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MORE PROGRESS, PROSPERITY, AND DEVELOPMENT AHEAD DESPITE CHALLENGES

by Dr. The Hon. Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines

MORE PROGRESS, PROSPERITY, AND  DEVELOPMENT AHEAD DESPITE CHALLENGES
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves

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[FORMAL GREETINGS!]

INTRODUCTION

Forty-one years ago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines formally regained its Independence which it had lost in 1763 when Britain assumed suzerainty of a country that was then known by its citizens, the indigenous Callinago and Garifuna people, as Yuremein or alternatively, Youlou and the Begos. For over 200 years, British colonial domination completely remade our country.
The British colonisers, through conquest and settlement, established and consolidated a colony as an appendage of metropolitan Britain, as it had done much earlier in territories such as Barbados, St. Kitts-Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and Jamaica. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the British introduced sugar cane, dispossessed the Callinago and Garifuna of their lands, carried out large scale genocide against the native people, and enslaved African bodies between 1764 and 1838. After slavery ended, the colonisers required more and cheaper labour for production, so they brought Madeirans, so-called “liberated Africans”, and Indians as indentured servants. Of course, over the years, Anglo-Saxons from Britain and other Caucasians from Europe arrived through the colonial enterprise. Later, arrivants from the Middle East, and elsewhere, came and settled among us, thus enriching further our population.
By 1880 — the terminal year of the indentured arrivants from India — British colonialism had completely remade our country; committed crimes against humanity; altered irreversibly our country’s population mix; transformed its economic base; placed it in the vortex of colonial trade relations, mercantile and industrial capitalism and, later monopoly capitalism; established a colonial state apparatus; and refashioned completely our country’s outlook to mimic an approximation of the image and likeness of Britain. The weight of that history of British colonialism and the legacies of under-development consequent upon the enslavement of Africans, and the indentureship of Madeirans and Indians, still contribute in down-pressing us as we seek to transform further our economy and society, and shape our Caribbean civilization, in our own interest.

OUR RESISTANCE AND
SOLIDARITY

British colonialism, early mercantile, and later, monopoly, capitalism, despite their triumph, were met with resistance. The Callinago and Garifuna resisted for over 30 years until our leader, the Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer, Paramount Chief of the Garifuna people, our National Hero, was ambushed and killed. The enslaved Africans resisted daily their condition in numerous creative ways; the Indian indentured labourers at Argyle protested vehemently; so, too, the working people, former enslaved Africans, who resisted their harsh post-Emancipation lives and living conditions, for example, in the monumental protests of 1848 and 1862. Resistance, resilience, solidarity, and the ongoing quest for equity, peace, and prosperity are in our national blood-stream, from the beginning!
Resistance continued into the 20th century. An outstanding example in this regard was the anti-colonial uprising of October 21, 1935, which ushered in, under the leadership of George Augustus Mc Intosh, the beginnings of the modern social democratic revolution in this country. This social democratic revolution has been broadened and deepened by the political forces under successive political leaderships possessed of a social democratic outlook. This social democratic revolution — a peaceful revolution — has accelerated, to the people’s benefit, in the challenging first twenty years of the 21st century, 2001 to 2020 thus far. In every area of material life, living and production there has been enormous progress.
Today we recognize the inestimable contribution to nation-building by the Founding Father of our Independence, Robert Milton Cato of blessed memory, and the role the staunch nationalists in his Labour Party and those who were outside of it, and even opposed to it, but who nevertheless supported strongly the call for an independent St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Many others in political leadership positions, opposed independence, even to the extent of instituting legal proceedings in the High Court to delay or stop the forward march to independence. But the past is not dead; it lives in the present! Some in our midst now propose aggressively to have foreign buyers of our passports and citizenship from Europe and China, recolonise us, and thus reverse our nation’s sustainable development.

