August 11th 2017


More support for education and consumers

Introduction

It is an accepted fact that whenever and wherever the ULP administration and Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves finds extra resources, that money is allocated to the poor and the working class. That has been the story of the ULP administration over the last sixteen years as the political strategy called “People- Centred Development” is unfurled, bringing benefits to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

This week, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves at his media conference, announced that in excess of 40 student loans were being made available under the disadvantaged loan scheme, at a value of EC$2.2 million dollars. These loans will be made available to students who are disadvantaged, and can’t meet the cost of furthering their education at the University of the West Indies. Last year the student loan company awarded some 70 students with the financing to allow them to attend the UWI campuses in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Jamaica. This year that figure will go past the one hundred mark.

All this is in addition to the students who received national awards and bursaries to study at the UWI campuses. The government budgets about EC$7 million dollars annually to take care of the economic costs at the UWI, and this is in addition to the money that is made available for the disadvantaged student loan programme. Under this programme the ULP administration has provided over EC$ 90 million dollars for Vincentian students. This is a serious commitment to the young people of this country.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the ULP administration has transformed the delivery of education, in terms of access, spread and quality. In this process, the ULP has altered immeasurably, and for the better, the lives of young persons, their families, and the nation as a whole. Gone are the days when only the privileged few in the country could go to university. Many of our bright students who come from homes which are disadvantaged, have benefited from this loan programme and in many cases are doing well. The government therefore requires that these students honour their commitments to the student loan company. To be sure, there will be some difficult situations here and there, but a conversation with the officials of the student loan company, is bound to provide a solution to any situation.

More SET and YES positions


At his media conference this week, Prime Minister Gonsalves announced that he was able to source some EC$1.4 million dollars, and that this will go towards creating more positions for the Support for Education and Training, and the Youth Empowerment Service programmes. This is indeed welcome news for two of the programmes which have been successful, in providing training for young people in the country.

So from the month of September 2017, the ULP administration will employ an additional 67 SET programme workers, as well as 100 persons for the YES programme. This will raise the SET workers to 217 persons, and the YES positions to 550, a grand total of 767 persons being employed. Here is further commitment from the ULP administration to the young people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines. We can argue that the ULP administration could have found other uses for that EC$1.4 million dollars, but this is all part of the commitment to the youth of the state.

Lest we forget, the SET programme is an apprentice driven strategy for our young graduates, where they earn a stipend, while acquiring job related training and skills. The YES programme is in a similar vein, but for graduates from our secondary schools. Many persons from the SET and the YES programmes have moved on to full time jobs in the private and public sectors, and are doing well. Let’s not forget the disrespect that the opposition NDP accorded to the YES programme, when they referred to it as the Youth Exploitation Service.

Road repairs and road work

It has been a while in coming, but during his media conference Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced that the special road repairs programme will get underway immediately, at a cost of some EC$13.7million dollars, all aimed at improving the road network for motorists and other road users. Earlier, a programme had commenced aimed at repairing the five worse roads in the constituencies on the mainland, and three in the Grenadines. This is currently in process at a cost of EC$6.9 million.


Now that programme will be expanded to include repairs to the ten worse pieces of roads, in each constituency on the mainland, at a cost now of EC$13.7 million dollars. We do not have the space to detail the list of the roads to be repaired, but at the end of the exercise, the road network in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be in a much better state for motorists and other users.


Prime Minister Gonsalves has also announced that he is making available a sum of EC$2 million for a road cleaning programme to commence shortly in the State. This of course will provide work for a number of persons, particularly those who have to meet the costs of sending their children to school.

All this activity will be followed by the major road re-construction work to the tune of EC$34 million obtained from the Kuwaiti Fund. This programme should have started earlier this year, but there were some bureaucratic delays that prevented this from happening.


All this shows that the country has an administration that is working hard to provide for the development needs of the country. The voters have returned the ULP for a record 4th consecutive term in office, and the ULP will ensure that the faith and trust placed in it by the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not misplace


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July 7th 2017


SALE/PURCHASE OF SHARES

IN BANK OF ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES

BACKGROUND


In November 2010, the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (GOSVG) sold 51 percent of its shares in the wholly-owned State financial institution, then known as the National Commercial Bank (NCB), to the St. Lucia-based Financial Services Group, the Eastern Caribbean Financial Holdings Limited (ECFH).  The ECFH owned, and still owns, the Bank of St. Lucia Limited (BOSL). The ECFH itself is owned by a number of shareholders including the Government of St. Lucia, a commercial bank in Trinidad and Tobago, and several other stakeholders, public and private, among which is the National Insurance Services of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

At the time of the sale of 51 percent of the NCB’s shares to ECFH, the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines announced its public policy of the further divestment of its shareholding in the successor bank which was named the Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (BOSVG).  As a consequence of this policy, as at June 30, 2017, the shareholding in BOSVG was as follows: ECFH, 51 percent; NIS of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 20 percent; a number of private shareholders, 18 percent; and the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 12 percent.

The sale of 51 percent of NCB’s shares to ECFH meant that the ECFH group comprised the two leading indigenous financial institutions in St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, namely Bank of St. Lucia and Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  The strategic aim of this linkage of indigenous institutions was to act as a catalyst to amalgamate and consolidate the indigenous financial institutions of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) within a single financial space of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Indeed, part of this strategic quest was to pursue the amalgamation of the BOSVG and BOSL as one indigenous (ECCU) commercial bank as a precursor to further consolidation of indigenous financial institution in the ECCU.  This strategic quest was within the frame of the settled public policy of the Monetary Council of the ECCU.

The process towards the full amalgamation of the two Banks (BOSVG and BOSL) gathered momentum in mid-2015 and was well advanced, close to full implementation, in the third quarter of 2016.  In the moving dynamic of this process, the ECFH Group, however, paused to revisit the appropriateness of the strategy for the St. Lucia entity having regard to its extant particular circumstances.

As a result of this reappraisal by ECFH, decisions were reached on both sides, in St. Lucia and in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which determined that the immediate future of the respective institutions (BOSL and BOSVG) would be better served if each pursued stand-alone strategies which focussed on their respective priorities and objectives currently, thus deferring the amalgamation plan at this juncture.


BUY-BACK OF 31 PERCENT OF BANK OF ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES

The upshot of this is that the governments of St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with the blessing of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, mutually agreed that the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines would re-purchase 31 percent of the Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines from the 51 percent shares of the ECFH.  This in effect reduces ECFH’s holding in the BOSVG to 20 percent and increases the shareholding of the GOSVG to 43 percent.  On June 30, 2017, as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, I signed the Sale/Purchase Agreement to buy back this 31 percent shareholding in BOSVG from ECFH.  The agreed price for the buy-back is EC $32.3 million.  Within the next few days the transaction is expected to be formally completed.  Accordingly, the Board of Directors of the BOSVG would be reconstituted and refreshed.  Business at BOSVG, of course, continues as normal.  We expect that two senior executives of the BOSVG who had been seconded to BOSL will return to us in the not-too-distant future.

Over the next two or so years it is the intention of the GOSVG and the other shareholders in BOSVG, namely, ECFH, NIS of SVG, and the private shareholders, to reform and build further the BOSVG to greater heights of prosperity and solidity.  It is the aim too, of the GOSVG to make certain that it secures a good return on its investment and, most importantly, to strengthen the financial system in SVG and the ECCU.

In accordance with our established public policy, the GOSVG recommits to divest, in the medium-term, a significant portion of its shareholding to other individuals and corporate partners in the region.

On Wednesday, June 28, 2017, at my request and direction, members of the team of Advisors to the GOSVG on this transaction met with the Honourable Leader of the Opposition and some of his parliamentary colleagues, including the immediate past leader of the Opposition, to inform them of the facts and circumstances of the buy-back of the shares of BOSVG and the strategic way forward.  A similar exercise had been done in 2010 when we sold the 51 percent.  These members of my Advisory Team (André Iton, Consultant; Maurice Edwards, Director General of Finance and Planning; Edmond Jackson, Budget Director; and Stewart Haynes, Executive Director of the NIS) briefed me subsequently on this meeting last week with the Leader of the Opposition and this delegation.  I thank these professional and patriots, and others, including Sir Errol Allen, Chairman of the Board of Directors of BOSVG, three professional Bankers (Derry Williams, Bennie Stapleton, and Bernard Hamilton), and Lennox Bowman, Chairman of the Board of the NIS.  I thank my Cabinet colleagues for their support and guidance in this venture.  I record, too, my appreciation and thanks to the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, the Honourable Allen Chastanet, and the Chairman of the Board of the ECFH and the BOSL, André Chastanet.

I assure all Vincentians and other nationals of the member-states of the ECCU that the buy-back of BOSVG shares by the GOSVG does not represent a reversal of the amalgamation strategy earlier outlined.  Indeed both Prime Minister Chastanet and André Chastanet of BOSL are also committed to the amalgamation and consolidation of the indigenous banking sector as the rational and desirable approach to ensuring its stability and sustainability.  I feel sure that it will all materialise at the appropriate time and under the right circumstances.  Accordingly, we in the GOSVG and the BOSVG are pleased that ECFH is retaining a 20 percent share of BOSVG, and thus as role in our bank.

The BOSVG looks forward to protecting further the interests of all its depositors, customers, and shareholders.  This is our solemn responsibility.

