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It’s 2017; so what will be different?

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Over the last weekend, many pledges, resolutions and wishes would have been made. These are, to a large extent, part of a routine to which we think we are committed. For most of us, it doesn’t matter. Life just goes on. We greet the New Year in all sorts of ways. ‘Old Year’s Night’ cooks seem not to be as popular these days. As young boys, it was often better when it was someone else’s fowl, stolen from their backyard.{{more}} Manicou was often on the menu. Then the mischief part of it! My first venture into this, as a very young boy, was to place some stones in an alley that was used regularly by pedestrians. For those who were sober, it was ineffective. I sat not too far away and waited. A gentleman who normally swept the streets came staggering down the road and slammed his toes on the stones. I was proud to be part of the mischief tradition, although somewhat sad because of the victim, whom I knew quite well. One night, many years later, I was driving from Barrouallie to Kingstown. At some stage on my journey, a car behind kept blowing its horn, signalling its desire to pass. It was Police Inspector Lewis. I allowed him to pass. He had not gone more than 50 yards, when he had to stop to remove a big stone that was impeding his journey. I lagged behind, witnessing it all. There were at least five other stops. After the third one, I was beginning to enjoy it and whispered under my breath – ‘It serves you right.’ It was decent fun except on occasions that involved breaking bottles on the road, which took a toll on vehicular tyres. Then there was the case of ‘Santa’, not Claus, but a lady from Barrouallie, who slept in a small house near to the wharf. When ‘Santa’ got up on New Year’s Day, she couldn’t get outside, because a few fishing boats were placed in front of her door, making it impossible for her to get out. Santa made a plea for help that was quickly answered and she went on her merry way, realizing that it was part of the tradition of welcoming in the new year.

We make a big thing about the change from December 31 to January 1. It is no different passing from November 30 to December 1 or to any other day. You go to sleep and wake up the same person. Everything remains as it was on the previous day, except that you are expected to change 2016 to 2017, although instinctively, for instance, while writing cheques, 2016 persists. We make wishes and pledges not only for ourselves, but for our nation. But the nation is not an independent entity. We make up the nation and so until we make changes among ourselves, the nation will persist in its old ways. Many of us would have wished 2016 away, but will that change the price of eggs? Do those on the pathway to crime simply get up on January 1 and realize that they are into a new year and so must change their old habits. I have said all the above to emphasize the point that change does not come like that. Certainly, we don’t have to wait until one year fuses into another.

This year should be an interesting one. The opening of the Argyle International Airport is supposed to facilitate a take-off, not only of international air carriers, but of the country’s economy, the long-awaited economic cusp. It is supposed to be the fulcrum that launches the economy into higher gear. Obviously, this is not going to happen by natural order. Things must be put in place to allow this to happen. It isn’t clear to me how much of this we have been doing. One issue which has hardly been discussed in the different conversations about the airport is that of maintenance. There will be a huge cost attached to this. While it was possible to go around getting grants or loans to build the airport, maintenance is going to be our baby and will take a heavy toll on our finances. I must acknowledge that we have, as a country, been poor at maintenance, whether of roads or public buildings and vehicles. Having to cope with Argyle’s sea blast will in itself be a challenge and will put pressure on us to pay more attention to maintenance.

What are the avenues and opportunities that will be created? Have we been thinking along those lines? Will LIAT begin to get competition because operating from Argyle does not automatically change the LIAT culture? We await news about the regular international flights we can expect, remembering the words of the CEO of the Tourism Authority that carriers will only come in if they can make a profit. Hopefully, we will not have to subsidize some airlines, as has happened with St Lucia and Grenada with American Airlines. It will, therefore, be interesting to see what boost the belated opening of the airport will give to an economy that has been quite stagnant over the years.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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