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2011 requires concentrated national focus

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30.DEC.10

The year 2010 will go down as one of the “most eventful” in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, if we are permitted the use of this old cliché. It ends with the induction of a new Parliament, whose delicate balance represents the deep political divisions in the society.{{more}} That Parliament is itself a product of the hotly-contested and close general elections, which ended, once more, in the frustration of the hopes of Opposition forces for a change of government.

It was that titanic struggle between the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) and its bitter rival on the Opposition benches, the New Democratic Party (NDP), which virtually overshadowed all else on the national scene this year. Indeed, almost every area of activity took on a political tone during the past year, as though nothing else mattered. There are many who will welcome the fact that the election has come and gone and the contest has not stretched out into the New Year.

That sense of relief is not only psychological, it is also necessary to enable us to collectively catch our breaths and focus on the major tasks ahead. For while politics may have predominated in the national psyche, one cannot for a single moment ignore the fact that SVG, like its Caribbean neighbours, continued to experience major economic and financial challenges during 2010. The continuing repercussions and fall-out from the global economic and financial crisis are affecting us all much more than we sometimes care to admit.

These challenges will confront us headlong in 2011. We may have been fortunate to ride out the storm in 2010, but cannot afford to ignore them in the New Year. Already there are indications on the part of neighbours and even friendly extra-regional countries of serious belt-tightening. Just next door in Barbados, the government, facing an economic decline of 5 per cent in 2009 and a further one though of lesser proportions, in 2010, has been forced to take drastic fiscal measures. These include joining St. Kitts/Nevis in jacking up the Value Added Tax to 17 per cent. Significant, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that this measure, announced as temporary by the Barbados administration, should be made permanent and accompanied by a “a bolder stance on taxes.”

Such pressures may be brought to bear on our country as well, to try to bring greater balance to public finances. This has implications for public spending and employment, especially in the public sector. Yet we need to stimulate the growth of the economy, fund the completion of the Argyle international airport and create an enabling environment for attracting investment.

These tasks call for political stability, and a national focus on the challenges before us. We cannot afford to shift our attention from the goals to maintain our livelihood and to provide the platform for future economic and social development. As we enter 2011, let us, while recognizing political differences, put these in perspective and put country and future before all else.

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