CONCLUSION

Forty years ago, in June 1977, two years before SVG become and independent nation, our nation’s leader of blessed memory Robert Milton Cato, and his colleagues in the Labour Party government inaugurated the National Commercial Bank of SVG.  Over the past 40 years, this bank and its successor, BOSVG, have advanced by leaps and bounds through its various phases of development.  The buy-back of shares is another milestone in this dynamic financial institution, a veritable living organism, which like all living organisms must continue to adapt and change, always in quest of the better.  We are confident of a bright future of BOSVG and the indigenous banking sector in the ECCU.  The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will now own 43 percent and the NIS 20 percent of the BOSVG.  I reiterate that we will, in the medium term, divest a significant portion of the government’s shareholding.  My government has taken vital steps for the further strengthening of the BOSVG and our region’s banking system.

May Almighty God continue to bless us all.

Thank you!

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June 30th 2017

 The troubles of BDS Nice Radio


Introduction

The radio station called BDS Nice Radio is in trouble again in terms of defamation and slander against Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, and is required to pay an outstanding sum of money in damages, as ordered by the court. This matter relates to statements made by Mathew Thomas, a pharmacist from Kingstown, using the medium of Nice Radio. In cases like these, the author of the defamation, and the medium used to convey the defamation to the public, are sued by the injured party.


This is not the only defamation case that BDS Nice Radio is facing before the court. There are the defamation cases with Daniel Cummings and Junior Bacchus which are nearing closure. For all intents and purposes, both Cummings and Bacchus are in trouble in the court with their defamation cases, and it’s only a matter of time before these cases reach their final determination.

This sorry state of affairs related to BDS Nice Radio began back in 2003, when Elwardo Lynch defamed Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. At that time he stated that the Prime Minister used public funds to pay for the travel costs of his mother and daughter on a trip to Rome. The court found that this was a defamatory statement, since it was false, and could only mean that the Prime Minister was involved in public mischief. The full text of the judgement and the relevant cases can be read at the website eccourts.org.

BDS and defamation

The general meaning of defamation is the communication of false and injurious statements aimed at harming the reputation of a person. Indeed, the owner of BDS Nice Radio has admitted publicly that the reason why his radio statement is in court with defamation cases is because his operators are saying things without merit. So why is the owner of BDS Nice Radio allowing his radio station to be used by operators to defame people?

That is the question that must be asked by members of the general public. Nice Radio has also defamed other members of the public, some of whom are not public or political figures. It is clear that Douglas De Freitas is a strong supporter of the opposition New Democratic Party. His clear purpose is to remove the ULP and Dr. Gonsalves from office, and so his radio station has adopted an anti-Ralph, anti-ULP position. His operators are desperate to prove their “anti-Ralph anti-ULP zeal” that they rush to outdo themselves in terms of what they say on BDS Nice Radio. And it seems as though Dougie De Freitas cannot control these operators. Several times De Freitas has been heard calling to his radio station, to admonish his operators, and tendering apologies on their behalf to this or that person.

So having opened up his radio station to the opposition New Democracy Party to be used as a propaganda machine, De Freitas has to run the risk of persons behaving irresponsibly, telling lies and half truths to his audience. It is this factor which has him and his business in trouble with the court. There is no move by the ULP administration or by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to silence BDS Nice Radio. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth be told, supporters and leading members of the ULP, could sue BDS Nice Radio every week for the defamatory statements made by their operators.  


 Performance in Court

The performance by the persons who are being sued for their comments made on BDS Nice Radio has been dismal. It is said that truth is the universal defense to cases of libel and defamation. In some cases, the explanations offered by BDS Nice Radio and its operators are so weak and feeble that the judges have been move to state in one case that “the defendant had no realistic prospect of success, and the issue is so clear that the judge could be satisfied that no reasonable person would disagree with her finding of fact”.

 

Other comments by the court include the observation that the defense was “incurably bad”, that there was contemptuous defiance after the publication of the slanderous statements, and that the defendants failed to make amends as an apology. There are persons who have not been reading the several judgments in the several defamatory cases to understand the rulings of the court. They seem to think that Dr. Ralph Gonsalves should forgive BDS Nice Radio and Douglas De Freitas. Readers will remember that Prime Minister Gonsalves offered forgiveness to the NDP in respect of some defamatory cases, and this was refused by the then political leader of the NDP, Arnhim Eustace.

Conclusion


One thing must be mentioned here, and that is, there is no interest on the part of the ULP Administration and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to close BDS Nice Radio. Some NDP persons claim that the ULP is afraid of Nice Radio but this is so far from the truth. Even in the face of this extreme provocation and defamation by BDS Nice Radio, the ULP has secured election victories in 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015; four victories in a row.
This should send a clear message to Douglas De Freitas and the NDP, that lies, half-truths, and defamations have not worked, and will not work. They are so full of “Ralph hatred” that they cannot pay attention to their philosophy and vision for the development of this beloved country. There are indeed some hard times ahead for Douglas De Freitas and BDS Nice Radio because as the old people will say, “who don’t hear will feel”.



June 23rd 2017

The scolding of an Opposition Leader

Introduction


In the end it was a sad case of a man not knowing what his function is, as leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition in Parliament. The current Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Godwin Friday, found himself at the wrong end of a scolding administered by the Prime Minister of the country, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. And all this was a direct result of the continued opposition by the New Democratic Party to the construction of the international airport at Argyle.

Let’s reflect on a statement made by the founder of the NDP, Sir James Mitchell, that if the NDP allows Ralph Gonsalves and the NDP to build the international airport, then “crapaud smoke their pipe”. In a sense he was saying to the members and leaders of the NDP that their election fortunes will be impacted in a negative way, if the ULP completes the international airport. Naturally, the NDP being the nasty dirty party that it is, will continue to oppose the airport to its detriment.

Their latest campaign of accountability is a case in point. Accountability has always been the hallmark of the way the ULP administration conducts its business. It was the ULP administration who revamped the Finance Bill to make it far-reaching in terms of its provisions. It was the ULP administration who amended the Audit Act to give the Director of Audit more powers to carry out the functions of that department. In some cases, the Opposition abandoned their responsibilities, by absenting themselves from Parliament, when these Bills are being attended to. The Finance Bill is a case in point.  

The scolding

And so the Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday came to Parliament to ask a question about the accounts of the IADC. The question was flawed from the very start. He wanted to know if the IADC was up to date with the filing of its financial reports with CIPO, the Commercial and Intellectual Property Office, and went on to ask when the accounts will be reported to Parliament. Only days before, Friday stated at a media conference that the filing of the reports at CIPO, was of no importance. Why therefore, did he pose this question to Prime Minister Gonsalves?

In any event, Prime Minister Gonsalves had to provide him with another chapter and verse lesson, about the accountability factor as it is applied to government owned companies and statutory corporations.

It came as no surprise to many people that there were serious gaps in the education and information base of the Leader of the Opposition, when it comes to governance and the Parliament. For example Dr. Friday referred to the IADC as a statutory corporation and it is clearly not so. And then there is his interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution as these relate to the functioning of the office of the Director of Audit. It was pitiful to hear Dr, Friday being offered lessons in this area, and even worse, to hear the Prime Minister Gonsalves declare “I could lead you to the stand pipe, but I can’t make you drink”.

Clearly, Dr. Friday is not willing to learn. How can he aspire to become the next Prime Minister of this country, when such elementary information escapes him? People are indeed disappointed with his performance in the Parliament of the 13th June, 2017. He will never live that down.

Julian Francis

Senator Julian Francis is a seasoned and a wily Member of Parliament, with an astute sense of reasoning; a difficult campaigner to challenge in any debate in the House of Assembly. So that when he “jammed up” Godwin Friday, it was a scene to behold. So that when the Senator inquired of the Leader of the Opposition if he had written to ECCAA seeking to have that body not grant approval for the opening of the airport, his answer was a disappointment.

Dr. Friday’s response was weak and limp. He said that what he did was a matter of public record and that if the senator wanted he could go and find the truth. Well there was no need for Julian Francis to do so, since it is a matter of public record that in a bid to stop the airport from opening on February 14th 2017 that the Leader of the Opposition did write to ECCAA, seeking a withdrawal of the original approval. It showed how far Dr. Friday was willing to go to deny the deserving citizens of the country, the pride and joy in the official opening of this new facility.

The resulting exchange between Senator Francis and the Leader of the Opposition was a wonder to behold, as Dr. Friday struggled to explain an encounter between himself and some secondary school students, while travelling on the ferry between Bequia and the mainland.

Conclusion

In the face of all this, how can the NDP claim that it supports the Argyle International Airport, and further, that it is committed to its success? Perhaps it is only the member for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, who has shown any tangible support for the airport. Leacock has been quoted as saying that the construction of the project was “money well-spent”, and that the project itself was a miracle.

The performance of Dr. Friday in Parliament, and his subsequent scolding by Prime Minister Gonsalves, does not do much for his credibility. He has let down his party and his supporters, and he needs to get his act together.

 


June 16th 2017

Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment 2017

Introduction


The results of the Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment Examinations, the CPEA, are now public, and the winners and top performers, together with their parents, teachers and friends, are celebrating. On May 6th 2017, some 1,638 students took the final examinations. Of this figure 1398 students were successful, since they met the prescribed standard, a success rate of 85.35 percent. 92.47 percent of the girls who sat the exams, a total of 737, were successful. In terms of the males, 661 or 78.60 percent, met the required standard. This is an increase in the overall performance last year, where 83.87 percent of the students were successful.

