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Independence amidst worrying times

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The 29th anniversary of the attainment of political independence by the nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines could not come amidst more worrying circumstances. On a global level, the fear of a financial melt-down is sending waves throughout the international economy. Even the emerging economic giants like China and India are giving indications of possible negative effects.{{more}} In the major developed nations, the recession is already making itself felt.

While we may be insulated from some of the worst effects, at least monetary-wise, thanks to our Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and our commitment to regionalism, the slowdown in the world economy will hit small developing nations like ours very hard. Those families depending on remittances, for instance, may well find themselves with smaller or fewer Western Union takings or even the spectre of a barrel-less Christmas as our relatives abroad feel the pinch.

When you superimpose this on an economic situation where the sky-rocketing cost of living has left only a tiny minority in the comfort zone, then we are in worrying times indeed. With food not only an essential item, but also occupying a large slice of the household budget, the steep increases in prices are having serious effects on family nutrition. In addition, every extra cent spent on food means one cent less available for other important household expenses – electricity, education, rent etc. Our working people and the “middle class”, of whom many people harbour the illusion that they are “well off”, are caught in a pincer-like situation. No wonder some teachers and public servants are up in arms.

Yet we must not believe that all can be solved by the magic wand of the Minister of Finance. Every section of the population is crying out for relief, but the situation is not of the making of this or other governments alone. We expect government to be caring, understanding and prepared to take the necessary measures to bring relief where possible, but there are limits to those possibilities. The stark reality is that we, like the people of the USA, the EU, and the rest of the world will have to endure sacrifices. It is politically easy to blame government and press for higher wages and salaries, tax relief, fiscal concessions etc., but every such action has implications for the national pie.

What is of paramount importance now is for a national dialogue, on the economy, on social development, on relations between the various sectors to map out a strategic vision of the way forward. All of our best plans will have to be revisited in the light of prevailing circumstances and trends. This is where government must prove its mettle. It must be frustrating to have teachers and public servants on its back, to have citizens calling for lower electricity rates and VAT charges, but such is the nature of politics. We are all in this together and must collectively chart a course through rough waters.