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Reflecting on National Day

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Twenty-seven years after the achievement of constitutional Independence, 55 years after Adult Suffrage gave us the right to vote, and a full 71 years after the October 21st rebellion of 1935, Vincentians will this weekend in one form or another engage in activities to mark NATIONAL DAY. For most it will be another occasion for fete, for some, a time to reflect. So why not reflect on these?

GOVERNANCE:

We have come a long way since the days of 1935 when the working people of this country had no say in the running of the country, carried out by the colonial Governor and his allies in the planter class. They could not vote, had no voice in Council (Parliament) and could not even get a chance to put their grievances before the Governor. This emerged clearly in testimony in the case of George McIntosh with one of those arrested as rebel leaders, Donald Romeo, telling the court why they couldn’t even listen in to Council meetings. {{more}}

ROMEO: “People of my type have obstacles put in the way. My class is too poor. We can’t see him (Governor)”.

As result of the actions of Romeo, “Sheriff” Lewis, Bertha Mutt, McIntosh and others, Adult Suffrage came 16 years later, to be followed by successive constitutional advancements leading up to independence. The poor, each one over the age of 18, now have the right to cast a vote, the same as the rich. Whether it is always used wisely, and in our best interests, is another matter.

We now have elected representatives who are supposed to fend for our best interests in Parliament. But do they? The performance of the vast majority of our Parliamentarians since independence leaves a lot to be desired. Democracy, in terms of the participation by the people, needs strengthening, deepening and a greater sense of institutionalization. That is the purpose of the constitutional reform exercise, but it needs to be kept alive. The report of the Constitutional Review Commission should not become a dust collector but rather be used to generate even greater public interest and participation in the debate about PEOPLE’s Government.

How can we make government more responsive to the people?

How to ensure greater accountability, so lacking that even the Leader of Government was forced to publicly rebuke his ministers and to demand reports from them. Have they been doing so? And when are the Parliamentarians, Government and Opposition alike, to report to the people? How best can this be done?

THE ECONOMOY

This is a sore area for the majority of Vincentians. In economic terms there has been progress since Independence but the poverty rate is still over 30 per cent in official terms. Worse we have not been able to truly develop that sense of independence and entrepreneurship so necessary in these troubling time. Our mindset is still one of dependency on the Central government, not one seeking to harness our own abilities and demanding that government play the role of facilitating, of providing the right enabling environment.

We are about to see VAT introduced, the cure-all medicine that all our Caribbean governments will be forced to implement as they try to deal with having to reduce or get rid of tariffs and import duties. There is still much ignorance about it, in spite of the laudable efforts of the VAT department. One area for thought is that of a group of people hardest hit by most government tax measures. While some efforts are made to protect the poorest and the business people and their lawyers and accountants protect themselves, woe to the middle-income people whose salaries are seized upon by the Revenue Department in sizeable chunks and then who have to pay VAT like the rest.

This group is being rapidly impoverished in our country, forcing migration, dishonesty and even drug smuggling. It is a group being forced to carry much of the burden of society just because they are employees subject to PAYE and thus easy prey for the taxman.

There is great concern in the country about mounting public debt and the continued waste of scare resources. Public management of the highest order must therefore be a priority and thus we must put an end to political and personal patronage, stop placing SQUARE PEGS IN ROUND HOLES, stop pouring public money down black holes. Those resources are needed to stimulate investment, to encourage the growth and development of enterprise and small business, especially among the youth. It is our only hope.

We can reflect on much more, on crime unemployment, disappearing moral standards etc, but please, spare some time and some thought this weekend. Think positively about how we can improve our country and try and put our thoughts into action.

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