The CPEA is an assessment of the literary skills of all children leaving the primary school system. They are all students from Grade 6, and the literary skills which are tested include mathematics, science, civics and language. In addition, they will go through a school based assessment which will comprise a project, a writing portfolio and a book report, as well as teacher tests, pupil made tests and self skills. The students are marked out of 200 marks or 40 percent of the total score, for the school based assessment, and 300 marks or 60 percent of the total for the external assessment. Students must acquire at least 50 percent of the possible 500 marks to attain the required standard.

The Caribbean Examinations Council is the administration body for this regional examinations which all regional grade 6 students will take, while the Ministry of Education is the executing agent here. The CPEA is based on the learning theories of educators such as Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky.

The results

The results indicate that Rosario Reynaldo Browne of the Kingstown Preparatory School is the top student, with an average of 98 percent. Two students tied for second: Chenise Olivia Harper of the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic and Genevieve Elizabeth Mc Master of the Windsor Primary School, with 97.6 percent, while there was also a tie for the fourth position with Keanu Lawson Child of the Georgetown  Government School, and Ashlyn Khandi Francis of the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic averaging 97.2 percent.

In the top ten performing students five (5) came from the Kingstown Preparatory School, two (2) from St. Mary’s Roman Catholic and one (1) each from Windsor Primary, Georgetown Government and the Bequia Anglican Primary school.

Six students, three males and three females, scored 100 percent for Mathematics, while one student, a female, got the top marks for Science, and another female student received the top marks for Language. Some 47 schools recorded a pass rate of 80 percent, the same result in 2016. Sixteen schools recorded 100 percent passes, which means that all the students submitted, met the required standard.

The Evaluation  

Officials from the Ministry of Education along with teachers, parents and principals of primary schools, will be busy conducting evaluations of the CPEA results, since there are many questions to be answered. Many of the primary schools who boast of top performers, will re-examine their best practices, in terms of how their students are prepared, to determine what can be enhanced. Some principals will examine their leadership strategies and techniques in the whole process.

Overall, the key question will be, how do we get our male students to improve their results at the CPEA examinations. The answer to this question will not only require work from the principals and teachers, but the parents as well. To be sure, there are reasons already determined by teachers, etc. as to why our male students continue to struggle at the CPEA, and so it is time that the solutions are put into effect.

Some of our schools continue to be poor performers at the CPEA level and there is a need to determine the reasons why this is so. Does this have anything to do with the leadership at the school, the skills of the individual teacher, the overall psyche of the community in which the school is based or the supervisory skills of the parents? Questions and more questions, and we need to find the answers, and from the answers find the solutions. The national CPEA results are getting better, but still, more needs to be done.
 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, we must congratulate the deserving students and their schools for their performances this year. The teachers, parents, and communities must take pride in the performances of their students. The policy of the ULP administration is that no child must be left behind, and those children who are not successful, will find places in the second school system, and we expect that some remedial work will be undertaken to correct deficiencies in the weak subject areas.

We will remember that the education system was in a chaotic state, when the ULP arrived in office in 2001. Indeed, the NDP at the time admitted that “education was in crisis”, and that was under their leadership. The facts show that at that time, only 39 percent of the eligible students were admitted to secondary schools. What a crisis!

Then there was an absence of opportunities for teachers in the primary school. In 2001, there were only four primary school teachers with university degrees. Now there are over 450 teachers who are university graduates in the primary school system. To quote the words of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves “education is not just a social luxury or appendage, as in a colonial economy, which demand abundant unskilled labour, but a vital production requisite for the modern, competitive economy”.

 


June 9th 2017


Unlocking the door to future development; the role of the AIA

Introduction


The magnificent international airport at Argyle is now a reality, now being used by all Vincentians and visitors alike, to enter and exit St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The promise made by the ULP administration, to construct an international airport at Argyle is now a “fait accompli”, despite the aggressive opposition and criticism by the New Democratic Party, led by Arnhim Eustace, and then Godwin Friday.

This was a task for a people who are steadfast in the pursuit of their dreams. This was a task for people with a clear vision, a sound plan of action, and great leadership skills. All this was on offer when Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves announced plans back in 2005 to construct the international airport. Now completed and operational, the airport now virtually unlocks the door to the future development of the country.

Let us go back to the address delivered by Prime Minister Gonsalves at the opening of the airport, where he had this to say.

“In building this international airport, we are, among other things, inviting more visitors to enjoy our country’s offerings and to purchase our goods and services.  This means, in effect, that we must enhance our offerings; and our goods and services must be of a high quality delivered at competitive prices.  In every facet of activity, great or small, it is necessary and desirable to lift our game for our visitors and ourselves.  Nature has made St. Vincent and the Grenadines the natural place to be; we must augment nature, splendidly.

The travellers and other legitimate users of the airport must be treated with courtesy and promptitude.  Immigration, Customs, and security officers must do their jobs without being surly, overbearing, and officious.  Far too much time is taken in our Caribbean to process passengers at Customs, Immigration, and Security.  At the Argyle International Airport we must develop an excellent reputation among travelers.  We must never embrace the idea of treating everyone suspiciously; we must get on with our jobs with as little fuss as the circumstances demand or admit.

We need more hotel rooms.  Already our government and investors, local and overseas, are actively engaged in this enterprise.  However, much more is required to be done.  Our government is available to facilitate actively and urgently these investments.

Every dimension of the leisure industry must be upgraded.  Practitioners in the areas of popular culture, the performing and culinary arts, clothing and furnishings’ designs and productions, craft, painting and sculpting, and more, are required to excel.  Quality service at our hotels and guest houses, land and marine tour operators, and more, must be high, and always at a competitive price.  Relevant manufacturers must be ready for a boost.  So, too, farmers and fisher folks.

It is well-established that St. Vincent and the Grenadines has the most diversified and fascinating tourism product in the Caribbean.  Opportunities galore are being opened up with this international airport, including for yachting and cruise tourism.  Our government, through its many institutions and agencies, are willing and able to partner with the producers and distributors of our country’s goods and services.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority and the Argyle International Airport Company, in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance, are tasked with the responsibility to secure the optimal airlift from the source markets to fit the circumstances at hand.  LIAT, national, and other regional carriers, and cargo aircraft, will continue to be our basic “bread and butter” but the jets from our source markets are needed.  Today’s beginning is encouraging; it must be sustained and put on a higher level.”



Air Links

So now all eyes are focused on the regional and international flights into the Argyle International Airport. Already we have seen one air service, Amerijet, increase their airlift capacity, using larger aircraft to move cargo into and out of St.Vincent and the Grenadines. This has also led to a reduction in the air cargo prices offered by Amerijet.

Amerijet has already begun moving agricultural produce to the United States, and farmers are lining up to take advantage of this service, particularly the shipment of dasheen to buyers in Florida. More produce will be shipped as our farmers and fisher folk get into the act.


Airlines are beginning to arrange direct flights to Argyle. The Honduras-based airline, Easy Sky has started its direct flight between Havana and Argyle. Already business officials from Cuba, have arrived in the State through Easy Sky flights, to examine business opportunities here. Already, several airlines, including SunWing and Air Canada have announced their schedules with SunWing starting in October with regular flights, and Air Canada commencing in December this year.

The airport holds the keys to the future socio economic development of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, and when the doors are open we must be in a position to take advantage of this situation. Our access to international markets is now further open, and there are business opportunities now available.

These opportunities will come at us at a fast pace, and we will require much preparation and quick decision-making if we are to take advantage. The ULP administration has already prepared Vincentians for this new scenario. Through the education revolution, our young people are now brighter, more intelligent and smarter. The sky is the limit.  Let’s make our country proud, and earn the benefits for ourselves, and our children.



June 2nd 2017



 Cuba… 25 years of Diplomatic Relations


Introduction

The activities held here last week to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cuba, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is an occasion to reflect on the close and unique relations between Havana and Kingstown. It is also a good time to examine the foreign policy of the ULP administration, which has brought tremendous benefits to all Vincentians.

When the ULP administration came to office in 2001, the party had already fashioned a policy aimed at expanding its diplomatic relations drive, while at the same time keeping the ties with established countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. This was important for the simple reason that the majority of our Diaspora lived in these countries, particularly the United States.

The ULP’s foreign policy was fashioned around the need to make friends, not enemies, so as to foster peace and international development, all in the interest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Most independent observers have recognised that the country has created a bold, creative and principled foreign relations policy which is pro-active and robust. The central purpose of this policy is to enable the country to address more efficaciously, and more compelling, its external environment, in the interest of the nation.

It is this activist foreign policy that is at the centre of the achievements in the socio economic development sector. These stories have been told time and time again. They include the construction of the Argyle International Airport, the bridge over the Rabacca river, the Education Revolution and the Vision Now programme.

Cuba

St. Vincent and the Grenadines established formal diplomatic relations with Cuba on May 26th 1992, some 25 years ago. At that time, the NDP was the party in power, led by Sir James Mitchell. While we can praise the move by Sir James to establish diplomatic relations, it is fair to say that Sir James and the NDP did not do enough to develop the relationship between both countries. However, Vincentians were afforded the opportunity to study in Cuba, and there was a joint commission that was established in 1997, to facilitate development in the areas of education, health, culture, trade and transport.

After 2001, the relation between both countries took on a new energy, with the ULP administration moving to intensify the relationships. For example, in 2005, the ULP administration appointed Dexter Rose as the first ambassador to the Republic of Cuba. Currently Ellsworth John serves as the ambassador in Havana.
 
Cuba in response, appointed its first ambassador to Kingstown in 2006, when it opened its embassy. Olga Chamero Trias was the first resident ambassador, and she was followed by ambassadors Pablo Rodriguez, Luis Campos and Vilma Valdespino. 

