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The Independence gift



The news broke before there was an official announcement. By virtue of our local “grapevine”, talk show hosts were already speaking of and making criticisms to boot of an Independence package of gifts from the Prime Minister. EC$200 per school child? It sounded like a lot of baseless propaganda. Independence Day and the Prime Minister’s address would reveal the truth.{{more}}

P.M. Gonsalves confirmed the rumours. In the midst of the continuing economic challenges occasioned by global factors, the Prime Minister still summoned the courage to announce a EC$30 million package for the most vulnerable groups in the society – children, pensioners and those on public assistance rolls. To these, he added our cash-strapped farmers, in the form of further subsidies in fertilizer. A bit of everything, for everyone. Parents of school-age children must be especially pleased with the announcement of $200 per child, at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels. But can we afford it at this juncture?

The political implications are obvious. We are one month away from our first-ever national referendum on a new Constitution for St Vincent and the Grenadines. Any such Independence gift would be viewed with suspicion. Is it a brazen attempt to influence the electorate into voting “Yes” on November 25? A bribe, as the Opposition openly charges? Or is it a considered response by a government, concerned about the hardship of the times, in the hope of providing an economic stimulus, not through the banks as is done in developed countries, but by making cash available to those who are most vulnerable in our society?

To be fair to Prime Minister Gonsalves, an independence package of gifts is nothing new. In one form or another, whether politically inspired or not, we have become accustomed to special packages to celebrate the annual passage of our independence anniversaries. This year, however, given the economic climate, it is only natural that concern would be expressed about affordability.

It is a pity that in announcing the package, Prime Minister Gonsalves did not provide a detailed economic or social justification for his handouts, leaving room for the allegations of attempts to “bribe” in advance of the November 25 poll. However, if the $30 million package is closely analysed, it will be seen that several parts of it will not come directly from Central Government coffers, or even be paid out immediately.

In all our interests, let’s hope that the package works to give the economy a boost, and not, as the Leader of the Opposition has predicted, make our economic situation even worse.