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No room for slackers

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THE YEAR 2006 will no doubt prove to be a momentous one for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

We have renewed the mandate of the Unity Labour Party to govern for the next five years, not without some clear warning shots across the bow. Parliament re-opened just as 2005 was coming to a close with the Opposition still crying “Foul”. {{more}}

The starting date for the historic Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) came with SVG and its sister OECS nations not yet ready to play ball. Prime Ministers Gonsalves gave a lengthy press conference of LIAT, the CSME and the troubling banana situation which is to be followed in three weeks by his Budget address.

Above all, for the farmers of the Windward Islands there is the challenge of a new, less favourable banana import regime in Europe. So there is more than enough on the plate, the trouble is that much of this meat is going to prove “hard to boil”, much more to digest.

The point has already been made in many quarters that the 2005 General Elections have left us as divided as ever. The Opposition, hurt by close second place finishes in three constituencies, has charged electoral fraud and has vowed to contest the results in and out of court. That is the constitutional right of the New Democratic Party and a sympathetic Court ruling will no doubt vindicate its claim as it would help it to at least consolidate its political base.

However it must closely examine its tactics since Parliamentary boycotts will deny it the opportunity to reach a wider cross section of the public via the media broadcast of Parliamentary proceedings. Also, it has allowed P.M Gonsalves to score a point by pointing to the inconsistency of appointing two Opposition senators, both of whom have solemnly proclaimed that they are the “duly elected” representatives of their respective constituencies. Fresh approaches are needed and the Opposition can prove its worth by making far-reaching proposals for electoral reform, so obviously needed.

The Government too has come in for a share of criticism in its rather narrow approach to the appointment of senators on the Government bench. For a Government with such a promising start in developing relations with civil society, a golden opportunity has been missed to strengthen that partnership and put it on an even higher plane.

Representatives of labour, the private sector, the productive sectors or NGO’s could only have given the government a stronger moral authority and standing in the society. It would also have been a very positive and practical response to proposals from the Constitutional Review Commission.

Much work needs to be put in to allay fears over the CSME, after all even the Government has expressed some reservations. A lot of explanation, negotiation and preparation will be needed if we are to realize potential benefits. The same” special and differential ” treatment that the Caribbean seeks in international negotiations must be applied to the smaller, more vulnerable OECS economies. And there are issues like CARICOM’s somewhat lukewarm approach to our banana troubles, air transportation and freedom of travel and work which need addressing as well.

It is expected that come Budget time a more comprehensive approach will be enunciated by the Government. Certainly a lot of focus has to be placed on the economy for there is a limit to how we can finance worthwhile social programmes without developing the capacity to do so. Our economic infrastructure, an approach to educational services based on ensuring that we are production- oriented, that we develop the requisite skills and mental approach, are key to our survival. For it makes little sense for us to be engaging in efforts aimed at creating wider trading spaces if we don’t PRODUCE anything of significance.

These are all tasks not just for Government but for the entire nation. Those who engage in banana production for export will know what battles have to be fought to maintain a place in the market. But, like many other aspects of our society, the burden is not being equally shared. There are far too many slackers, too many hangers on, too many parasites in our administrative, political and economic structures. If we are to overcome

the formidable obstacles before us, it will require sacrifice and dedication on the part of all of us. That is why it is no vital that we endeavour never to repeat the old mistakes of square pegs in round holes. Not only will they never fit, they become brakes to progress.

There is simply no room for slackers in our fight for survival and progress.

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