Over the years, the Government and People of the Republic of Cuba have made valuable and meaningful contributions for the development of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, particularly in the health, education and infrastructure sectors, under a number of projects and programs. Cuba has offered a number of scholarships to allow Vincentian students to pursue quality tertiary education in Havana.

In the area of health, a number of Cuban professionals have worked in St.Vincent and the Grenadines, including doctors and nurses. Vincentians will remember that it was Cuban nurses who filled the void in the health sector, when there was a shortage of nurses just after the ULP administration arrived in office in 2001.  A number of Vincentians have taken advantage of the low cost but top quality medical services offered by Havana. The Cuban government has offered a preferential rate and free training for the drug Heberprot-P, the ground breaking diabetic foot ulcer drug.

Perhaps the greatest level of assistance offered to this country by the Cuban people is that provided during the construction of the international airport project at Argyle. The story of this assistance has already been told many times, but we wish to further highlight the sacrifices made by the Cuban workers in the Chatoyer-Che contingent. Their involvement reduced the construction cost of the project, and saved money for the IADC.

Conclusion
 
There is no doubt that Cuba is a significant country in the Caribbean in terms of socio economic development. Cuba has the largest diplomatic representation of any Latin American country, with 177 embassies and three consulates worldwide. Cuba is a leading member of the non-aligned movement, and organisations such as ALBA, CELAC and the Association of Caribbean States, the ACS.

The relationship between Cuba and St. Vincent and the Grenadines is an excellent one, but there is a tiny minority of Vincentians, mainly supporters of the opposition New Democratic Party, who would love to see the back of the Castro government. Readers will remember the attitude displayed by the NDP, when the energy saving bulbs were introduced here. The NDP claimed that the bulbs contained cameras, and will be used by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to spy on Vincentians. What nonsense!

Ralph Gonsalves is a friend of the people of Cuba. He has defended that country whenever he has to do so, but most important, when he delivers his annual address at the United Nations General Assembly. The people of Cuba have endured tremendous hardships due to the blockade instituted by the American government, but they have endured to the point where they can come to the assistance of many Third World countries in a number of ways. Long live the relationship between Cuba and St. Vincent and the Grenadines!  


May 26th 2017 

Democracy and freedom of the media under the ULP

Introduction

The 2017 Freedom House report is out and can be viewed at www.freedomhouse.org. Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization which examines democracy, political freedom and human rights in the world. Freedom House has said that media freedom is at its lowest level in the last thirteen years. In fact Freedom House says that only thirteen percent of international countries can be termed as being free, with forty percent being described as partly free, and the remaining 45 percent as being not free.

This is an interesting development from this reputable global organization which conducts research and advocacy. Freedom House ranks St. Vincent and the Grenadines among the thirteen percent of countries which are free. Of course there will be people in the opposition New Democratic Party who will say otherwise. They will claim that media freedom in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is under attack by the ULP administration, that people are afraid to speak out for fear of being victimized, and that the ULP influences the Court. All these are unfounded charges and are completely false.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines scores

Freedom House gives the country an aggregate score of 91 out of 100. On a scale of one to seven, with one being the highest and seven the lowest, the country scored a one out of seven for civil liberties, one out of seven for political rights and one out of seven for press freedom. Countries and territories with a rating of 1 enjoy a wide range of political rights, including free and fair elections. Candidates who are elected actually rule, political parties are competitive, the opposition plays an important role and enjoys real power, and the interests of minority groups are well represented in politics and government.

From the scores, only three countries, Barbados with 97, Dominica with 95 and St. Lucia with 92 are ahead of St.Vincent and the Grenadines. In fact SVG is ahead of countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Italy, Japan and France. All this information is available from the Freedom House website, and can be accessed by all and sundry.

And so the question which must be asked is, do these scores mirror what is happening on the ground in St.Vincent and the Grenadines. The answer to this question is undoubtedly yes. Civil rights and civil liberties are guaranteed by the constitution, and the ULP administration has been, and is committed to ensuring the highest quality of justice, maintaining and promoting law and order, and bolstering to the fullest, the safety and security of our citizens.

Indeed there are certain watchdog institutions in the country which operate to ensure that the rights of citizens are maintained. These include the trade union movement, and the Human Rights Association. The latter organization, when functional, operates as a quasi-opposition entity, without any interference from the government.

General elections in St.Vincent and the Grenadines are free and fair, as certified by international observer groups, including the Commonwealth and the Organisation of American States, the OAS. Naturally, having lost four in a row, the opposition NDP will find all kinds of things to say about the conduct of the polls, including the ridiculous statement that the ULP stole the elections in 2010 and 2015. As is their right, they have gone to the courts with their petition, to seek a determination in relation to the 2015 election, and so we await the decision of the courts.

The local media

The three newspapers, lone television station and the eight radio stations with active talk show programmes in the morning, all operate without any influence or interference from the ULP administration. There is one radio station which has dedicated its programming to removing the ULP administration from office. That station has been sued several times for allowing its operators to make defamatory statements about Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, and the Court has adjudicated over these matters.

Vincentians have been able to voice their critical comments about the government, subject to issues related to slander. Prime Minister Gonsalves has routinely called radio stations to converse about issues related to national development. The government will be robust in defense of its programmes and policies, especially in the face of critical comments which are false and untrue, but there is no victimization.

Recently a radio station broadcast a comment in relation to the security operations at the Argyle International Airport, claiming that the airport had failed certain security tests conducted by the US based Transportation and Safety Administration, the TSA. This was a total lie and a fabrication of the worse kind. The ULP administration was robust in its response, to set the matter straight and to correct the false information. That radio station has since made a public apology.

Conclusion

Outside of Freedom House, other international organizations have rated St.Vincent and the Grenadines highly, in this or that field, for the excellent work being done by the ULP administration. For example, the organization, Transparency International which is based in Germany, has given the country high marks in its 2016 report, in relation to corruption, and the ease with which business can be conducted here.

Vincentians should be proud of the fact that the ULP administration is performing so admirably in government, that among other positive things, it has been able to attract very favourable ratings from international organizations. The ULP administration is indeed the party of choice for all Vincentians, having been tried and tested in some of the most challenging circumstances, and its leadership has made an immense difference for the better.


 May 19th 2017

The business of Leadership 

Introduction

On April 9th 2017, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves hosted a media conference at the Cabinet Room, in which he spoke about a number of critical matters which are important to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is a continuation of his successful campaign of holding a media conference every time he returns from a visit abroad. All told, the Prime Minister has convened over 400 media conferences, in which he has kept the people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines fully abreast of all the developmental activities of the ULP administration.

No other government in the history of this country, has convened more media conferences to provide Vincentians with detailed information. Four hundred media conferences in sixteen years is indeed a lot, and really describes the drive by the ULP administration to be transparent and accountable to the all and sundry, for the work of the Government. This is leadership in action.

The BIACO issue

One of the matters raised by Prime Minister Gonsalves in the media conference was that related to the BAICO meltdown. From the beginning, the ECCU States insisted that the solution to this insurance crisis must be a regional one. So together, they devised a three prong approach to this issue. First, there was the creation of a trust fund to settle the eligible claims of the holders of health insurance policies. The ECCU governments then set about the recapitalization of the traditional life policy portfolio of BAICO, and then took this to the market in an attempt to find a buyer. In stage three, the ECCU member states created a compensation scheme for the non-traditional policy holders of BAICO.
 
In 2011, the ECCU governments provided some EC$5 million for the Health Support Fund, and eligible policy-holders had their claims settled in full. Hundreds of policy holders from the ECCU states benefited from this development.

This was followed by the provision of some US$36 million dollars, as part of the EC$100 million arrangement with the government of Trinidad and Tobago. Prime Minister Gonsalves and his sub-regional committee of the ECCU will continue their efforts to obtain the remaining US$64 million from the Rowley administration. There is also a certain amount of litigation and liquidation activity that the judicial managers will undertake in the courts, to obtain monies for policy holders. For example, a regional bank operating here will face litigation in respect of the coverage which should been provided for the insurance policies written by BAICO. Judicial managers will also institute court proceedings in Miami against two former senior BAICO officials. All this means is that there should be some activity around the month of October, in which former policy holders will begin receiving some cash from BAICO from at least three pots of money. 

Road repairs

The ULP administration recognizes that the roads in the country are not in the best shape, and require attention, some of which is urgent. Much of this damage is due to the unseasonal weather conditions which have affected the country’s infrastructure over the last seven years or so. Readers will recall the work done by the ULP administration in repairing a number of bridges and roads in the country, but more needs to be done.

The government has source some EC$95 million from the Kuwaiti Fund, and OPEC Fund for International Development, OFID, to repair some 22.7 kilometers of roads in the country. Several of these have been identified. They include Antoine, Montreal, old Sandy bay, Mt.Wynne, Belair, Mespo to Greiggs, Carriere, Brighton Salt pond, Enhams Fair Hall, Sayers and Colonarie estate.

The government intends to source a short-term loan from the Bank of St. Vincent, to begin work in the dry season, until the funds arrive from OFID and the Kuwaiti Fund. In the meantime work is continuing on certain roads under the Basic Needs Trust Fund, and the BAM programme. For certain, BRAGSA will be pretty busy over the next eighteen months, and several contracting firms will also be involved in the road repair and reconstruction work.

