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SVG Community College students have their say

SVG Community College students have their say

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Students and staff of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College (SVGCC) should now be clearer on several issues of importance to them and the country following a session yesterday in which they quizzed the leaders of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Unity Labour Party (ULP).{{more}}

The exercise, put on by the SVGCC, was the institution’s way of lifting the political discourse and providing an opportunity for students and staff to meet with and hear from the two main political parties in St Vincent and the Grenadines, a release from the SVGCC said.

The programme was conducted in two phases in which each leader gave a 30-minute speech followed by a 45-minute segment of questions from the students.

Arnhim Eustace, leader of the NDP, who spoke during the morning session, was welcomed with thunderous applause and cheers from the students. He began his presentation by recounting his academic and professional career and his contribution to this country.

Tackling some of the topics that his party has been vocal on, Eustace, an economist stated that his experience in the financial sector will be used to best effect when his party takes office.

He stated that this country is in “deep trouble”, given what he said is its bad fiscal and financial situation.

“Our country is operating on the basis of deficits. I want to point out to you today that our economy over the last seven years has had four years of negative growth….

“No country…, especially with a small economy like SVG can afford to operate on current account deficit. This is not acceptable in the least. In the 17 years of the NDP, they never had a current account deficit….,” Eustace said, adding that the financial situation can be fixed but it is not an easy task.

The former prime minister also discussed matters relating to the banana industry, investment and role of the private sector in helping to build the economy.

In the question and answer segment one of the first questions that was put to Eustace was the matter of accreditation of associate degree programmes offered by the college.

Former lecturer of the SVGCC Carlita Daniel asked: “On what information were you basing the comments and criticisms that you made about the associate degree programmes?”

In response, Eustace said: “The information was based on a certain amount of research and on some discussion with the Ministry of Education. And indeed, the honourable minister in July, 2015 confirmed in Parliament that the associate degrees were not accredited.”

In a follow-up question, the former lecturer asked: “You questioned the professional ethics and integrity of the director and management of the college. I don’t know what that has to do with accreditation, but I’ll like you to explain.”

In answering the question, the NDP head said many comments were also made by the management college in relation to him and NDP public relations officer Vynnette Frederick, which he said he found objectionable.

“…And I make no apologies whatsoever. After our first intervention in this matter, both myself and the party were subject to a lot of comments…, but what I want you to tell me is on what basis the minister said that no associate degrees are accredited,” Eustace retorted, which elicited loud boos from some of the students.

Another student asked: “In your manifesto, your party has stated that you are in contact with many international investors and development groups. if they are credible investors, how is it that these international groups are willing to negotiate with an opposition of almost 15 years?”

Eustace, in answering, said his party has had discussions with one such investor who was announced before 2010. He added that even in opposition, investors have shown their interest in their party.

Another question posed at Eustace, which was met with laughter, was what are his plans for the country are over the next five to 15 years.

“The plan indicates every project we going do in the first year of assuming office… We have chosen at this time to set up our manifesto of what we want to do for the next five years,” the NDP leader said.

Questions were also thrown at Eustace about matters relating to the Argyle International Airport (AIA), crime, and the protection of women.

On the issue of the increasing the age of consent, Eustace briefly said: “I have no problem in increasing the age of consent. That’s it!”

“There were a couple comments made about too many young black people following the NDP. I found that very offensive. What’s the point of saying that. What’s the point of playing the race card?” one student asked.

“Who made that statement? Young lady, when you say too many black young people – I know this discussion of race is a hot potato in St Vincent. What I want to say about that, I want to know why the Prime Minister can say George Bush can’t see me in the night. All those are aspects of racism of the worst kind,” Eustace responded.

Just after wrapping up, Eustace suggested that the faculty had given the students questions to ask.

“I didn’t come here to hear the faculty. I came here to hear what you think as students. I believe an institution at this level, they should be able to think for themselves and present your questions.”

The atmosphere was transformed from a town hall meeting into a party scene when leader of the ULP Ralph Gonsalves made his entrance to the lecture theatre, just after 1: 30 p.m.

Students rushed to greet and hug the Prime Minister, while some chanted the party’s slogan for the 2015 elections – “Four in a row,” waved red flags, bandanas and just about anything red they could get their hands on.

In his speech, Gonsalves commended the SVGCC for defending the institution and the quality of the education offered, including the quality of the associate degrees.

“It is important since I am on the home turf that anyone that does not understand the simple distinction between recognition and accreditation ought not ever to speak on the subject.

“…So that the question about the ridiculous, the absurd comments that your associate degree is not worth the paper it is written on is one grounded in profound ignorance. And when someone has been repeatedly asked to apologize for his ignorance and he refuses, that stubborn ignorance, in my own judgement, ill equips anyone in this country,” Gonsalves said as students cheered loudly.

He said the college’s associate degrees are recognized locally by employers, regional and international bodies.

“The national accreditation system which we established, that is a process of assessment… It is because of the quality here why the University of the West Indies (UWI) has selected this college to bring the proposal to us, that we will be a college of UWI….”

In relation to race, Gonsalves said all Vincentians are one.

“And when someone tells you that you must vote for a particular leader because he has a particular skin colour, that is not a qualification for leadership…,” he said.

One student at the division of teacher education asked for laptops for student teachers and for water fountains to be installed.

“I will ask BRAGSA to liaise with the director of the college to see what fountains are required, the number and we can set about to handle that. That’s easy to do.

The second issue, is that I am in fact looking for more Acer laptops for students in addition, of course, to the 7,500 tablets which we are going to give sometime in January for the primary school students,” Gonsalves said.

Another student asked, “Why is it that we are running on a deficit and have the lowest economic growth in the Eastern Caribbean?”

“The ad from which you quoted for the NDP that we have the lowest growth in the OECS is a falsehood. In fact, if you look at the statistics you will be see that between 2009 and 2015, economic growth on an average is higher in SVG than in the other countries of the OECS…,” Gonsalves responded.

“I will tell you this, the opposition is notorious for playing fast and loose with the statistics. On the issue of the deficit, we run a deficit on our current account because it is a manageable deficit and by the way, we have the smallest deficit on our current account than every single country in the OECS, other than St Kitts and Nevis…,” Gonsalves said.

He said he could balance the budget, but that would mean cutting several initiatives such as the Home Help for the Elderly, the YES programme, the SET programme, the Farmers Support Company, the Economically Disadvantaged Student Loan programme and the housing programme among others.

One student asked the ULP leader to clear his name in the much talked about ‘sex tape’ scandal, by saying if the voice on the tape is his.

Gonsalves said he had taken the position not to answer any of those questions. “Those who wish to make sex an issue, can make it. I did not know that the prime ministership of St Vincent and the Grenadines involves a discussion of sex and commess. You can run that if you want, but you can’t run a country like that.”

The prime minister also answered questions on the legalization of marijuana, the banana industry, sports, among others.(KW)

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