. There is life too, beyond the elections, but what quality?

We need to cool it and reflect more soberly. Perhaps this is asking too much in an election that means so much to so many people. But failing to sober up might lead us to a point of no return.

Let us hope it does not get that far. But what is there to suggest otherwise? Where are the wiser heads that will prevail?

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