Other areas

The Prime Minister’s media conference also provided information on a number of other areas, including the plans by the ULP administration to repair some schools in the State, the ongoing discussions on hotel development and international flights at the AIA, the one percent VAT increase and the disaster levy, the UN resolution on creativity and innovation, the expanding services of Amerijet, and local investment in the hospitality sector. It is clear that the ULP administration is going to be pretty busy in this financial year. There is still work to be done on the new city at Arnos Vale, and the expansion of the Kingstown port.

The ULP has demonstrated over the last 15 years that strategic thinking and actions are its hallmarks. It is a general truism that if one seeks to cross the developmental divide with baby steps, the inevitable is that one would fall to the bottom of the widening gorge. Major leaps are required within a small resourced-challenged economy and society like St.Vincent and the Grenadines for the realisation of genuine sustainable development. 

And that is why the leadership is so critical. Thank God, the ULP has provided a political leader in Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who heads the best government ever in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.



May 12th 2017

The AIA is in the DNA of the NDP

Introduction

It is clear that the New Democratic Party is obsessed with the International Airport at Argyle. In fact it is safe to say that the project, now a world class facility, is in the DNA of the NDP. For those who are technically inclined, the DNA is a molecule that carries the characteristics for the growth and development of an organism. DNA is critical for a number of reasons having to do with the identification of persons in a number of areas.

To say that the AIA is the DNA of the opposition New Democratic Party, is to identify the focus and modus operandi of that party, over the last nine years, first under the leadership of Arnhim Eustace, and now under Lorraine Friday. Everything done by the NDP is focused on giving the airport a bad name, and the recent flawed strategy calling for accountability is a clear indication of this. The NDP cannot allow the ULP and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to claim their just credit for the successful construction of the largest capital project in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.


Vincentians drive by the new airport facility with a sense of pride and accomplishment. To most of them, this is symbol of what can be achieved, if we work together as a people, under astute and professional leadership. The NDP will have none of that, and have resorted to a programme of criticisms and “badmouth” statements. They are afraid of the airport like how “jumbie fraid holy water”.


 The NDP and the AIA

Let’s get one thing straight. The NDP has never supported the construction of the airport project, and they have tried unsuccessfully, to stop the project from being completed. Vincentians will remember the statement of Arnhim Eustace when he declared “find it where?” in response to a question posed by Jerry George. Despite all the posturing, the NDP had no vision, no plan, and there was an absence of a practical approach in terms of their discussions on radio.

The ULP used a creative approach to the financing of the airport. There was a lot of assistance in kind, which came from the governments of Cuba and Venezuela in particular. The ULP administration adopted a programme of selling state lands to obtain funding for the project. In general, the group known as the “coalition of the willing” was mainly responsible for much of the assistance for the project. But the government was still required to raise funds through loans, and for this to happen, the ULP administration had to seek the approval of Parliament.

All through the construction of the project, the ULP administration observed all the relevant laws and regulations which currently exist in the country. All through the construction of the project the ULP administration followed the guidelines and advice of the East Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority, to ensure that everything was done within the established regulations. This brings us to the question of accountability, as raised by Lorraine Friday and the NDP.


Accountability

The IADC was set up in November 2004, as a registered state-owned company, under the Companies’ Act. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this procedure. Under the Companies’ Act, the IADC is required by law to submit audited financial statements to the Companies’ Registrar. These reports, up to 2013, have been audited by the distinguished company, BDO, headed by Floyd Patterson, a reputable auditor. The NDP, clearly living up to its name as the “nasty dirty party” has caused some ridicule and scorn to be poured on the character of Floyd Patterson simply because he audited the accounts of the IADC. Indeed, one local accountant who is employed with a leading company here, has said that he wants an international accounting firm, to conduct the audit of the IADC. How shameful!!!


Again, this is part of the DNA of the NDP. They have embarked on a witch hunt to find corruption, knowing clearly, that none exist in the IADC. For his part, the member for the constituency of Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, a vice president of the NDP, has declared that numerous questions were posed to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, and that they were all answered.

If, for some reason the NDP felt that there was corruption and “hanky panky” at the IADC, they had a duty, to summon a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, to inquire into that situation. The NDP, Arnhim Eustace and Lorraine Friday should hang their heads in shame for this delinquent practice. The tax- payers of this country are paying their salaries every month, to carry out their duties as opposition members, and they have fallen down badly on the job. Over the last sixteen years, the opposition NDP has called only two meetings of the Public Accounts Committee.

Instead we have the likes of Lorraine Friday delivering falsehoods to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, all in a vain attempt to smear this critical project.

Conclusion

It is clear that Lorraine Friday is not fit to lead this country as Prime Minister. His hypocrisy, his falsehoods and misleading statements have served only to blot his copy book. He leads a political party that is bent on discrediting the international airport, the dream of all Vincentians, delivered by the ULP administration led by Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.



May 5th 2017

Lies, and More Lies by Godwin Friday

Introduction

Godwin Friday was elected as leader of the opposition New democratic Party in late 2006, ending the reign of the hapless Arnhim Eustace who was in that position for some sixteen years. There is virtually little difference between both men politically, although some Vincentians seem to think that Friday would become a better leader. All that may have been conjecture, until Friday held a media conference on April 19th 2017, and contrived to put his foot in his mouth, by telling a bunch of lies, which have been proven. In this way Friday has proven that he is no match for Arnhim Eustace. In fact the NDP base would have been better off if they had elected some one like St. Clair Leacock, as their political leader.

The centre of these series of lies by the opposition leader lies in the DNA of their continued opposition to the International Airport at Argyle. They have tried countless times to derail the efforts of the ULP to construct the airport, and now that it is completed and operational, they now try to find some issue to bloody the image of the airport, and by extension the ULP administration led by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. So they have fashioned this latest attack around the word “accountability” claiming that the government has failed to table the accounts of the IADC in Parliament. They further claim that this is a contravention of the constitution, and the ULP administration has broken the law.


The Lies

In the year 2009, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves addressed the Parliament, and made some comments on the IADC. He said “Mr. Speaker, the airport development company, is a company registered under the company laws of this country, and they have to submit, as they have done, their audited accounts at the Companies’ Registry. And the Honorable Leader of the Opposition, who is chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, can summon a Public Accounts Committee meeting, and he can get the Director of Audit, who has an overall responsibility, constitutionally, on, not only the central government but public enterprises, to ask questions about this matter”.

This is a statement that is absolutely straight forward to anyone, least of all the Leader of the Opposition Dr. Godwin Friday. So on that fateful day of April 19th 2017, when Dr. Friday held his media conference, he uttered four lies as follows:

He stated that the IADC was a statutory corporation and that it was subjected to a reporting arrangement similar to other such bodies
He said that the IADC being a statutory corporation, must submit its accounts to Parliament.
He further stated that the IADC had no audited financial statements since 2004.
He claimed further that Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves broke the law, in that as minister responsible for finance, he should cause these reports to be submitted to Parliament.

When a political figure like Dr. Godwin Friday, utters these lies on public radio, it brings into question his qualification to hold the office of Leader of the Opposition, and subsequently, his unfilled quest to be the next Prime Minister of this country. How can we trust such a man, who in the presence of clear and fundamental facts chooses the option of lying to the country?

And then we have some of his key supporters, who have abandoned the need to think for themselves, following him blindly. Sadly, there are those in the legal fraternity, and in the print and electronic media, who have also blindly followed Friday and his falsehoods, much to their shame, in the eyes of Vincentians. They must be condemned and their falsehoods exposed for all to see.

In fact Friday’s bumbling diversion of Section 75 of the Constitution, and the role of the Director of Audit, further confirms his lack of suitability for the office that he holds. He has shown a decided lack of leadership, and the people of the country will wait for him at the polls, when the next election is called, and will reject him out of hand, as someone who claims he wants the job as Prime Minister.


Conclusion

We can only draw two very clear conclusions from this sorry episode in which Godwin found himself. It is clear that the NDP will continue to oppose the international airport at Argyle. They cannot allow it to exist without finding a way to destroy its image. The airport is a monument to the faith of Vincentians who longed for such a facility, the manifestation of an impossible dream.

Vincentians will always remember that they gave the mandate to the ULP administration and Comrade Ralph, to construct this airport, and they have delivered. The NDP did their worse, including criticism of the cross-wind studies, and the alignment of the runway, and their final attempts to stop flights landing at Argyle.


Friday’s latest campaign along the lines of accountability adds another item to the long list of lies and falsehood against the international airport at Argyle. He will always remember the words of Sir James Mitchell, that if the NDP allows the ULP to construct the international airport, then “crapaud smoke their pipe”. 



April 28th 2017

Shaping the future with Love

Introduction

It was St. Clair Leacock, the member for Parliament for Central Kingstown, who stated in the 2015 election campaign that too many young people are following Ralph Gonsalves and the ULP. He further stated that this was a concern to him. Clearly he was not happy that his political party, the opposition New Democratic Party, was not attracting the attention of the young people of the country.

Although there is no empirical evidence, it is clear that the young people of this country played a critical role in the 2015 general elections. The young people of this country examined what both political parties had to offer, and decided that the ULP, led by Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, was the best party to govern the country over the next five years.

In fact the ULP government is rightly seen by the overwhelming majority of young people, that is aged 15 to 35 years, as the most youth focused in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The ULP does not see the young people of the country as “problems”, as described by the opposition NDP. The ULP sees the young people of the country as real flesh and blood humans, possessed of immense strengths and possibilities, which must be developed and harnessed.

