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The deeper implications of the Bigger Biggs story

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Fri Oct 24, 2014

Editor: Much has been written and debated in the Vincentian media about the plight of Leon “Bigger Biggs” Samuel in the suspension of his mining licence by the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines. It is alleged that the reasons given for this nefarious act by the Government were rather specious, heavy-handed and politically motivated.{{more}} However, whether or not the Government’s actions turn on the desire to punish a supporter of the Opposition party, the greater tragedy in the destruction of a private business can be found in the grave damage inflicted on the nation, entrepreneurs and private enterprise in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Here is why:

As a private entrepreneur, Mr Biggs accepted huge risks to invest in a business that provide domestically produced goods to meet the demands of the construction industry. His vision and fortitude in establishing a business at a higher level than any other firms in this sector was not only innovative, but exemplary. The cost of the equipment alone would have scared less motivated persons. Consequently, Mr Samuel sent a positive economic message to the citizens of the nation. He saw a need for a product demanded by the nation and rose to fill that need without regard of political patronage. His was a private venture to be emulated by the young and the not so young budding entrepreneurs in SVG.

Over the past fourteen years, St Vincent and the Grenadines has descended into the economic pit of “Beggar nation”. The country expanded government employment and expenditures on government purchases at an alarming rate, far outstripping the nation’s ability to raise Government revenues through taxation. Recently, the Government had to borrow money from the National Insurance Services (NIS) in order to pay the retirement funds due the NIS. Mr Ivan O’Neal, the Green Party chairman, continues to publish elementary financial data that show the Government’s (meaning the political party in power) consistency in forecasting national revenues that fail to meet their mark. In fact, the large gap between the revenues forecast and the taxes actually collected is a national embarrassment that should provide grounds for firing those involved in the preparation of the data and the Minister of Finance who brings these numbers to the Parliament and the nation. What does this have to do with the Bigger Biggs story? It speaks to the fact that we cannot afford to destroy or even discourage private entrepreneurs from producing goods and services that will bring revenues into the government coffers. To the contrary, SVG needs to do everything possible to encourage and support private enterprise in the public interest.

The Vincentian labour market has been stymied by the destruction of the agricultural sector, which traditionally employed more than 50 per cent of the nation’s citizens. Our farmers, the true nation builders, kept the nation solvent with the export taxes paid, investments in lands and buildings and spending on consumer and productive goods. The expansion of the national economy under the James Mitchell government was a testimony to the potency of the farmers in lifting the national economy. People who were categorized as lazy rose to the challenge offered by the NDP when it instituted a land reform program that empowered the poor to engage in private agricultural enterprises. Today, all of that has been negated, as large parcels of arable land are idle or have been used for non-productive purposes. Again, what does this have to do with Bigger Biggs? By rendering Mr Biggs impotent to carry on his private enterprise, the nation’s welfare suffered – losing the power of the jobs, goods, services and consumer spending that would have contributed to the national economy.

Additionally, closing down Mr Samuel’s enterprise destroyed the jobs that SVG could ill-afford to lose. In SVG, the private labour market system is under-appreciated, disrespected, overly regulated, mis-regulated and held subservient to the macho public sector labour market (Own-the-ULP, Own-the-jobs) propaganda. This harks back to the Marxist scheme, where dictators owned the means of production and consumption under the Communist Party mechanism. While the capitalist system, as practised in the USA and other developed democracies, is not perfect, the prevalence of private

businesses under that system has proven so sustainable and beneficial that Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam and other state-controlled economies have embraced capitalist economics as a means to the improvement of their national welfare. Yet, here in SVG, it appears that we are destroying the people who seek to take on the risks of powering our free enterprise system, while promoting government employment.

The myopic views of one Sehon Marshall come to mind. In his narrow-minded, misguided world, Mr Marshall seems to think that good jobs, are ULP-government jobs, while those who venture out to find jobs overseas are traitors to the cause. He belittles Vincentians abroad for being gainfully employed as dog walkers, nannies, and earning a living from other household occupations. Again, what does all of this have to do with Bigger Biggs? It speaks to the ignorance of our leaders and their followers towards the power of private sector employment and the disdain for Vincentians who venture out on their own to better their economic state.

Now, in a true democracy civil servants, including political leaders, take on the task of working for the people – the common man, woman and child who claim citizenship. The job of the civil servant is to provide services that would bolster private enterprise, support the private market infrastructure, protect the lives and property of the nation, educate and support activities for human resources, and other public objectives. They are paid for these services by the taxes levied predominantly on private enterprise. In fact, in most successful democracies it can be said that “government owns nothing that it has not received from the private sector.” But in SVG, it appears that the sentiment is turned on its head. Government – meaning the ruling politicians and their cronies – seem to promote the idea that they have the power to make or break private enterprise. Again, the Bigger Biggs story sends the wrong message to budding entrepreneurs. And from published accounts, they do wield destructive powers against business in SVG. It says: “Don’t depend on your individual education, character, innovation, penchant for risk-taking, and sense of enterprise to survive in business in SVG. Embrace the political party and all good things will be yours”. On the other hand: “If you do not follow the party, you will be destroyed.”

Consequently, the degradation of the Vincentian economy has led the Government to strategies of international begging, domestic victimization of private business owners, utilization of a friendly court to sue the pants off business owners, and embracing political schemes aimed at increasing the citizens’ dependency on government largesse. The Government deploys an army of beggars to embassies abroad with little or no qualifications but to beg. The disgraced deputy consul Mr Augustus comes to mind.

Once, we used to be ashamed to beg for a living in SVG. However, the Government of SVG is championing penury and begging at the expense of self-reliance and private enterprise. Therefore, while I sympathize with the plight of Bigger Biggs, Phillip Burke, Matthew Thomas and other private entrepreneurs who have found that St Vincent and the Grenadines is not business friendly, I urge my fellow Vincentian patriots to observe the greater threat to our nation: the loss of our national will to be self-reliant. Let’s not get bogged down on these anecdotal cases and hope that a different political party will do better and right these wrongs. Never allow the plight of Bigger Biggs to become the discouraging refrain: “Boy, you remember what happen to Bigger Biggs?”

Let’s rise up to take back our nation, reclaim our Vincy pride, and move forward in the spirit of individual self-reliance and innovativeness in private enterprise. Let’s make the Leon Biggs story a blessing rather than a curse. Let’s move forward in service to God, country and the private enterprise system that provided for our ancestors’ survival throughout the dark days of colonial history. And let the Bigger Biggs and other private entrepreneurs of this nation receive the recognition, support and national protection that their risk-taking sacrifices deserve. Only then will we be able to proceed with confidence to insure the sustainable future of our blessed Hairouna.

Vinci Vin Samuel

Mr Samuel is a Vincentian residing in the USA. He has no known relationship with Mr Leon “Bigger Biggs” Samuel.

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