Politics in the service of development
ONE UNDERSTANDS why the period leading up to elections is referred to as the Silly Season, for really, we do a lot of silly things. Normally sensible, intelligent people are transformed into robot-like characters programmed to follow directions. We become either party comrades or enemies. Our thinking goes berserk. I heard a teacher bragging about the progress we have made, stating that almost everyone has a cell phone. Give me a break! You will be hard pressed to find a country where this is not so. But what use do we make of our phones? I was looking at a programme some months ago on Al Jazeera where they were focusing on an African village. The farmers in that village did their business transactions on their farms with the use of their phones. Need I say more! I used the above example to draw attention to our state of mind. We need serious conversations on what constitutes development, which has to be sustainable if it is going to mean anything.
Putting down structures, by themselves means little. The talk is that our Learning Resource Centres are used for weddings and other social activities rather than for the purpose they were intended.
Sometimes we proudly display these structures, only to realise later that no serious thinking had gone into their intended use and hence no programs put in place to ensure their proper utilisation.
There are two things in recent times that had in my view the potential to contribute to development in a meaningful way – the establishment of the Argyle International Airport and the Education Revolution, so called. The years during which the airport was being constructed were difficult ones in that most of our resources, human and otherwise, were put into that project. The economy suffered since scare financial resources had to be channelled in securing its completion.
But how much effort was put into what was expected to happen afterwards?
One should have considered that we were unlikely to be a hub. Any airline coming was simply going to be bringing passengers mainly to SVG. No major international aircraft was going to come here and then go on to St. Lucia or Grenada, even to Barbados, for it would certainly not be economically feasible. We lacked hotel accommodation and are only now beginning to pay serious attention to it. The result was that a large percentage of the passengers coming in were Vincentians and homeowners in Bequia. To what extent had we developed our tourism infrastructure? Hotels by themselves do not attract visitors. Much more have to be in place.
To what extent have we built up the capacity to ship out produce, not only agricultural, but whatever else we produce that can be marketed abroad?
There is much more that can be said on this issue, for regularity and quantity needed serious planning and organisation. Then there was what was misnamed the ‘Education Revolution’! For years I had been trying to understand what it really meant, only to realise that it was about facilitating the entry of primary school students into secondary schools.
The curriculum had minor changes. Some new subjects were offered because they were available through CXC. The method and style of teaching were to a large extent oldschool. Despite the rhetoric, we did not pay serious attention to the use of new technology, as can be seen by the problems encountered when trying to offer on-line classes during the pandemic stay-at-home period. The development needs of the country should have been factored into the education discussion. The human resource needs over a period of 10-15 years should have influenced the availability of scholarships. In other words, the link between education and development should have been strengthened. The system should have been facilitating critical thinkers. But not much had changed.
Politics should not be about listing the number of grand projects on the agenda, but showing how those related to the country’s development and how equipped our human resources were to meet the challenges.
● Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian