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VINCENTIANS GO TO THE POLLS DECEMBER 7 • PARLIAMENT DISSOLVED • NOMINATION DAY SET FOR NOVEMBER 21

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Address delivered at a Rally at Sion Hill on Sunday November 6th, 2005, and broadcast live on Radio and Television.

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

My fellow Vincentians, Good Evening!

It is now four years, seven months and nine days since I was sworn in as your Prime Minister. Tonight I address you in that capacity and make the case for the re-election of my government.

At the end of March 2001, my government met the affairs of our beloved nation in a terrible mess. We have had to clean up the mess. Indeed, so much dirt and mess were left that we are still doing some cleaning. Practically everyone in St. Vincent and the Grenadines knows that my government was bequeathed an awful inheritance by the former NDP administration. We were dealt a very bad hand. {{more}}

At the same, while cleaning up the mess, my government has had to embark upon building our nation. We have had to find creative and innovative ways to deliver on the mandate which the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines gave to us on March 28, 2001. Almost everybody agrees that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) has delivered in government on its promises and commitments. In this regard, our accomplishments have been all the more remarkable given the bad hand left us by the former NDP administration, the natural disasters which struck St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the very difficult circumstances in the international political economy.

Further, we have had to plan properly and implement wisely for future nation-building. Our sustained successes in cleaning up, in nation-building, and in foundation-laying have been a marvel to Vincentians at home and abroad, and to objective observers in the region and internationally. In fact, the ULP government has done much more to benefit St. Vincent and the Grenadines in less than five years than the former NDP administration did in 17 years.

As a nation we must never forget the substantial burden of neglect, and the awful legacy of gross mismanagement of the nation’s affairs by the former NDP administration. Let us bear in mind, too, for the upcoming general elections, the many wonderful, people-centred programmes and projects of real substance, which the opposition NDP has already signaled, in one way or another, that it would close down or roll back if it ever had the chance. Thus, we the people, we the patriotic Vincentians, must stop the NDP so that it would not be in a position to stop the projects and programmes beneficial to the people. Be assured that the opposition NDP has already pledged to stop or roll back the Education Revolution, the Low-income Housing Programme, the International Airport at Argyle, the YES Programme, the Policy of Sustainable Economic Growth and Fiscal Consolidation, the PETRO CARIBE Agreement, the Targeted Strategic Interventions to Create Jobs and Reduce Poverty, the National Stadium, the Modern Library Project, Annual Bonuses for Central Government Employees, Duty-Free Christmas Barrels, the Cross-Country Road, the Bridge over the Rabacca Dry River, Vision Now, the National Consultations with Civil Society including NESDEC, the Financing and Support for LIAT, the Mount Wynne/Peter’s Hope – St. Hillaire Resort Hotel Development Project, the Programme of Agricultural Diversification, and the Ottley Hall Enquiry, among others. These are some of the projects and programmes which the opposition NDP wants to roll back or stop! So, beware!

Make no mistake about it: If the opposition NDP were to be given the chance they would halt or roll back much of the progress which we have made over the past 41/2 years. It is thus your duty as a patriot and a voter to deny them that chance. You and I cannot gamble with our nation’s future by re-instating a discredited NDP which you so overwhelmingly voted out of office on March 28, 2001. Indeed, if anything, the current NDP is worse than that of 2001! Truly, what have they done in the past 41/2 years to justify a return to office? Absolutely nothing!

OUR RECORD OF PERFORMANCE

I come to you tonight to ask that in the forthcoming general elections to return my government to office for another five years. We stand on our excellent record of governance, our philosophy of social democracy as applied to the context of our ennobling Caribbean civilisation, our uplifting vision focused on our people, our creative and relevant programmes, our splendid team of candidates, and our quality leadership.

First, permit me to sketch the commendable economic progress under my government between 2001 and 2005. In 2001, in the year of the worst international economic down-turn for 30 years and the fall-out from the terrorist attacks in the USA on 9/11, there was zero growth; in 2002, there was real economic growth of 3.2 per cent in St. Vincent and the Grenadines; in 2003, there was 3.4 per cent economic growth; in 2004, there was economic growth of 5.4 per cent; and in 2005, real economic growth is estimated at 5.5 per cent. This is solid, sustainable growth without unwholesome peaks and troughs.

This real economic growth is reflected in the figures for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that is, in the figures for the totality of the value of all goods and services produced in a year. The GDP figures are as follows:

In 2000: EC$ 904.5 million;

In 2003: EC$ 1,024 billion; (first year that GDP reached a billion dollars)

In 2004: EC$1.089 billion;

In 2005: EC$ 1.164 billion (estimated).

Correspondingly, the wealth of each Vincentian has increased on an average. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head of population shows this:

In 2000: EC$8,077 GDP per head;

In 2003: EC$9,839 GDP per head;

In 2004: EC$10,249 GDP per head;

In 2005: EC$11,000 GDP per head (approximate estimate)

The GDP per head of population in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has grown faster than in any other country in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) since 2001. The huge gap between the average income of the ECCU – member countries and St. Vincent and the Grenadines under the former NDP administration, has been narrowing over the past 41/2 years because of the faster rate of economic growth in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Further, between the end of the year 2000 and the end of 2004, some 8,000 additional jobs, net, have been created in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is in excess of the 1,500 additional jobs, net, per year, which we promised. Moreover, each year since 2001, my government has run a commendable surplus on the central government’s account of some 3 per cent of GDP, on the average. There has been prudent fiscal management. Even the International Monetary Fund has praised my government for doing a good job in managing the economy. And the British government has commended my government for its focused approach to poverty reduction, its sound economic policies, its good governance, and its fight against corruption. On the basis of this commendation my government received debt relief of $12 million from the British government. Debt relief was refused the former NDP regime upon an application made by its then Minister of Finance, Arnhim Eustace.

When the ULP publishes its Manifesto for the forthcoming elections it will list a summary of over fifty major physical projects which it has completed in government. It will also list over 100 major items of unfinished business which my government is asking for the opportunity to complete. These projects and programmes, those completed and those which have commenced but which are unfinished, cover every single area of public policy. It is a most impressive record of performance in education, poverty reduction, good governance, health, housing, the physical infrastructure, telecommunications, water and electricity, disaster preparedness and management, social development, the empowerment of workers and women, the protection of the elderly, the lifting up of the youths, sports, culture, regional integration, and foreign policy.

Contrast all that achievement by my government and the awful mess left by the former NDP administration. My government inherited a state of affairs which included:

• Unemployment in excess of 35 per cent of the labour force and a poverty level of 37 per cent of the population.

• Declining economic growth which had St. Vincent and the Grenadines at the bottom of the OECS table and a widening income gap between the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the rest of the OECS.

• A poor education system with very limited access to secondary, post-secondary, and tertiary education.

• An illiteracy rate of 20 per cent of the population.

• A health system which was falling apart, including a perennial nursing crisis and an absence of any strategy to fight HIV/AIDS.

• Informal human settlements with out title to lands without electricity or water.

• Inadequate housing for the poor.

• A run-down physical infrastructure.

• A dirty capital city, Kingstown.

• No proper public library and no plans for one.

• No National Stadium and no plans for one.

• Several “black lists” relating to the financial system, fishing and shipping.

• An unproductive national debt in excess of $600 million, some $70 million in payables, and the Ottley Hall disaster.

• Financial mismanagement of the central government and state enterprises.

• Little or no progress in the main productive sectors of the economy.

• Little or no respect for workers, trade unions, and civil society generally.

• No effective machinery for disaster preparedness and management.

• Little or no emphasis on sports and culture.

• Waste and corruption in government.

All that was part of the bad hand left by the former NDP administration for my government. That and more we had to clean up and then put the nation on a proper developmental path. Our phenomenal achievements speak for themselves.

TWENTY-ONE MAJOR POLICIES FOR THE NEXT TERM

The extension, consolidation, deepening and building upon our undoubted successes of the years since 2001 demand a further intensified focus and continued work on TWENTY-ONE major policies. The TOP SEVEN policies are listed first in this package of TWENTY-ONE:

• Waging an on-going war against poverty;

• Consolidating and extending the many-sided Education Revolution;

• Pursuing a path of balanced, sustained and sustainable growth and development; economic diversification including centrally tourism, and agricultural diversification around bananas;

• Creating more jobs, including quality jobs;

• Consolidating fiscal discipline;

* Ensuring Good Governance, including the implementation of constitutional reform and local government reform;

• Making St. Vincent and the Grenadines safer, and strengthening law and order;

• Stamping out official corruption and governmental waste;

• Ensuring health for all and a better environment;

• Uplifting the family, working people, farmers entrepreneurs, women, youths, the elderly, fisherfolk, public servants, teachers, nurses, policemen/women, and professionals of all kinds;

• Building an international airport at Argyle and a jet airport at Canouan;

• Delivering quality electricity, water, and telecommunications at the lowest price possible;

• Reforming and making more efficient the state administration, including the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO);

• Improving the road network and the condition of government buildings;

• Raising sports and culture to higher heights;

• Lifting the Grenadines higher;

• Linking the Vincentian nation at home with that portion in the diaspora;

• Fine-tuning, more and more, a progressive foreign policy of relevance and within our people’s interest;

• Continuing the process of transforming St. Vincent and the Grenadines into a modern sophisticated society within a globalised world through advances in, among things: The education revolution, modern telecommunications, the jet airport at Canouan, the international airport at Argyle, the cross-country road, the bridge over Rabacca, and links with our diaspora;

• Championing the thrust towards regional integration;

• Making Vincentians exude, as never before, a sense of optimism, purposefulness, and love for country, for one another, and our Caribbean civilisation.

There has been, over the past 41/2 years under my government, a most remarkable explosion of talent, energy, entrepreneurship and achievement, particularly among young persons who are flying high like soaring eagles with their wings unclipped. Persons such as Halimah De Shong, Kamal Wood, Linski Douglas, Kevin Lyttle, Kioka Cruickshank, Deighton Butler, and Juliana Nero, among others, have become household names in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on account of their excellence. There is something in the air in our country today which facilitates outstanding accomplishments and which encourages individual and collective initiative. It has been widely acknowledged that my government has helped to create this spirit of excellence; it has engendered self-confidence and a thirst for success and personal fulfillment.

OUR SPLENDID TEAM

Our twenty-one major policies for the next term of government are to be implemented by real flesh-and-blood persons led by our splendid team of candidates. Each of our candidates has been trained at the post-secondary level or beyond. Our team is experienced; it possesses a wide array of talents and gifts; it has an excellent record of performance; and it has delivered on its promises excellently.

I wish to place on record my sincerest appreciation to the members of my government for what I consider to be their outstanding job in turning this country around, in changing its fortunes remarkably from a terrible mess to real and visible progress on all fronts.

My Cabinet members, two parliamentary secretaries, and I have worked hard for you. We have done so sincerely and honestly. To be sure, we have made some mistakes but none of these has been major errors. In any event, we are human. None of our errors of judgment or actions can ever overshadow the magnificence of our performance. This team of Ministers is the hardest working, most innovative and united Cabinet in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I am very proud of every single one of them. Each has done commendably well, each is more skilled and knowledgeable, each has more wisdom, and each is in good health to carry on the yeoman service to our nation. Each is much better placed to serve our country than ever before.

Of this magnificent team, only Sir Vincent Beache is not facing the polls again. Tonight, I again pay tribute to this most patriotic and extraordinary Vincentian. Even I, at one time, was mistaken about his abundant gifts, talents, and wisdom. Sir Vincent has served this nation beyond the call of duty. Sir Vincent has called it a day on his personal participation in competitive, electoral politics. But he has much still to offer this ULP government and his country. Accordingly, in our next term of office, Sir Vincent Beache will be asked to remain in the service of my government, albeit not in Parliament nor in the Cabinet. He is too precious a resource simply to be put out to pasture.

I am aware that much of the public’s praise that has been showered on my government has been more generously lavished on “Comrade Ralph” than on any other Minister of Parliamentary Secretary. This is understandable because I am the Prime Minister in a system of government where he Head of Government is “the first among equals” and perhaps, too, because I lead from the front, though in concert with my ministerial colleagues.

But much of the credit accorded me truly belongs to others. For example, at the Office of the Prime Minister, Senator Edwin Snagg, my Parliamentary Secretary with special responsibility for Labour and Grenadines Affairs, has been a tower of strength. Truly, it is Edwin Snagg who has been the fulcrum around which has revolved the monumental achievements in the portfolios of Labour and Grenadines Affairs. Similarly, Conrad Sayers, my Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and Planning with special responsibility for Physical Planning and Lands and Surveys for the past 21/2 years or so has been reliable, solid and creative. It is Conrad Sayers who has spearheaded the implementation of my government’s policy of “Turning Dead Property into Live Property”. It is Conrad Sayers who has ensured that poor people had their state-lands surveyed and title deeds provided. Conrad Sayers, who has come from the barrels of the poor in Paul’s Avenue and Sharpes, has been in the forefront in advocating that state-lands occupied by the poor should be regularized and sold to them cheaply. Moreover, it is Conrad Sayers, with his immense representational skills as befit a veteran trade unionist, upon whom I called to represent me at meetings of the OECS, CARICOM, the Monetary Council or other such gatherings when urgent maters of state at home prevented my attendance. In my Ministry, I have called him my “Reliable Weapon for Justice and my Sturdy Shield for the Poor”. I want him at my side.

Each of my government’s Ministers has been outstanding; each has been impressive at home and abroad. Louis Straker has been the most brilliant Foreign Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines since independence save and except perhaps the revered Hudson Tannis between 1979 and 1984. Sir Vincent Beache has been a titan in National Security, the Public Service, and the administration of Seaports and Airports. Mike Browne, the architect of “the Education Revolution” in the Ministry of Education has been a giant of a leader. Girlyn Miguel, first in Social Development and then in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, has been among the most successful ministers on matters which touch and concern persons directly. So, too, Selmon Walters, first in Agriculture and then in Social Development, who has made sure that the farmers, the farm workers, and the elderly, especially, feature most favourably in the quest for rural transformation and poverty reduction. Douglas Slater has simply been the best Minister of Health this country has ever had and the most respected ever regionally and internationally. René Baptiste has been the best Minister of Tourism and Culture this country has ever

seen; a woman of formidable intellect, strength and creativity. Jerrol Thompson, arguably the brightest person in the Cabinet, has ushered in the revolution in telecommunications and has been a brilliant Minister of Industry, Technology and Telecommunications. Clayton Burgin, first as Minister of Sate and later as full Minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports has been magnificent in his attention to policy details and the implementation of his government’s policies and programmes. It is Clayton Burgin who successfully set up the YES Programme and spearheaded the remarkable advances in the field of Sports. Then as Minister of Education he did something which many of his critics thought impossible: He led the way in providing some 4,000 secondary school places in September 2005, roughly 41/2 times the number which the former NDP-government provided in year 2000. It is Clayton Burgin who rode triumphantly in the chariot of universal secondary education which, with discipline, he had helped to craft. Yes, discipline: Clayton Burgin who never attend secondary school but became a trained teacher and obtained a Master’s degree from the prestigious University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Montgomery Daniel, Chatoyer’s pickney, has been outstanding in restructuring the arrowroot industry, revitalising the banana industry at home, and jointly spearheading agricultural diversification as Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture. Julian Francis has been rightly acknowledged as the best Minister of Transport, Works and Housing ever in St. Vincent and the Grenadines; his capacity for hardwork is awesome; his organisational skills are legendary; his love for the poor, deep and abiding. And finally, Glen Beache, the son of Sir Vincent in whom I am most pleased. Glen Beache, as Parliamentary Secretary, partnered Julian Francis into a formidable team in the Ministry of Works. Glen is now ready for the big time of electoral battle.

This excellent team plus Hermon Belmar in the Northern Grenadines are unbeatable in the forthcoming general elections. Herman Belmar – teacher, environmentalist, community activist, draughtsman and Christian gentleman – is the man with the plan for the Northern Grenadines; I want him with me to implement “the Herman Belmar Plan” Please give him to me, Northern Grenadines!

I do accept that even outstanding ministerial performers are open to some justifiable criticism. No one is perfect and there is a limit on the resources available. There is also a limit to the number of hours in a day, a limit to the number of days in a month, and a limit to the number of months in a year. And we have been in office for only 41/2 years. Sometimes, some of our critics forget all this. The voters of this country, however, know the following: The government has performed well; the ministers have performed commendably; where there have been shortcomings, strenuous efforts have been made to correct them; this team can be trusted to work even harder and better in the next team; and this team must be given the chance to extend and consolidate their achievements of the past 41/2 years.

At a personal level, I reaffirm my profound love and caring for, and defence of, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean especially the poor, the working people, the marginalised and the disadvantaged. Over the past 41/2 years I have worked very hard, honestly and conscientiously for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines regionally and internationally. As always I have been in communion with you, the people; I have come to you and you have come to me. I have never been aloof or apart from you. My formal education, my upbringing, my informal training, my positive outlook on life, my world of work, and my political experience over 37 years as a political activist, parliamentarian, Leader of the Opposition, and Prime Minister put me in an excellent position to provide even more quality leadership service for another five years. You the people have invested in me and the investment is now paying off for you, our nation and our region.

As your Prime Minister for the past 41/2 years, I have sought to instill in our nation much that is good but, more than that, I have sought to draw out that which is good and noble in our people. I have railed against the debilitating gospel of learned helplessness and pessimism. Often I have cajoled you; I have used the pulpit of persuasion; and I have listened carefully to you. Where there have been weaknesses I have sought to turn them into permanent strengths; limitations I have sought to turn into possibilities; and setbacks into advances. This kind of bold, thoughtful, creative, and skilful leadership which brooks no undue pessimism and entertains no defeatism, is vital to our times and our people. I personally offer you that kind of leadership, a leadership deeply grounded in our Caribbean civilisation’s tried and tested values, a visionary leadership which does not lame and prostrate itself before potentates of other lands, a leadership which takes up our own bed and walk with a dignity which befits a free people at the dawning years of the 21st century.

TIME FOR GENERAL ELECTIONS

So, my fellow Vincentians, as the wheel of democracy turns, it is time again for general elections. I know that you are ready to vote. The massive crowds at our many rallies tell me so. I am also ready in every respect. I am absolutely sure that you the people will chose maturely, wisely, and in peace, in free and fair elections, a government which has served you well thus far. I know that you are satisfied with our performance. We promised you good governance, and we have delivered it excellently. We never promised to deliver perfect governance on this earthly city since that is available only in the heavenly city of Almighty God.

And now to the date of the general elections. In accordance with section 48(2) of the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in my capacity as Prime Minister, I have advised His Excellency the Governor-General, which advice has been accepted, that Parliament be dissolved tomorrow, Monday November 7th, 2005, and that General Elections be held on Wednesday December 7, 2005. Nomination day is Monday November 21st, 2005.

I repeat: Parliament will be dissolved tomorrow Monday November 7th and General Elections will be held on Wednesday December 7th.

The two sevens clash; St. Vincent is on the go. Let’s get ready to rumble!

Thank you, and May God bless us all!

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