Central Objectives

There are three central objectives to the youth policy of the ULP administration. The first relates to the need to empower young persons to make meaningful contributions to national development. Secondly, the ULP wants to create a deeper awareness of the policies and programmes aimed at youth development.

Thirdly, the ULP wants to foster among young people, the ideals of social harmony, mutual respect, cultural heritage and the importance of our Caribbean civilization.

Education forms the main drive for the empowering of young people, to contribute to national development. Young people are now being educated for living and production, based on their abilities, possibilities and goals. Education and training, including technical education, is designed to enhance the capacity of our young people, to engage efficaciously the competitive environment nationally, regionally and globally.

And our young people have not disappointed. The results at the various CAPE and CXC examinations continue to improve at a rapid pace. At the level of the universities, our students continue to emerge as valedictorians, as they dominate in a number of subject areas. Truly, the Education Revolution is paying huge dividends for our young people, although more needs to be done, and we must not rest on our laurels.

The ULP has also enhanced avenues for self expression and personal development, through sports, the arts and culture, religion and general social activities. In short, our young people aspire to becoming the best they can possibly be. They are being encouraged to “soar like eagles with their wings unclipped”, and the ULP is creating the environment for this to happen.

What we have done

 It would take considerably more space to detail some of the work of the ULP in advancing the youth agenda of the country. Suffice it to say that the education revolution is the central plank of this strategy. Never before has the country seen such levels of attendance at every level of the education ladder, pre-school, primary, secondary, and tertiary. All this has been supported by the ULP, through the training of teachers, and the provision of quality learning institutions. Many persons do not remember the “one laptop per student initiative” which has opened the eyes of many of our students, and their parents, to the exciting world of the internet.

In terms of work preparation, the Youth Empowerment Service, the YES programme has provided on the job training for over seven thousand participants since 2001, at a cost of some EC$40 million. This is backed up by the Support for Education and Training, the SET programme which offer a similar training for college and university graduates.

All this is supported by a strategy which enhances access to college and university education, through the provision of scholarships, grants and financial support through loans for economically disadvantaged students. All these are ground breaking strategies, never before seen in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

These are the flagship programmes, but there are others. The government has created a programme to assist young entrepreneurs with start-up and expansion capital for ICT based businesses, and there are more initiatives in the pipeline. Our young people are owning houses and are getting involved in land cultivation at different levels. It is only the ULP administration that can provide these opportunities through our policy of People-Centered Development.

Conclusion

The ULP administration is sensitive to the concerns of our young people, and is always ready and willing to respond to these concerns in a positive way. The ULP recognizes that our young people are the key to the further advancement of our country, and so no stone must be left unturned, in terms of their training and development.

It is from this sector that our future leaders will emerge. This is where our doctors, teachers, nurses, technicians, farmers and entrepreneurs will emerge. Our young people are our nation’s treasure and they must be treated as such. And that is why the ULP is committed to their development. They must be at the core of all programmes aimed at the socio-economic development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.



April 21, 2017

 The ULP - empowering the working people

Introduction

At the beginning this article, we must state that there has never been a government in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that has represented the Vincentian worker, like the ULP administration. The ULP as a government has undoubtedly been an entity of, and for, the working people and the nation on a whole. The ULP has addressed the condition of life of the working people, and empowered them and their children, as no government has done in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Generally speaking, workers expect four main things when they turn up at their workplace. They expect to receive a fair salary for their labour, and they expect to meet certain conditions conducive to their work. They also expect a certain level of protection on the job place, and they expect to receive their retirement or severance benefits at the end of the day.

The ULP administration has been strong on these issues. The laws in the country related to severance pay and the protection of employment, have been strengthened, and Vincentian workers enjoy more benefits and a greater level of protection than what existed before 2001, under the NDP government.

In this light the ULP administration has been able to correct certain employment injustices inflicted on the working class by the NDP. For example, the ULP paid out over three million dollars in severance pay to about one thousand former estate workers at Rabacca, Fitz Hughes and Wallilabou. These workers were denied their severance payments for over 17 years under the NDP. Let’s not forget that the ULP also paid severance monies to distressed workers at the Banana Growers Association, the Sanitation Department, Diamond Dairy and the Belle Vue arrowroot factory among others.

The Public Service

But it is the public service that the ULP administration has shown its love for Vincentian workers. First of all the government has adjusted the tax band, so that workers who earn under eighteen thousand dollars annually, pay no taxes, allowing them to take home more money. Then the ULP increased the salaries of public servants substantially, over the last sixteen years.

In December 2002, the government made a one-time payment of 4.25% of monthly salaries. There was no increase in 2003, but in 2004 the ULP administration increased salaries across the board by 4%. This was followed by 3% in 2005, 4.5% in 2006, 5% in 2007 and another 5% in 2008.

In 2009 public servants received a 3% increase, another 3% in 2010, and a further 3% in 2011 paid in two installments. Into this mix we must include the re-classification process, during which a number of public servants received salary increases because their positions were upgraded. And we cannot forget the 2% salary increase that public servants received as part of the annual incremental process. Most of this occurred when the ULP administration was battling one of the worse global financial and economic crises, a situation which affected the country in an adverse way.

In the face of all these obstacles, including some of the worse natural disasters the ULP administration has met all its salary commitments to workers, every month since March 2001, to the present time. When countries in the region were forced to send home workers, because of the economic crunch, the ULP maintained the current labour force, and there was no retrenchment. Others vying for political office would have gone the way of Barbados. It is a fact that the opposition NDP had stated that there was going to be retrenchment in the public service, if they were victorious at the polls in 2010 and 2015. 

Employment benefits

It is the ULP administration which has provided benefits for the Vincentian worker. The ULP signaled its intention as far back as 2001, when it announced the introduction of the one hundred percent mortgage at the then National Commercial Bank, for public servants. At the time, the NDP said that this was not feasible, and that the ULP was trying to “mash up” the bank. Well the strategy was so successful, that other banks and credit unions in the State began offering the same service.

It was the ULP administration who removed the criminal sanctions from the public servants on their freedom of speech, despite criticism from some quarters. It is the ULP that has created over eight thousand jobs since 2001, even in the face of harsh global economic conditions. It is the ULP that has increased the average Gross Domestic Production from below EC$10,000 to over EC$20,000 annually.

Exciting new initiatives such as the YES programme and the SET programme have provided our young workers and graduates with opportunities to earn a salary, while acquiring skills on the job. It is the ULP that has provided our nurses with a stipend while they attend the school for nursing, and in addition, it is the ULP that has made nursing assistants pensionable from October 2015.

Conclusion

The ULP administration does not intend to rest on its laurels, and there is much more work that is needed in terms of the protection of the Vincentian worker. Soon a bill will go before Parliament which will look at the issue of occupational safety and health. The ULP administration will continue to address issues related to the protection of employment, and there will be a drive to further modernize the labour and social protection laws in the interest of the working people.

As our vision, philosophy, policies, programmes and historical performances show, this is a labour government.



April 13th 2017

For love of country


Introduction

By and large most Vincentians are in love with their country. They are excited about developments in their country which will bring benefits to themselves and their families. They follow the progress of the ULP administration, and lend critical and progressive support, where possible.

However, there is a tiny minority, most of them supporters of the opposition New Democratic Party, who deliberately set out on a course to pull down our beloved country. They don’t care how much damage is done to our country. Their sole purpose is to make the country look bad in the eyes of the international community. So they go from lie to lie, sowing their dirty seeds in the minds of the unsuspecting public, creating chaos and doubts, forcing the ULP administration to spend precious and valuable time in correcting and combating this situation.

The opposition New Democratic Party is particularly good at this, having been trained by the SCL group. Over the last fourteen years or so, the NDP has been the author of several notorious lies and half-truths, all aimed at confusing the Vincentian electorate, and young Vincentian minds, in a vain effort to gain support at the polls. The fact that they have been defeated four consecutive times at the polls is a clear indication of how unsuccessful they have been.


How the “lies” work

NDP operators, particularly those on Nice Radio, and including some members of the opposition, will hit on a topic that is relevant and popular in the Vincentian context. They will also target projects initiated by the ULP administration and apply their lies to the individual project. Their latest, of course, is the Argyle International Airport, the AIA. It is mind boggling how the NDP was able to design so many lies about this project, all of which have been debunked, and clearly proven to be false.

In many cases, the NDP operator does not offer any apology for the lies, and there is no retraction, even when the truth is established and published. The NDP operator shows no trace of guilt; except when the matter is taken to the court for defamation. Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has taken members of the NDP to court for defamation, and has secured judgements against the late Elwardo Lynch, Junior Bacchus, Daniel Cummings, Mathew Thomas, Douglas De Freitas and the list goes on.

Even now, “the strategy of lies” continues, as the NDP shifts their attention to the Argyle International Airport. Having danced around this project for the last eight years, and then making fantastic 180 degree turn around, in terms of their support, the NDP has returned to its old ways, of telling lies on progressive projects such as the AIA.


A few days ago, an enthusiastic but misguided morning radio host claimed that he had information that the AIA had failed a security test administered by the Transportation Security Administration of the United States. Clearly the whole incident was a bag of falsehoods, as Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, and other aviation officials here, was quick to point out. Not so the NDP, as the opposition party tried to take advantage of the unfortunate report, to try to earn political points. They failed miserably.

Why the Lies don’t work

Even at this stage, after the NDP has spent sixteen years in opposition, and in the face of tremendous socio economic developments in the country, the NDP has failed to recognise that their strategy of lies and half truths, is not working, and will never work. Despite all the lies, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have returned the ULP to office a record four times. This is a clear rejection of the NDP and an even stronger rejection that the lies told by the NDP, have gained no traction with the voters.