PROGRESS AMIDST
CHALLENGES

Fellow Vincentians and Residents,
Our nation has accomplished mighty deeds and achieved remarkable progress despite its limitations of small size; the historical legacies of colonialism which retard our development in fundamental ways; the adverse impacts of climate change; the contradictions, turmoil, instabilities, and unevenness in the international political economy; and the prevalence of global pandemics, including currently the devastating effects of COVID-19, which have turned the world upside-down in a mammoth global economic depression.
We have chalked up impressive advances due primarily to the hard and smart work of the overwhelming majority of our people under wise and committed leadership in the public and private sectors, including organised civil society. In our sterling efforts, we have been assisted by our development partners, friends, and allies overseas, including Taiwan, which the proponents of passport-selling are now determined to chase away for absolutely no good reason. Which of our other reliable allies do these persons want to chase or down-grade: Cuba, Venezuela, Europe, the USA? Does not loyalty count for something? Those who are determined to chase away our reliable Taiwanese brothers and sisters know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Transactions come and go; solidarity and friendship remain! And why did these very same people strenuously oppose our successful 10-year campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council? Do they really and truly love St. Vincent and the Grenadines? Next Sunday, November 1st, our St. Vincent and the Grenadines assumes the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month of November — the smallest nation ever to do so. This is amazing! It is incredible, but it is absolutely true and awe-inspiring!

OUR CARIBBEAN CIVILISATION

Fellow Vincentians:
Through the fever of our history, we have fashioned a unique and uplifting Caribbean civilization and its magnificent Vincentian component. Through our history of pain and suffering, trauma and oppression, joy and successes, strengths and possibilities amidst weaknesses and limitations, we have evolved this extraordinary civilisation of ours. The process of creolisation, including the force of biology, has been impactful.
Metaphorically, our Caribbean civilisation, inclusive of its Vincentian-ness, is like a symphony: We are the songs of the indigenous Callinago and Garifuna; we are the rhythm of Africa; the melody of Europe; the chords of Asia; and the home-grown lyrics of the Caribbean. We are more than the summation of our individual parts; we are an integrated whole. Like in all symphonies, dissonances do exist or occur. But we have evolved our traditions, culture, and institutional mechanisms, formal and informal, to address sensibly, tolerantly, and efficaciously the extant dissonances. We can teach the world, including the economically dominant Western and Chinese civilisations, about the way, the path, the truth, of bringing persons from diverse origins together as a whole people, in the modern world. It is an extraordinary gift and blessing to teach this!

PARTNERSHIP WITH BRITAIN AND REPARATION

Fellow Vincentians:
The mutually beneficial relationship between St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the departing colonial power, Britain, in the post-independence period has been, too, a lesson in building global partnerships for peace, prosperity, and the achievement of sustainable development goals.
Although there is no saving grace whatsoever to the commission of genocide, enslavement, indentureship, and foreign political overrule, in the remaking of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Britain bequeathed certain positives to us: The common law; an independent judiciary; a professional,

PARTNERSHIP WITH BRITAIN AND REPARATION

Fellow Vincentians:
The mutually beneficial relationship between St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the departing colonial power, Britain, in the post-independence period has been, too, a lesson in building global partnerships for peace, prosperity, and the achievement of sustainable development goals.
Although there is no saving grace whatsoever to the commission of genocide, enslavement, indentureship, and foreign political overrule, in the remaking of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Britain bequeathed certain positives to us: The common law; an independent judiciary; a professional, politically impartial public service; a sound, though imperfect, framework for political democracy; and the English Language. We have been able to utilise these, in our own interest, in sustaining a good developmental partnership with Britain. This, too, is a mark of our growing maturity as a nation and an equally sensible outreach by Britain in this our turbulent world in which, no man is an island unto himself.
It is in the context of this partnership, and given our shared but skewed history, that our government and those of CARICOM demand reparations from Britain for native genocide and the enslavement of Africans, our historical ancestors who still live in all of us, a people of all ethnicities, today!

OPTIONS BEFORE US

We are in the midst of an election campaign, and the two main political parties, the ULP and the NDP have been outlining their respective perspectives on what each considers to be the critical questions touching and concerning our people’s lives, living, production, and governance.
In the elections of November 5, 2020, two fundamentally opposed options for development are before you: One path is to lift higher than ever, and sustainably the metaphoric SOUL of our nation in every material particular; the other is to advertise the SALE of our nation and its sacraments of nationhood — our passport and citizenship — to shady foreigners.
Since 2001, our government has been spearheading a transformation of the economy and society in accordance with the times and circumstances, in the people’s interest. That socio-economic transformation is being deepened and broadened to ensure a consolidation and extension of the extraordinary gains which we have made thus far. In these extremely challenging times, creative policies and programmes executed by experienced and wise leadership are at a premium. At times of turbulence around us in the region and the world, among the last things you need are half-baked and dangerous ideas and policies under the guidance of those with learners’ permits. The margin of error in our vulnerable, small island developing state is narrow; and things can get out of hand easily, and immense disruptions follow swiftly to the detriment of the country and your individual lives. Please do not risk your future on follies and inexperienced, unknowing hands and reckless minds.
Our leadership has been tried and tested. You have witnessed the wisdom, balance, firmness, and appropriateness of our government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past seven months. Those who were hysterical and predicted over 50,000 infected Vincentians and over 2,000 deaths before the end of May 2020 have been proved to be spectacularly wrong. So, too, their clamour to close schools and postpone all exams for the rest of the year. They got everything wrong on the multi-dimensional issues of COVID-19 pertaining to health, the economy, the society, and security.

