St. Vincent and the Grenadines is falling apart. That is the general consensus of most Vincentians. The Unity Labour Party (ULP) has failed the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and eight months after the general elections, most Vincentians are demanding that the ULP must go.
On July 6, hundreds of Vincentians took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the ULP government and to demand change. The people’s anger was particularly fueled by the manner with which the alleged shooting of Mr. Cornelius John was being dealt with. Moreover, they were angry with the government’s failure to manage effectively, the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout of the eruption of La Soufriere.
Vincentians have had enough of the lack of accountability, high rate of unemployment, increasing crime, deplorable condition of our roads, demise of agriculture, poor health care, high cost of living, mismanagement of this country’s economy and the serious allegations of corruption that are levelled against state officials.
The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines want jobs. After twenty years of the ULP government, unemployment has skyrocketed. The overall unemployment rate has increased from 20 percent to 26 percent, and 46 percent of young people are unemployed. Those figures were before COVID-19 and the volcanic eruption. We were told by the Minister of Finance that since COVID-19 the situation has worsened with some 420 businesses ceasing to operate and 2,754 jobs lost. The ULP government has no clue as to how to solve the current unemployment situation.
The ULP government is not working in collaboration with the private sector. It appears that they are against private sector development. After 20 years, the ULP government has not facilitated any significantly new jobs in Vincy businesses. According to the World Bank, it has become harder to do business in St. Vincent and the Grenadines under the ULP government. Our ranking has fallen from 103 in 2015 to 130 in 2020. The report reveals we are one of the hardest places in the world for businesses to find credit and register property.
The ULP has neglected fisheries and agriculture. They have taken these sectors for granted and have failed to deliver on their promises to support these crucial industries. Agriculture used to provide 30 percent of our (GDP). Now it struggles to reach 3 percent. For twenty years, the ULP has failed to remove the blacklisting of St. Vincent and the Grenadines from selling fish to the European Union.
Our balance of trade in agriculture is the worst it has ever been, with many key crops in decline. Many farms once under banana cultivation are now covered in bush and are unproductive. There has not been an agricultural census in over twenty years, so the ULP does not know where our farmers are, what they are growing, how they can help them to improve their yields or even what land is available. The ULP government received some $37 million from the European Union to assist in diversifying agriculture after the removal of preferential treatment for bananas. The resulting projects are still incomplete and are yet to help farmers.
More and more people are saying that the ULP has little or no regard for our laws governing financial accountability and financial management. Accountability is fundamental and critical, as it goes from the top to the bottom of the business of government. It crosses all sectors and it connects to everything else that happens in the business of ‘running the country’. The lack of accountability erodes public confidence in government.
We recall the problems associated with: the PetroCaribe funds where $112 million was left off the books according to the International Monetary Fund; the misuse of the overdraft facility; the abuse of Special Warrants especially during the years 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 when the government spent over $100 million under the Special Warrant facility but failed to come to parliament in a timely manner to get approval. And, there was also the lack of effective accountability during the construction of the Argyle International Airport.
Indications are that residents of the Orange Zone are dissatisfied. The government has told them to return to their homes – up to the Rabacca on the Windward side and to Petit Bordel on the Leeward side. We have already begun to hear many accounts of shortcomings in the process of returning people to their homes.
Though many have returned home, there is still a significant number who will continue to live in those temporary facilities, away from home, for some time to come. We have a duty to make their lives comfortable.
The partisanship must stop. Every displaced citizen has a right to expect support from the government. Cases in which people are made to feel that they are not entitled to the support provided by so many donors at home and abroad, must be exposed and rooted out. No partisan consideration should be used to decide who gets help, when they get help and what sort of help they get. In other words, the donated supplies must be given out according to need. It should not be that the best is given to some politically favoured persons and the remainder to rest of the people.
The same goes for the supplies bought by the government with the money allocated for the purpose by Parliament in the Supplementary Estimates. For example, the allocation of $1million for purchasing appliances for persons whose appliances were destroyed or damaged and the $6.5m allocated to repair and rebuild homes raise the questions: Who will get those appliances? Whose home will be rebuilt or repaired first or at all? And, how much will politics determine the answers to those questions?
These issues and more forced Vincentians on the streets of Kingstown. Undoubtedly, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is in a crisis. It is falling apart.