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Coping with our problems

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Fri Apr 4, 2013

SVG, like many other countries at this time, faces several challenges. These include:

  • Providing gainful employment for its people at a time when emigration outlets are getting less and less;
  • Servicing its total Public debt;{{more}}
  • Ensuring revenue from national sources is sufficient to cover Government’s spending on: salaries, pensions, road maintenance and other recurrent items;
  • Bringing into operation the almost complete Argyle airport and implementing related projects that would get the economy moving;
  • Reducing oil imports by developing alternative sources of energy, such as solar, wind and geothermal.

Coping with these issues is never easy in a democracy. Resources are rarely sufficient to deal with all the problems. Choices, therefore, have to be made. It might be possible to, say, pay the salaries, but not maintain all the roads. The choices made can alienate the electorate on whose support any government depends. This is why many early thinkers, particularly the ancient Greeks and Romans who founded the system, despaired for democracy. They felt that people would be too unsophisticated to recognize what is in their own best long-term interest. They would be swayed by smooth-talking orators and gifts, including food and entertainment, or, as the Romans called it, bread and circuses.

Ever since that stormy night of December 24th, our Government and Opposition appear to be locked in competition to see who could procure the most fridges, stoves and the like for distribution to those who presumably suffered in the disaster. This, however, is child’s play to what bigger, more developed democracies than ourselves have been accused of. It has been said that ever since the fall of the Soviet Union and the apparent triumph of liberal democracy, they have avoided taking tough decisions preferring to borrow rather than raise taxes and cut expenditure. As a result, they now have huge public debts and budget deficits. It is even said they neglected their infrastructure. SVG, too, has a large public debt and budget deficit. It cannot, however, be said to have neglected its infrastructure. For the last years it has been working on its largest ever infrastructure project – the Argyle airport.

The Chinese have not been slow to spot the problems Western countries face. They regard them as proof that their system, with its very rapid rates of economic growth, is better. They do not have elections as we do. They change their government every 10 years, in a meritocratic system in which leaders get promoted up the governmental ladder. They strive to bring the brightest and the best into the government. These days even us in the Caribbean have to pay attention to what the Chinese say. We are depending on their $10 billion fund to improve our infrastructure. Like the rest of the world, too, we are hoping to get lots of Chinese tourists.

All this should, however, not blind us to the upside of our political system. In democracies, governments are freely elected. Almost all adults can not only vote, but also be candidates in the election. Opposition is not only allowed, but provided for. People are free to express their opinions and live their lives as they like. They have rights, including the right to property. Disputes and transgressions of the law are dealt with by courts that are independent of the ruling party. Witness the case of Otto Sam.

Clearly then, what we need is not a change in our system of government. Rather, there should be far more co-operation between our Government and the Opposition, as we strive to cope with our daunting problems.

C.I. Martin

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