Posted on

Progress and challenges

Progress and challenges


by Dr. The Honourable Ralph E. Gonsalves,

Prime Minister

Our nation celebrates its twenty-sixth anniversary of independence on October 27, 2005.

Our achievement of independence in 1979 was the formal culmination of a process of political emancipation which commenced with the abolition of slavery in 1838 through various stages of constitutional decolonisation. The root-and-branch constitutional reform exercise currently underway in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will, among other things, determine whether the final umbilical cords with Britain of the Privy Council and the monarchial system will be severed. {{more}}

Every year when we commemorate our Independence Day, it is right and proper that we remember with reverence the seminal role of the nation’s Founding Father, the Right Honourable Robert Milton Cato, of blessed memory. We commend, too, the many other patriotic leaders and citizens, including those in the United People’s Movement, who placed the progressive well-being of our nation above narrow, partisan, oppositionist politics.

Since independence in 1979, our nation has made real progress. Each succeeding administration has sought to build, where necessary and desirable, upon the efforts of its predecessor. At the same time, there has been some bad governance; and there has been less-than-wholesome inheritances bequeathed to successor governments. History will, of course, deliver the final verdict on the administrations of Prime Ministers Cato, Mitchell, Eustace, and Gonsalves.

The truth is that the bulk of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have been responsible for whatever remarkable advances have taken place. To be sure, leaders make history but only to the extent that circumstances permit them. The so-called “ordinary people” are the ones, through individual and collective work, who produce the wealth and provide the goods and services. Of course, the people must be appropriately led. The highest mark of leadership is the ability to draw out of the people that which is good and noble in them and often to do so even when the people doubt that they possess such goodness and nobility.

In March 2001, the Unity Labour Party (ULP) was elected to form the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Over the past 41/2 years, our nation has done quite well despite the enormous challenges which we have faced from natural disasters, rising oil prices, war and diseases overseas, economic recession internationally, and the severely ruptured banana market due to the changes in the market regime and market condition in Europe. Still, the economic progress has been significant. For this our government has been significant. For this our government has been commended by international organisations and governments abroad. Let us look at the factual situation.

Since 2001, there has been solid, sustainable growth in St. Vincent and the Grenadines without unwholesome peaks and troughs. The facts speak for themselves: 3.2 per cent real growth in 2002; 3.4 per cent in 2003; 5.4 per cent in 2004; and an estimated 5.5 per cent for 2005.

Accordingly, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that is, the totality of all goods and services produced in a year has grown from EC$904.5 million in 2000 to EC$1.024 billion in 2003 and EC$1.089 billion in 2004. It is estimated that for 2005, the GDP will be about EC$1.164 billion. Similarly, the GDP per head of population has moved rapidly from EC$8,077 per head in 2000 to EC$10,249 per head in 2004. The estimated figure for 2005 is EC$11,000 per head.

Meanwhile, nearly 8,000 additional jobs, net, have been created in 41/2 years. The ULP administration has detailed all of this in a recent publication entitled Four Years of Progress: Poverty Reduction in St. Vincent and the Grenadines – April 2001 to April 2005. The focus of the ULP government’s work has been in the areas of education and poverty reduction. The outstanding record speaks for itself.

Every sector of the society has been touched positively by the ULP administration: children, students, the elderly, youth, workers, farmers, fisherfolk, women, public servants of all types, sports persons, diverse personnel in the field of culture, businessmen/women, and every species of bona fide investors.

There is in the air, a mood, a feeling of optimistic success and achievement. Persons such as Halimah De Shong. Saboto Caesar, Kamal Wood, Kioka Cruickshank, Kevin Lyttle, and Deighton Butler have become household names. There are dozens of similar success stories in every field of human endeavour. The people, especially the young, have rejected the gospel of learned helplessness. They accept that they can soar to heights like eagles with their wings unclipped.

Sometime before March 31, 2006, general elections will be held. In a sense the elections campaign has already started. As always the people will peacefully elect a government of their choice; they will do so with maturity and wisdom. I am sure that they will choose wisely and reward accomplishment and political stability.

As our nation grows older, let us remind ourselves of the stirring and apt words in the Preamble to the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines that our Nation is founded on the belief in the Supremacy of God and the freedom and dignity of man. Let us continue to work in a disciplined and productive way.

Let us strengthen our democracy and civil society’s participation in it as we continue on our quest to ennoble, in every way, the Vincentian component of our Caribbean civilisation.