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SVG faces crucial 2017

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We have entered the year 2017 with the international environment not much improved from that of recent years. Opportunities which may exist or appear can easily be closed off, not only by our own sins of omission, but also by developments over which we have no control. The world is becoming more and more inter-dependent and the concepts of sovereignty and independence increasingly take on new expressions.{{more}}

It is even more important that vulnerable small-island states like those in the Caribbean need to get their act together and see their future bound with the levels of integration and harmony they can forge and strengthen with their neighbours in the first place, but also with like-minded interest groupings globally.

Even after almost a half of a century of integration efforts at the CARICOM level, there is still a gulf between what we preach and what we practise in the region where united action and integration are concerned. Serious deficiencies still need to be addressed in several crucial areas, including freedom of movement and the mechanisms to facilitate such movement. Regional transportation is a glaring example, for despite our physical closeness, we have yet to work out satisfactory arrangements for regional transport of goods and people, either by sea or air. As a result, we remain highly dependent on external sources in this key area of development.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the year 2017 can be considered the Year of the International Airport, given the fact that the Argyle International Airport is slated for opening, and to be fully operational next month. There are high hopes for its pivotal role in the long-promised economic take-off. Yet, we must understand from the outset that the Argyle airport is only a tool. By itself, it cannot magically spur economic development, whether in tourism, agriculture or otherwise. Thus, we must be careful, and this applies particularly to our leaders in government, not to unduly raise hopes of this “land of plenty” springing from the airport’s opening and operations. Much depends on how we use it to channel such development and to attract investment; much rests on our ability to manage the enterprise prudently and to seek marketing opportunities. Nepotism, cronyism and tolerance of inefficiency and corruption must be dealt with very firmly from the outset.

While we are on the Argyle topic, I was disappointed with the choice of February 14 as the opening date for the Argyle airport. It is difficult to conceive how Valentine’s Day connects with our historical development as a people. It may be considered in some quarters as a “political masterstroke”, since it is easy to connect Valentine’s Day with the concept of love, and, by extension, “Labour love”, the airport having been built under a Labour administration. It is also an excuse for a sea of red, the colour associated with Valentine’s Day. But is this the best approach to the opening of a national project?

The Opposition has made many tactical errors in its reaction to the construction of Argyle, but this is no occasion for political gloating. Massive credit must be given to PM Gonsalves and his team for a herculean effort to make the national dream a reality, but we must at all times try to forge national unity on such an issue. Operating the airport successfully may be an even bigger undertaking than its construction, and we need as much public support and goodwill in this undertaking.

It is true that there are those “nay-sayers” who seek every opportunity to denigrate efforts at national development, who originally scoffed at the idea of the Argyle airport, who tried to seize on every error and imperfection along the way, to predict gloom, but they do not represent the bulk of NDP supporters. It is important to isolate them from the bulk of NDP supporters, for whom the Argyle airport should also be a source of pride and evoke feelings of patriotic belonging. A ULP administration has built the airport, but it belongs to the people of SVG and is for the development of us all. We can’t afford to make thousands feel left out at the opening of such a significant project.

This sense of national oneness is critical to our survival. We will always have political differences, but it is how we handle them that will demonstrate our maturity and determine our rate of progress. We have formidable economic challenges, mounting social problems of murder and the drug trade, but most worrying of all, is the continuing political divide, the brutal tribal politics which spawns and provides excuses for partisanship, favouritism, inefficiency and eventually illegal and immoral practices. We must undertake to lift the levels of our discourse and debate and be able to recognize and appreciate national interests above partisan and personal ones.

Can we face up to that in 2017?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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