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A look at some local issues

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THANKS for the positive feedback that I have had so far on the two previous columns reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the launching of the United People’s Movement (UPM). They are part of a series which I will do, with interruption, right up to December, itself the month of the historic 1979 general elections which the UPM contested for the first time. The first interruption comes this week to make way for comments on more current issues.

Among these is the expression of my continuing disappointment at the approach to the celebration of our 40th independence anniversary. Yes, I welcome the ‘Renewal @ 40’ idea, but I do hope that I am not alone in lamenting what is essentially a top-down approach, very much based on state entities.

While not of the identical nature as what took place 40 years ago, I am perturbed because the current approach flies in the face of all that the mass movement propelled the ULP into office to do. It would have been far more appropriate if a wider, more inclusive method had been employed, one which would have generated much greater enthusiasm and fuelled our patriotic spirit.

It made me think a lot about how different our country could have been if we had re-instituted some form of local government to replace the old one scrapped by the ‘Junta government’ nearly half a century ago. Since then, local government has essentially been administered by the central government using varying instruments. The two parties which have governed this country over the past 35 years, the NDP and ULP, have each put into motion some effort at re-introducing local government, only for they themselves to shaft their own processes.

Reports of Committees and Commissions established for that purpose are on shelves, or perhaps in drawers somewhere.

Surely, a properly instituted system of local government must provide a sounder basis for mass participation in governance than anything we have now. It would also be far more useful in the delivery of services to the population and a conduit for enabling citizens to become more involved in the governance of the country. Of course there would be different views as to how local government should be administered, including how it should be constituted, but this is all a necessary part of the democratic process. Sadly, local government does not seem to be on the radar of any of our parliamentary parties.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister, in conjunction with the Minister of Finance, held a marathon press conference, speaking on a wide range of issues. Before I comment on any of these, I believe that the PM and his public relations team should reflect on whether holding such marathon press outings is best for getting the message across. Too many matters are raised and one gets the distinct impression that when Question Time finally arrives, the journalists are too tired to engage enthusiastically. Additionally, it would be good if the PM would desist from his seemingly public battles with SVGTV. If that is necessary, leave it for another time and place, not in the PM’s press conference on important national issues.

Among the matters dealt with during the conference were those pertaining to the CDB’s declaration of a mis-procurement on a government project, the PM’s recent Taiwan visit, hotel development and the long-promised national stadium. The latter issue is a particularly sore one, especially in the local sporting community after years of disappointment and it would be interesting to gauge the reaction to Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves’ overdue announcement of progress on this score.

It came in the context of a recent announcement of another government initiative, this time it is Sports Against Crime, following on the Pan Against Crime one. Undoubtedly, the pan initiative has brought many benefits, though at this moment it would be difficult to quantify its success in the fight against crime. It was interesting though to hear some comments when the sports initiative was announced.

One which caught my ear was the one asking, “When are we getting a “Jobs Against Crime” initiative?

The Finance Minister certainly answered this, detailing plans for the construction of 1100 hotel rooms over the next few years, along with the phased construction of the National Stadium with an international athletic track. Should these materialize as promised, it is sure to have impact on the job situation both in the construction and post-construction phases, as well as boosting the local economy.

How will the Opposition handle these grand plans?

Brand them as “election gimmicks” or offer serious alternatives? Lets look at this next week.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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