(Excerpts of Senator Shevern John’s Budget Presentation)
This budget debate, as alluded to by the Honourable Minister of Finance, is taking place in unprecedented circumstances. Circumstances that are defined by: the Coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the world and of course our nation; the outbreak of dengue fever in our nation, quite possibly the worst in decades; and the effusive eruption of the La Soufriere and some experts are forecasting this could well lead to an explosive one.
This appears to be, as is said, a perfect storm. A storm that for which we are no match, and might find ourselves drowning in an economic recession. As damning as this image might seem, I am afraid; I am unable to present our current conditions in any other way. There is no doubt in my mind that my fellow Vincentians and their families are being harshly affected by the ongoing and somewhat sporadic economic disruptions caused by this pandemic.
We have mourned loved ones lost because to this pandemic, as well as dengue fever. We lost young people and, being a mother, I can’t help but empathize with the parents of these beloved souls. Parents should never have to bear the pain of burying their children.
As I mentioned before, we are also experiencing an effusive eruption of the La Soufriere and so many spend their days mulling over the notion that an explosive eruption is imminent.
The mental strain of all these factors combined weighs heavily on adults as well as children. In a society such as ours, where issues of mental health are often placed on the proverbial back burner, I trust that the strain does not become unbearable.
I must add that this “aspirational” budget seems to have been prepared, and seasoned with a dash of cruelty. As I combed through the document, I got the sense that it would do very little in addressing the real issues that are affecting our nation and that will affect our nation, unless the very hand of God delivers us.
As clichéd, the greatest asset of any nation is its human resources. It therefore baffles me that while the government would often say “the youths are the future”, they continuously fail to create policies to capture and nurture the best of our young people. In fact, in budget 2021, there is an alarming decrease in what is allotted for youth development. One would think that a government that boasts about having a youthful team, would make an effort to ensure that all young people have access to the tools needed for success.
Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case. Please allow me to jolt your memory a bit. It was on the 13th August 2020, right here in this Honourable House that my colleague, the former Minister of Youth Affairs stated, and I am sure the records will prove me right, that the only national document to address youth development was developed by the New Democratic Party in 1996 – a twenty-five year old document.
The government speaks loftily and loudly, but their actions do not match their pronouncements. Playing fields and hardcourts are allowed to deteriorate across the country and almost every election period they are given a tuft of grass, some fresh paint, and a few small repairs, then they are left to fall to ruin again. The incomplete project in Diamond was opened in grand style, pre-elections, and the Searchlight Newspaper reported that it is being used by residents as a football field and a public bath. I cannot help but wonder whether or not a community-needs assessment was done in that area. I am puzzled. What would lead residents to convert an athletic track into a football field?
What I do know, is that our children, some of them my former students, are at this time being urged to stay indoors. While the government tried and failed to deliver a 20-year-old promise of an athletic stadium, they ignored the real needs of our young people in this very crucial and unpredictable space and time. Without encroaching too much on the presentation of my esteemed colleague and senior, the Honourable Terrance Ollivierre, I wish to state or rather highlight a few things.
Like my colleague, I too am an educator and so it would be remiss of me to not touch on matters that concern my past students and fellow constituents. More than half of our primary school students have no device on which they could access their online classrooms. In North Windward, there are six primary schools, so they too are affected.
Beyond this, our young people are scared, some are literally scared for their lives. No doubt our youth are also trying to cope with all what is happening around them. Some have lost classmates and siblings because of dengue, some have lost relatives because of COVID-19, and others like my constituents see the La Soufriere daily and are reminded of what could be. This would be a good time for the government to create hotlines where young people, especially, could reach someone to talk. The COVID-19 hotline does not offer such a service and sadly we have no other. No price could be placed on the mental health of our young people.
Money has been allocated to continue the needed PAVE programme but I see no programme to focus on the mental well-being of our youth.
I listened to the address of the Minister of Finance and was quite bothered by it. He spoke about my fellow constituents, a people I offered myself to serve, hoping to provide them “a breath of fresh air”. I proudly serve now in another capacity and will forever highlight their plight as the strong Garifuna woman. Especially since I know that there are many who look to me for representation. I will be unyielding in my drive to serve all the people of North Windward.