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A decade of ULP governance

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29.MAR.11

Over the last few days, the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) held several activities, including an impressive march and rally yesterday, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its accession to office.

It was on March 28, 2001 that the ULP swept to office ending the record-breaking run of the New Democratic Party (NDP) of 17 unbroken years in office.{{more}} The NDP’s fourth straight term of office was interrupted after a prolonged period of industrial unrest, culminating in a massive civil society movement which virtually brought the country to a halt and forced mediation on the part of CARICOM. This led to the historic Grand Beach Accord signed in Grenada in 2000, under which it was agreed that elections would be held in 2001, and not 2003, as was constitutionally due. The ULP was the main beneficiary of this agreement and ought to remain eternally grateful to the working people of this country for their role in creating the conditions on which it capitalised electorally.

A lot has happened in St.Vincent and the Grenadines over the decade of the ULP administration. The country has moved from the elation of March 2001 to the seeming apprehension of March 2011. In between, the ULP can point to an impressive array of achievements, in spite of quite difficult external circumstances. There is the undisputed success in education under the banner of the “Education Revolution”, providing educational opportunities in unprecedented quantities, at all levels, from pre-school right up to tertiary level. The housing needs of the poor are being met through the construction, so far, of 650 low-income houses and a number of “no-income” houses for the indigent. Adding to a significant social programme have been firm steps taken to care for the aged (home helpers, senior citizens’ homes and increased benefits) and, on the other end of the spectrum, construction of 9 state pre-schools, as well as increased assistance to private pre-schools.

Above all, the courage of the Gonsalves’ administration, in seeking to undertake the herculean task of constructing an international airport, stands out as a shining example of dogged determination and foresight. It has resolutely pursued this in the face of open scepticism by many who should, and do, know better, but who place partisan considerations before the national interests. It is not easy for a tiny country like ours, in today’s hostile world, to succeed in such a task, and Dr. Gonsalves deserves credit for his skill in being able to forge a broad coalition of international partners to assist in making it a reality.

However, all has not been smooth sailing for the ULP and the party cannot embark on celebrations without looking at the other side of its balance sheet. In particular, it can no longer dodge the question, “Why has our popularity fallen off to the extent that the NDP has been able to claw its way back from the brink of oblivion to within a whisker of power?” There has been some reluctance on the part of the ULP to recognise its errors, to discuss them openly, and hence provide a basis for rectification. The party can sometimes be its own worst enemy, and its failure to unite a larger majority of the people behind its programmes and policies should be of concern. Clearly its communications programme is in need of attention.

If the ULP wishes to enjoy many more years in office, it must address these issues and the matter of public perception. Self-deception will certainly not help. It has yet to come to grips with the causes of the Referendum defeat, or, for that matter, the narrow electoral win of last December. A lot has been achieved, but all is not well in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Prime Minister has promised to listen, seek reconciliation and to unite the country. We are encouraged by his positive response to the call from the Christian Council. We hope the Opposition will respond in a similar manner.

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