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‘He who has eyes to see…’

‘He who has eyes to see…’

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Fri, Oct 21. 2011

By the Honourable Arnhim Eustace, Member of Parliament for East Kingstown and Leader of the Opposition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

In six days, on October 27th, 2011, the people of this country will observe the 32nd year of our Independence. On that date, we will once more have a parade; many nationals will sport blue, gold and green garb; and the Prime Minister will deliver, in rosy tones, a speech on the state of this country’s economy and society.{{more}} Dressed in the emperor’s new clothes, the Prime Minister will celebrate the “achievements” of his government.

But perhaps more than at any other time in our Independence, Vincentians are discussing two of the very issues that strike at the heart of what it means to be Independent – financial and social well being.

Vincentians can no longer abide by promises and platitudes; our people need progress.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ economy has completed an unprecedented three consecutive years of negative economic growth. This means that the economy has gotten smaller and smaller each of the last three years. In the present circumstances, a fourth year of hardship is in the offing.

Without competent captaincy in rough seas, we are likely to capsize. An excellent example is the Minister of Agriculture who has failed to ensure the adequate spraying of our bananas and plantains against the dreaded black sigatoka, causing a financial crisis for the banana and plantain farmers of our nation; and seriously threatening the future of the industry and our economy.

Consider also that as at September 30th, 2010, and included in the “Estimates of Expenditure” of our country, the government owed the private sector a staggering $30 million, thus limiting the capacity of the private sector to carry on its various businesses.

In addition, the “Estimates of Expenditure for the Year 2011” indicate a deficit of $105 million. In other words, this year the government expects to spend $105 million more than it will earn.

It has not been lost on Vincentians that a number of other local businesses have either had to close down or be sold, yet another sign of our faltering economy.

During 2011, Vincentian taxpayers borrowed $100 million from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to pay arrears owed by central government and statutory bodies to the former National Commercial Bank (NCB). As a condition of that sale, the government was required by the CDB to sell its majority shareholding for $42 million. That is the undeniable reason that our “national bank” has now been renamed the Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines although rescued by a St. Lucian entity. Over the next 20 years, taxpayers and their children will have to repay that $100 million in an ever-shrinking economy.

With ears cocked, Vincentians now wait on word from the IMF as to its recommendations for dealing with our shrinking economy and worsening fiscal situation – as trucks continue to roll out at the untimely and, therefore, unlikely international airport project.

After 32 years of Independence, figures from our National Insurance Services show a large decrease in active contributors for 2010, indicating higher levels of unemployment. As a result, 32 years into our Independence, our country has become more dependent on outside contributions – financial and otherwise, from others, rather than on our own inherent and intuitive capacity.

Economic and social indicators are inseparable. 32 years later, Vincentians watch in horror as the economic forces a criminal explosion. Crimes against the person, particularly women, and against property, are virulent and still largely unaddressed.

We are no longer our brothers’ keepers as political divisions stymie our national development. Even our children are made to shoulder the unnecessary burden: students are denied a solid education when the best teachers are denied their rightful participation in their development due to partisan political decision making.

We are slowly regressing from the high expectations and lofty dreams of the recent past when we broke free of colonialism.

As we attain our 32nd year of Independence, each Vincentian must decide whether to celebrate or instead merely observe. If you choose the latter, cast off the rose-colored glasses and look with the naked eye.

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