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PM Gonsalves meets with Commonwealth heads, Vincentians in United Kingdom


by Natricia Duncan Fri May 03, 2013

Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves met last week with other heads and representatives of very small states in the Commonwealth to identify solutions to the distinct challenges they face in governance, policy making and public administration.{{more}}

Gonsalves described the conference, which was hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, as an important first step in devising a strategy for improved efficiency in the public services across the 19-member microstates.

He highlighted the fact that there have already been improvements in many areas of the public service, such as training, working conditions and remuneration, but admitted that more needs to be done to optimise service delivery.

He said: “In a country like St Vincent and the Grenadines, one of the major problems for us is finance. We have to duplicate services over several islands and we spend just over 51 per cent of our current revenue on emoluments for public servants.”

The Prime Minister spoke at the end of the April 23 to 25 meeting, which focused on a number of issues, including climate change, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), transparency, and integrity commissions.

The meeting saw the launch of a Commonwealth Executive Masters in Public Administration programme, which will provide courses on governance, contemporary administrative systems and disaster management; and the establishment of an Expert Group to guide member states on sourcing funding to tackle climate change.

Delegates also decided on strategies for addressing tensions between politicians and senior civil servants, and received a commitment from Microsoft to work with the Secretariat and governments to deliver technological advances in the public service.

The Prime Minister’s visit to the UK also included a presentation to the diaspora on April 25 at the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe.

Gonsalves addressed a range of issues, including the airport, the Building and Loan Association and the UK Air Passenger Duty (APD).

He said he was “disappointed” with the UK government’s decision on the APD, to press ahead with plans that will increase the price a ticket from London to Barbados by about £400. He described it as “a deterrent for people to travel” and a “terrible imposition” during an economic downturn.

The Prime Minister promised to continue the fight against the tax and added: “The British, in relation to the Caribbean, sooner or later will pay a political price for their insensitivity in not really giving us a hearing or even amending what they are doing.”

Gonslaves also spoke about the Harlequin resort issue. He pointed out the fact that other Caribbean islands had “welcomed the Harlequin investors” and that hotels all over the world experience problems.

He added that the government had not invested in the resort and had done nothing wrong. David Ames, he said, had been properly vetted and there had been the awareness of past financial troubles, but no evidence of any fraudulent or illegal activity.

Harlequin was mainly funded by self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPS) and Gonsalves declared that the issues surrounding this have to be dealt with through the proper channels.

“Whatever the contractual arrangement between Harlequin and the people who invested their pension funds, that’s their contractual business. If there is any mismanagement, they will sort that out either through the law of tort or the law of contract. All I know is that a resort of a first class type has been built in St Vincent and the Grenadines and somebody got to run it.”

The Harlequin investment in SVG brought in over 100 million dollars in foreign direct investment and provides employment for over 300 people.