The new normal demands new bold thinking
Editor: If we reflect on both the last quarter century and the tumultuous events of the last 3 years, we soon realise that the world is by no means the same as 20 or even10 years ago and it will never return to that normal as one knew it. There is a new normal which is being shaped by powerful forces, some since the Global Financial Crisis and some in train long before it.
Over the last two decades, the harsh reality has been a dramatic decline in direct aid and assistance from traditional friendly sources like the UK, Canada or the USA or from international agencies such as US-AID, CIDA, DIFID, etc, as the Caribbean has increasingly been characterised as being more middle income, above a certain poverty index, and the aid shifted to Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Simultaneously, though, we have seen a significant decline in Banana, Sugar and other commodity export earnings which were responsible for our growth and world rankings, but now their decline seriously threatens these very gains. Our revenue base has now shifted form the export of goods to services. However, this, too, is fragile, and even more dependent on external forces.
The geo-political make-up of the world has also undergone remarkable transformation right before our eyes, where India, Brazil, South Africa and Asia have emerged. The Soviet Union is no more and the 27 nation strong European Union has come into full prominence and has forced a new era of the EPAs. Foreign Aid has always been an essential means for correcting global imbalances; levelling the playing field; righting wrongs; combating poverty – especially in post conflict or disasters; and to maintain the old and promote new friendships and cooperation. The global financial crisis has left no nation untouched and many who were once able to give now need aid themselves.
Quite noticeably, the provision of aid has also been shifting to the control by regional organisations such as Caricom and the OECS, rather than directly to countries like SVG. With limited revenue and the growing challenges in financing our ongoing growth and demands for development, the growing gaps have been increasingly filled by high interest loans and at the expense of huge national debts. Luckily, SVGâs 1.1 Billion debt and Debt/GDP ratio of 70% (60% adjusted) is the smallest in the OECS. (Antigua 3.0 Billion debt [D/GDP 100%]; Grenada 1.9 Billion [D/GDP 113%] and St. Kitts 2.7 Billion [D/GDP 179%]). The real challenge remains how to maintain steady growth and progress amidst the vagaries of globalisation, negative external forces, natural disasters, and still combat poverty.
Ultimately, SVG has to become more productive, self sufficient and earn more foreign exchange. However, in order to obtain any additional direct national assistance, bilateral agreements now have to be carefully crafted with other countries in the new G20 nations, (Brazil, India, Mexico, Australia and the expanded EU) and other nations like Venezuela, Turkey, Malaysia and Libya, and concrete efforts made in Caribbean integration and energy conservation.
The NDP had unsuccessfully tried to find alternative sources of financing and aid by courting Germany and Italy, but these efforts came up extremely short, and in the case of the latter, this left us with the infamous Ottley Hall Saga and devastating national financial consequences and debt. Recently, Arnhim Eustace in his now infamous Jerry George interview punctuated the challenge of sourcing vital finances when he exclaimed âFIND IT WHEREâ, indicating his own resignation and characteristic expression of hopelessness and defeatism that this problem cannot be solved, and moreso he cannot solve it. But we can find it, and we have found it. We have proven this repeatedly over the last 9 years, and in the next decade, 2010 to 2020, our foreign policy must continue as a non-aligned nation to show both the loyalty to our traditional friends like Taiwan (for which the list of assistance has been the greatest from any nation, Jomo!, including 86 Million for the Argyle International Airport) and a bold extension of a hand of friendship to new nations like Brazil. In this way, we will learn more about the world and the lessons learnt by these other nations, and they will also learn about us, a nation which has certainly grown in its regional and global influence and prominence.
It is said that people, leaders and nations can be divided into three groups: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder or ask what happened. In Robert Frostâs poem: Two roads diverged in the woods and I took the one less well travelled by and that made all the difference. The NEW NORMAL demands new bold thinking and a desire to explore some roads less well travelled.
Since 2001 SVG has benefited tremendously from a progressive foreign policy, rather than simply travelling the old beaten pathway and the wait and see how the rest of the world turns. That historic, bold, early and timely visit to Libya, even before the UK and the USA, was actually based on good research, some early signals, foresight and courage. Today, Libya, once considered a nation which promotes terrorism, has re-established embassies in Europe, including the UK, an investment bank in St. Kitts, and now it is one of the biggest fighters against terrorism, Al Qaeda and Global jihad. Yes! Libya has undergone significant transformation.
SVG established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1992, and with Venezuela as far back as the 80âs. Even prior to 1992, many a student received an invaluable education from Cuba, when alternative opportunities were unavailable. Venezuela had also funded several successful small projects during this era. Since 2001, the relationship with both Cuba and Venezuela has brought even greater benefits, and readers should determine for themselves if in all honesty any of the following benefits have touched their families or their own lives.
In 2001, SVG had a severe shortage of nurses, and Cuba sent nurses to assist, and subsequently doctors for the rural clinics. It then provided scholarships for 90 nurses and doctors. 2. Cuba introduced the hugely popular Vision-Now, which assisted over 900 Vincentians, and recently new services to address disabilities. (Barbados is now about to send 600 patients to Cuba for eye care). 3. Cuba assisted with energy efficient bulbs which raised energy consciousness and significantly reduced electricity costs, although a few persons refused the bulbs in the face of propaganda that they had cameras inside them. 4. Cuba is building a Modern Medical Diagnostic Centre in Georgetown. 5. Cuba created the designs of the Argyle Int. Airport and, in conjunction with Venezuela, has commenced the earthworks valued at over 270 Million, but the actual cost is less than 100 Million. Venezuela 1. Through Petro Caribe has helped to provide cheaper, more price stabilizing LPG (Labour Gas), and also provided tremendous subsidy for our diesel and gasoline prices. 2. It is assisting SVG in increasing its capacity of fuel (diesel) storage from just three (3) days to over 40 days. 3. Venezuela has assisted with providing cheaper fertilizer for farmers, diversification and alternative livelihoods. 4. It provided 3 Million dollars for the construction of 300 No-Income houses for the poor and to help alleviate poverty. 5. Venezuela has also provided heavy equipment and funding for the Argyle International Airport.
The fact that these developments have brought tremendous benefits to SVG and its people is undeniable. However, others in the NDP think differently and will sever relations with these two countries and others at a time when FDI and aid are so scarce, simply for reasons which just add up to mere vanity and old outmoded thinking which no longer are any threat. Are there any good reasons for severing these relationships? Why abandon all these benefits and developments in housing, health, agriculture, infrastructure, energy and more? So how will these great benefits be replaced, or can they be easily replaced by an NDP. What are the NDPâs alternatives other than selling our passports? NONE! Remember Eustaceâs FIND IT WHERE. The ULP has found it (friends and resources) and will continue the effort to find more.
Dr. Jerol Thompson