By and large, Vincentians are in love with their country and with the progress so far under the ULP and Comrade Ralph. They recognise that the country has no rich minerals, and particularly oil, to provide resources for national development. They admire the strategies used by the ULP to bring benefits to the nation, and even more, they admire the leadership provided by Comrade Ralph, in the face of global economic situation.

It is this love of country, this desire to see our country go forward and prosper, that has led to the rejection of the lies campaign adopted by the NDP. Vincentians are in love with their country, and they are in love with the solutions provided by the ULP administration, to sort out the problems associated with globalisation and the prevailing economic conditions.

Conclusion

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a country with limited resources, and our citizens recognise the difficulties which we must overcome as a people. Except for a tiny minority, mostly associated with the ULP, Vincentians are in love with their country, and they want to see the country moving ahead. They are satisfied with the performance of the ULP administration, which has been tried and tested over the last sixteen years, emerging with flying colours.

Over the next eighteen months the country will explode with an array of projects, including the geothermal project, the new city at Arnos Vale, port development and expansion, and road construction and repairs, all bringing more development, jobs and income, for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.



April 7th 2017


NEGATIVISM AND THE ROAD TO PERDITION

INTRODUCTION


The Western Hemisphere’s current longest serving Head of Government, continuously, Dr. The Honourable Ralph E. Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, has often used the phrase “learned helplessness” to describe the pernicious negativism of several commentators of Caribbean politics and economics who cloth their commentaries and opinions in the garb of respectable learning. Comrade Ralph, as he is popularly known, is not the originator of the phrase “learned helplessness”; he has told us more than once that he has borrowed the apt description from a book entitled Up the Down Escalator authored by a British intellectual, Charles Leadbeater.  Apt, indeed, given the mountain of negativism emanating from high and low professionals in our region.  Nowhere is this negativism more pronounced than on matters relating to St. Vincent and the Grenadines from Ralph-haters, opponents of the ULP government, cynical “enemies” of the people and progress.

THE DEVELOPMENTAL NARRATIVE

The ULP government, principally through Comrade Ralph, has articulated a compelling developmental narrative, a comprehensive National Economic and Social Development Plan (2013 – 2025), numerous sectoral and issue-specific plans, and detailed policies and programmes.  Indeed, there is no previous government in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines which has so detailed its vision, philosophy, over-arching economic strategy and programmatic platform as thoroughly as has the ULP administrative, 2001 to 2017, and continuing.  In fact, there are no credible alternative developmental narrative, strategies, policies, and programmes on offer.  There is thus no “main event” focus by the critics; their emphasis is invariably on insubstantial side-shows.


THE NEGATIVISM

The side-show offerings include perpetual negativism on any economic, political or social initiative designed to uplift the people’s livelihood and way of living; untruths and commess; tittle-tattle and innuendoes, “fake” news and vainglory.  Invariably, all of this is pursued with venom by persons who are possessed of personal agendas driven by egos in quest of righting imagined wrongs to them personally or of advancing their personal career and other interests through a new government.

It is all so sad and sickening to witness their demeaning of public discourse and the abusing of freedom on the internet.  Some are, as Comrade Ralph has memorably put it, seeking to be transformed from the status of “internet crazies” to “Your Excellencies” in diplomatic postings.  Others just cannot help parading their ignorance to the world-at-large.  In any event, they all source their bile from the sewer of negativism and defamation.  From one locale of Twitter and Facebook, which locale constitutes the gutters, they spout vitriol at uninterested passers-by.


LEARNED HELPLESSNESS

Given the virtual termination of the UK market preferences our bananas, which the government actively promotes agricultural diversification, the mindless critics scream that St. Vincent would never be competitive, in price and quality, for agricultural produce, without subsidy.  An international airport is built as a necessary pre-requisite for tourism development, the negative ones proclaim that tourism opportunities are viable only in the Grenadines, not on St. Vincent.  The facilitation of the development of four medical schools, the eternal apostles of “learned helplessness” declare that St. Vincent and the Grenadines has missed the boat in this regard and all that remains for us is “scraps” from the table.  And on and on the negative carping goes.  This is the road to perdition.

These are the very people who on all spurious grounds opposed the Argyle International Airport, the Canouan Jet Airport, the Rabacca Bridge, the Education Revolution, the Housing Revolution, the Health and Wellness Revolution, the efforts to reduce poverty and indigence, hotel development at Buccama and Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope, our effective and progressive foreign policy, the Geothermal Project, the Disaster Management project, and other unnameable programmatic initiatives.

These are the same people, too, who oppose the Modern Port Development Project, the borrowing of monies from the Middle East for the road rehab programme and the city at Arnos Vale.

These backward people have no vision.  I advise Ralph and the ULP government to proceed, as always, to implement their mandate. The bulk of the country is absolutely fed up with negativism and learned helplessness.  Let’s not look forward to the past.  Opposition Leader Friday is yesterday’s man with day-before-yesterday ideas.  His key supporters are an embarrassment; they are puerile and stupid.

Let’s look enthusiastically to a promising future under the ULP.



March 31st 2017

 The ULP…. 16 years in government

Introduction


To many Vincentians in St.Vincent and the Grenadines, March 28th 2001, was deliverance day in the country. On that day, Vincentians went to the polls and voted overwhelmingly to remove the heavy yolk of the NDP from their necks. That decision by the voters, to cast their votes next to the star, the symbol of the ULP, ushered in a new developmental era in the country.

Having elected the ULP to office in March 2001, Vincentians then re-elected the ULP to office in 2005, 2010 and 2015, four in a row. This was so, because the people trusted the ULP government to deliver on their commitments, having seen the impressive work of Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and his ULP. Never has there been such a prolific period of development in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Never has there been an outpouring of project work, all aimed at creating jobs, and making life better for the people of SVG.

In this period of celebration it is perhaps a good idea to reflect on the period before March 2001, as we chronicle the changes to the political landscape in SVG.


Post 2001

The period before 2001 was perhaps the worse period of economic development in the country. The NDP at the time boasts of a budget surplus, but seem unable to use it to address the problems within the country. For example, the indigent poverty level in the country stood at around 25 percent, meaning that there were about twenty six thousand persons in the country who were dirt poor. The ULP has since reduced this level to about three thousand persons.

The NDP celebrated a budget surplus, and could not find money to address the shift system in the education sector. Children were attending primary school for a half day tuition period. This reduced their period of exposure to formal instruction and learning. Further, during this period, a number of schools, police stations and other state buildings, fell into a state of disrepair. The ULP administration has since corrected many of these matters. One could remember the herculean task completed by Senator Julian Francis, to ensure that a number of school buildings were repaired. In fact it was a record achievement, and signaled the capacity of the ULP to get things done.

Since 2001, the ULP has been responsible for a number of strategies which have been responsible for significant progress in the country. The education revolution is responsible for raising the level of intelligence in the country, and providing an opportunity for poor people’s children, to get a tertiary education. The housing revolution is another successful project, where poor people were able to purchase lands, and turn their dead capital in to live capital. The health services have been improved through a combination of training, the construction of new facilities, and the provision of modern equipment.


Foreign Policy

But it is the execution of the foreign policy of the ULP administration that has brought tremendous benefits to the people of this country. Objective observers have recognized that the foreign policy of the government, is bold, principled, creative and well grounded, with the interest of SVG at its core. Never in the history of the country has there been a foreign policy that is pro-active and so beneficial to Vincentians.

The evidence can be seen in some of the great ULP projects such as the bridge over the Rabacca dry river, the Argyle International airport, the education revolution, including the programme for non-Caribbean tertiary education for our students, and the list goes on. The central purpose of the foreign policy is to enhance the nation’s capacity to address the external environment, in the interest of the nation. We are friends of all, and satellites of none.  
                                                                             
The ULP administration has kept its diplomatic links with old friends such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, where most of our Diaspora reside. But the administration has reached out to new friends, for example in the Far East nations such as Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar. Diplomatic relations with countries such as the Republic of China (Taiwan), Venezuela, Cuba and Mexico have been intensified and new countries are being added.

 

 Conclusion

Even as we celebrate the 16th anniversary, we must understand that it is only the ULP that has the compelling vision and practical policies and programmes to lift our country to a new level. The evidence is before our very eyes and the ULP has a great track record of performances. The voters know that they can trust the ULP to deliver.

Meanwhile the NDP offers nothing by way of philosophy, framework, vision or policies.  It focuses on personal abuse and tired slogans imported from elsewhere.  It is backward, foolish and stupid!  It is an empty organisation obsessed with Ralph, our Comrade Leader.  That obsession predictably led to their defeat last time and will again when the polls are held around 2020.

While they seek to belittle Ralph, the Comrade keeps his focus and chalks up achievements after achievements.  On the ground the evidence is clear.  Regionally and internationally he is seen as one of the handful of exceptional Caribbean leaders.  His views are sought; his words are quoted internationally and in scholarly works; and his ideas are given currency, regionally and elsewhere.

The ULP is the only party with a people-centered vision, along with the philosophy, the historical sensibilities, and the policies and programmes to uplift further, the quality of life of Vincentians from all walks of life.

Long live the ULP. Long live the Comrade Leader, now celebrating 16 years as Prime Minister of our beloved country.     