SOME SPECIFIC ANNOUNCEMENTS

Fellow Vincentians and Residents,
I have a few specific announcements to make touching and concerning particular categories of persons.
First, as at January 1, 2021 provision will be made in the Budget to ensure the appointment of all public servants who are university graduates, as we have been doing year-by-year for all the graduate teachers. This initiative will benefit over 100 persons immediately.
Second, as at January, 2021, all persons employed in the public service and who are paid as temporary workers will be appointed permanently so long as they have the entry qualifications for the public service. This is a complicated but just exercise; it will be done.
Third, it is recognised that a wrong of sorts was done to some former Nursing Assistants who retired before October 27, 2015, when Nursing Assistants were accorded pensionable status. I am correcting this. Thus, all former Nursing Assistants who retired before October 27, 205, will begin to receive their pension from the Consolidated Fund in accord with an effective date January 1, 2021. The pandemic of COVID-19 has brought this vexing matter to the fore.
Fourth, persons on public assistance will receive an increase in their monthly payments by $25.00 from January 1, 2021; thus, those under 65-years who currently receive $250.00 monthly will receive $275.00; and those 65 years and over will have their public assistance rise from $275 to $300 monthly. This is in keeping with our government’s policy to strengthen the social safety net for the poor and elderly.
Fifth, the 600 persons who were added to a Special COVID List for a $200 monthly payment up to the end of December 2020, will be made permanent on the public assistance list from January 2021. Our government will continue to protect and uplift the elderly poor!
Sixth, the casual (temporary or part-time) non-unionised workers across the central government will receive up to a further 25 percent increase on their wages from January 1, 2021. This measure will provide a further support to an often forgotten group of workers.
Seventh, a full programme has been devised to assist in protecting and uplifting another important but oft-forgotten group — domestic employees in households. These employees, mainly women, deserve our full support in every material particular, legal and otherwise.
The year 2021 will be proclaimed as “The Year of the Oft-Forgotten Casual and Domestic Worker”.
Eighth, university students and former university students who have since graduated but have loans under the Economically Disadvantaged Student Loans of the Student Loans Company are being granted a complete waiver of interest payment for one year for the October 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021 academic year. This will cost the government in excess of $2 million. Thereafter, from the academic year 2021-2022, onwards, the interest on all the economically-disadvantaged student loans — existing loans, loans with interest arrears, and new loans — will be reduced from 8.5 percent annually to 6 percent, in accordance with the amended sustainable metrics from the NIS regarding the investment of its funds on this portfolio. This interest waiver (not a moratorium) and the reduction of interest are measures designed to alleviate hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ninth, the 2020 Actuarial Review of the NIS is expected to be concluded before the end of the year. I am hopeful that the Review will recommend an increase of the minimum pension at the NIS, which recommendation will be accepted.
And tenth, breaking news concerning our students who recently received their results from the CSEC, CAPE, and Associate Degree examinations. One thousand and forty-seven 1,047 students (630 at CSEC, 210 at CAPE, and 207 at the Associate Degree Level) have achieved the required standard to be paid the $500 incentive, which our government introduced many years ago. There is also a group of 53 students awaiting reviews of the examination results who may become eligible to receive this annual incentive payment. The cost of this package is approximately $550,000. The public servants have been directed to make the payments, soonest, as usual.
Further news: tomorrow, Wednesday 28th, it is expected that Amerijet will bring over 14,000 tablets, Samsung 8-inch screen, to add to the 3,000 already in stock, to distribute to the students and teachers at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College, the secondary school students, and Grade 6 (CPEA class) to facilitate on-line teaching and learning. A further 12,000 tablets of a more generic type have been ordered for the students and teachers at Grade 5 and below in the primary schools. Distribution of the first 3,000 is scheduled to begin on Thursday at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines; the balance will be distributed from early next week. These devices were part of the COVID-19 proposals funded in the Supplementary Estimates and Appropriation Bill on April 7, 2020.
Further, the officials in the Ministry of Education have recommended 58 students for consideration to be awarded National Scholarships, National Exhibitions, and Bursaries arising from the recent CAPE and Associate Degree Examinations. This is the highest number ever, exceeding last year’s historic number of 50. I have advised the Cabinet Secretary that I accept the recommendations of the Ministry of Education. Thus, there will be awarded 16 National Scholarships, 11 National Exhibitions, 31 Bursaries from those examinations. Our government will continue to have our students soar like eagles with their wings unclipped.
Finally, I have a few announcements to make in relation to leading personalities in Sports and Culture:
It has been drawn to my attention that some distinguished sports personalities and cultural artistes/performers who have served our nation selflessly and well are encumbered by a host of material challenges in life and living, including health challenges. Our government has recently sketched a programme designed to assist meaningfully. Already we are providing medical assistance at home and overseas to some; this will be ramped up. We are currently assembling a list of those to be paid appropriate monthly stipends. Our older sports personalities and cultural icons must be able to live their sunset years without descending into hardship. They deserve our full support.
Additionally, three more Sports Ambassadors are to be appointed with immediate effect: Sunil Ambris and Kesrick Williams, our West Indies cricketers; and Peggy Ince-Hull, a former stalwart of netball for our National and West Indies teams.
Appointed with immediate effect too, are three more Cultural Ambassadors: Rodney Small, Darren Andrews, Hance John, and Julian Mc Intosh. Congratulations to all of them.

CONCLUSION

I conclude with the apt majestic language of a master craftsman of words, our own Vincentian Ellsworth “Shake” Keane, from his poem Private Prayer written in 1973:

“To understand
How the whole thing run
I have to ask my parents
And even my daughter and son

“To understand the form
Of compromise I am
I must in my own voice ask
How the whole thing run

“To ask
Why I don’t dream
In the same language I live in
I must rise up
Among the syllables of my parents
In the land which I am
And form
A whole daughter a whole son
Out of the compromise
Which I am

“To understand history
I have to come home.”

We must come home to ourselves, not run to those who hanker at the selling of our sacraments of nationhood; we must understand our condition which our circumstances of nature and the fever of history have fashioned: to aid our full understanding we must ask our parents, our daughters, and our sons; and we, with hard and smart work, must build a whole daughter and a whole son — not perfect ones, whole ones — out of our condition of challenges and blessings. And we must do so with a patience, and a calm, and above all with enduring love.
Happy 41st anniversary of Independence! Long may we Protect and Defend our Independence!

Thank you!

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