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Place our nation first

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St. Vincent and the Grenadines like the rest of the Caribbean has its fair share of problems especially on the social front where the twin vices of drugs and crime are eating away at the fabric of Caribbean society. Each act of violence or sexual assault especially against minors and the elderly leave us not only outraged but with a feeling of frustrating helplessness. We rant and wave and openly call for heavy-handled justice in the hope that will bring all this spiraling violence to an end but appear to be stuck in a quagmire. Where will it all end?{{more}}

The reality is that we face real societal challenges, very serious ones which, so far at least, we have not been able to confront successfully. They are but part of the wider challenge of national development for which we must find solutions. For our social ills are being manifested in the context of much broader socio-economic problems from which they cannot be isolated. 2007 is crunch year for us in the field of trade with the deadline for the waiver permitting our bananas to enjoy preferential status (limited even as it is now) coming up for expiry on December 31st. As part of the wider Caribbean we are still encountering problems with securing our interests in negotiations with the European Union for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The Caribbean Single Market is itself presenting new challenges for our businesses with regional alliances taking precedence over narrow national interest. Then there is regional air travel and, yes, we have committed ourselves to building an international airport by 2011. That’s more than a full plate.

In order to tackle all these, our energies need to be properly focused. Sadly, this is far the case. Fed by the endless talk shows on radio and prompted by some irresponsible talk show hosts and “commentators” we are falling into the trap of tilting at windmills, going off on all kinds of tangents and missing the real issues. And our continuing partisan political divisions are at the heart of it all. Wrong signals are being sent out to our people provoking, quite logically, wrong reactions.

So it was no surprise to me, though it pained me a lot to learn on my return home from a visit abroad, that the funeral service for the late patriot “Saluche” Small, was desecrated by political jeering and cheering. A sad development but a sign of the times in which we are living, such is the nature of our political division. It is easy enough to pin blame on NDP supporters but it goes beyond those unfortunate expressions. For it is true, that not just NDP people, but many right-thinking Vincentians would have for a long time been concerned that such a rare jewel like Saluche could not be facilitated at natural events like Carnival. In fact I was told by one CDC member that he was shocked at the reaction when Saluche’s name came up as a possible performer for Carnival shows! These are the kinds of actions which help to entrench the divisions. Whatever his politics, Saluche was as Vincentian as any of us can be and thus entitled to the rights and privileges as any of us!

I say this to emphasize that the leadership of both political tribes have a heavy responsibility to the nation. They must learn to balance differences in political opinions with commitment to the good of the nation. They must lead by example and rebuke those who fan political hatred or discrimination in the name of party politics. Sadly, that is not always the case, far from it in fact. Take the example of the early release of a prisoner convicted on drug charges. The Opposition, understandably, kicked up a storm. “National Security” was invoked by the P.M. as the justification. No way, Jose! More demands, including from the media. But information where national security is claimed, is not easy to divulge. Yet the PM took the unprecedented step of consulting and sharing information with the Opposition Leader. We can argue whether it would not have been better to do it in the first case, but share he did. Only to be met with a politically charged response. It boils down to a matter of trust in the national leadership. What are we encouraging? Playing to the crowd, sinking to the lowest common denominator?

Those are the attitudes which are undermining our abilities as a people to undertake the enormous tasks before us. All of us, those in the media in particular, have our responsibilities in this regard. Given our circumstances, we cannot afford to indulge in public recklessness especially where our utterances and writings are concerned. We cannot afford the luxury of idle chatter nor allow ourselves to be blinded by political blinkers, whether red or yellow. How could we be wasting endless hours demanding explanations for a prisoner release while virtually ignoring the lifting of a multi-million yoke (Ottley Hall) from our necks? Where is our professed concern for the mounting national debt, a concern I share, when there is no expressed joy over a $150 million debt, release? Where is our sense of appreciation and gratitude for the hard work, not just of the Prime Minister, but also of public officials, in making this significant debt forgiveness a reality?

One final example will suffice. After years of LIAT-CARIBBEAN STAR competition, a merger has been effected, in an effort to ensure the future of our regional air transport. But again, down the wrong line we go. The debate is over whether Ralph approached Stanford, whether he begged him to bail out LIAT, whether LIAT or CARIBBEAN STAR won. Those are non-issues. What is important is to ensure that the new entity brings greater benefits to all of us, not whose pride is hurt. It is a perspective that we must struggle to maintain, albeit in trying circumstances, for in the long run it is the livelihood of our people which ranks above all else.

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