      


MARCH 17TH 2017

 Investment and Productivity

(Excerpt from the 2017 budget address)

Introduction

Mr. Speaker, significant public and private sector investment is earmarked for 2017; there is on-going, and imminent start-up, investment.  The private sector investment flows from nationals of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (at home and abroad), regional and international investors.  The public sector investment is driven by the capital programmes of the central government and State-owned enterprises.

The capital investment programme in the 2017 Estimates of the central government is budgeted at EC $229.6 million.  Funds are sourced externally (grants and loans) and internally (revenue, grants, and loans) to finance this programme.  The four major constraints on implementation of the budgeted capital programme are: (i) Limitations in the public and private sector capacity to implement the projects; (ii) oft-times slow release or draw-down of available funds due, among other things, to bureaucratic delays by donors/lenders and the State administration itself; (iii) crowding-out of capital spending by the demands of recurrent expenditure, planned or unforeseen; and (iv) the extent of debt-servicing.

Public Sector Investments

The major economic public sector investment projects in the 2017 Budget include: Health and Wellness ($16 million), most of which is earmarked for the 10th EDF Modernisation of the Health Sector ($8.5 million), for the Modern Medical Complex, and a temporary facility for the Lewis Punnett Home; Capitalisation of the Contingencies Fund ($6.7 million); Climate Change and Natural Disaster Reduction Initiatives ($22 million) through the RDVRP; Caribbean Regional Communication Programme (CARCIP) ($5 million); Port Development Project ($2 million); Geothermal Project ($8 million); Renewable/Clean Energy ($4.3 million); Argyle International Airport ($31.5 million); Agriculture Infrastructure ($14  million); BNTF ($6 million); Transport and Works ($64 million) particularly roads and natural disaster reconstruction; Housing and Lands ($16.4 million); and last, but not least, $7.7 million for various projects in Education.

Additionally in 2017, substantial public sector investments are to be made by several State enterprises including VINLEC, CWSA, NIS, National Properties Limited, and the SVG Port Authority.  Investment by the latter entity is largely to extend the Cruise Ship Pier and to partner with the central government on preliminary expenditures on the Modern Port Development Project which is estimated to cost, upon full completion, US $100 million for which funding is being satisfactorily sourced.

The domestic private sector’s investment is focused on housing; construction of tourism facilities (apartments, guest houses, and hotels), restaurants and bars; wholesale and retail trade; transportation (land, sea, air), agriculture and fisheries; financial and professional services; and telecommunications.

 In 2016, there was an estimated domestic private sector investment in excess of EC $50 million.  For example, physical planning permissions were granted for the construction of 387 houses, businesses, apartments, guest houses, and hotel improvements.  It is anticipated that the extent of domestic private investment would exceed that of 2016 by at least 10 percent.

 
Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign direct investment in 2017 is projected to be centred mainly on tourism facilities (hotels and marinas), telecommunications, banking and insurance, air transportation, trade and commerce, agriculture, and fisheries.  In 2016, foreign direct investment was estimated at over US $100 million. 

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has recorded commendable levels of foreign direct investment over the last seven years, despite its refusal, as a matter of fundamental principle and practice, to embrace the selling of its citizenship and passports, as has been the policy of the other five independent OECS member-countries.

Among the major foreign direct investment initiatives, ongoing and prospective, are: The further tourism development in the northern section of Canouan (including the start-up construction of eight high-end villas and preparatory work for another top-class hotel) and at Tamarind Beach Hotel; the continued build-out of the top-of-the-line marina in the south of Canouan, tentatively scheduled for opening in April 2017; the hotel and villas development project at Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope by the Canadian group of investors; the planned tourism initiatives in Bequia, Mayreau, Union Island (the Marina at Ashton), and Mustique; the proposed lobster and conch packaging plant at Calliaqua; the cocoa and coffee investments; air transport; and the expansion of the four medical schools.

The totality of these public and private investments in 2017 is substantial.  The investment monies, public and private, in the aggregate, are projected to be over EC $500 million in 2017.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that the government has taken an initial step to elaborate a plan to build a 250 room hotel in St. Vincent, through the instrumentality of at least two State agencies, and to engage a company with a global brand to market and manage it.  On January 18, 2017, Cabinet set up a Committee under the Chairmanship of the Minister of Economic Planning to proceed with this venture. Recently, on my travels overseas, I held fruitful discussions with an international hotel group on this very matter in London.

Our government is again appealing to our national private sector to join with it to facilitate the expansion of the number of hotel rooms available in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  This is vital in light of the impending operation of the AIA. I am pleased that at a recent budget consultation with the business community, three potential investors locally, expressed a strong interest in partnering with the government to invest in hotels.



March 10th 2017

Citizen Security

(Excerpt from the 2017 Budget Address)


Introduction

The primary obligation of the State is to provide an appropriate, and effective, framework for an acceptable level of citizen security.  Citizens and visitors to St. Vincent and the Grenadines must be made to feel reasonably safe and secure in their homes, their places of work and at leisure, and as they generally go about their lawful business in a free society.

Mr. Speaker, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a small country in which we tend to know one another face-to-face.  We are overwhelmingly a law-abiding society.  We are an educated and disciplined people.  We have a sound system of law and order; and the Police Force is reasonably resourced with personnel and equipment.  Yet, we have a level of criminal violence, perpetuated by a small minority, in our country; this is deeply troubling.  We must do much, much better, in curbing the incidence of criminal violence committed by this hardy minority.  I take this matter very seriously.

It is correctly and widely accepted that the fight against crime is not in the province of the State apparatus alone.  This fight is an all-encompassing enterprise involving the State institutions, the family, church, school, community, the mass media of communication, civil society, private security firms, businesses and labour, and individuals themselves in a partnership with appropriate regional and international institutions and government.  We must all be on the same page in this fight within the context of a democratic society.

 
State Institutions

The principal State institutions engaged actively in the quest for optimal citizen safety and security are: the Law Courts, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Financial Intelligence Unit, the machinery for the administration of justice, the National Commission on Crime Prevention, the Police Force, in concert with relevant regional and international entities, including the Regional Security System, IMPACS (Implementation Agency for CARICOM Security), and INTERPOL.  Each of these State institutions is reasonably well-resourced and performs creditably.

The SVG Police Force is on the front-line of crime fighting.  On the police establishment are 836 police officers, 15 Traffic Wardens, 20 Rural Constables, 99 Fire Officers, and 91 Coast Guard Officers, a grand total of 1,061 persons.  The recurrent budget for the Police Force in 2017 is $27.6 million, for the Fire Services $3.7 million, and for the Coast Guard $4.2 million, an aggregate for these law and order institutions of $35.5 million.  Additionally, the Prison Services have 131 prison officers and an annual recurrent budget of $5.8 million.  In the 2017 Budget, the functional classification, “Public Order and Safety”, has an impressive allocation of $63.8 million or 9 percent of the total recurrent budget, inclusive of amortization and Sinking Fund contribution.

Mr. Speaker, in 2003, the government elaborated, and caused to be approved in this Honourable House a National Strategy on Crime Prevention.  It has been updated and refined on an ongoing basis.  This many-sided Strategy and consequential Work Plan have been, and are being, implemented.  But any Strategy and Work Plan must be effected in practice by real flesh-and-blood beings, and better can always be done.

Over the last sixteen years, the ULP government has done the following, among other things, to build the anti-crime fighting apparatus of the State: Reforming and expanding the Police Force; enhancing the Coast Guard facilities and vessels; attracting quality applicants to the Police Force; increasing the salaries and allowances for police officers; enlarging vastly the training opportunities for police officers; improving markedly the working conditions of the police through the construction and renovation of police stations across St. Vincent and the Grenadines; better equipping the Police Force in several areas including telecommunications, videography and recording equipment, criminal investigation, and vehicles; setting up the Forensic Laboratory; strengthening the legislative framework against crime, including tough laws on illegal guns;

Police Youth Clubs and Community Policing have been established and we have strengthening the links between St. Vincent and the Grenadines and regional and international agencies in the fight against crime.


More Discipline

All of these efforts continue apace and new initiatives, particularly in intelligence gathering and analysis and crime detection, are being rolled out. Undoubtedly, the overwhelming majority of police officers are focussed, courageous, and diligent in fighting crime. 

Unfortunately, a minority of them are uninterested in policing and are possessed of a sedentary public service mind-set, trotting out lame excuses for their failure and/or refusal to do their duty with any sense of urgency or at all; often, these very ones are the perpetual complainers of this, that, and the other.  The policy-makers and leadership of the Police Force, and the bulk of the disciplined police personnel have to address satisfactorily this challenge of a minority of none-performing police officers. It is a matter on which the public rightly complains.

In 2017, the Police Force intends, according to its targeted Strategic Outcomes, to ramp up the percentage of arrests of persons reasonably suspected of committing crimes, especially violent crimes, and providing the basis for the prosecution of those against whom there is a reasonable prospect of conviction. The public expects that when accused persons are taken to the Law Courts that the presiding judicial officers be firm and fair.  The public interest demands that justice be done in accordance with law and without unreasonable delay.

Mr. Speaker, our government has embraced the formal request of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce to afford duty-free concessions to businesses which plan to install security cameras.  I have asked that the Chamber work in concert with the Ministry of Information Technology and the Police Force to coordinate this matter.  I am interested in providing the tax concessions to the very best security camera systems.

As a mature people we must acknowledge that some persons, mainly a small minority of young men, are bent on a life of crime.  Their impulses and pre-dispositions towards criminality, and corresponding criminal activism, are many and varied.  Excuses must not, and cannot, be made for such persons particularly those who have no regard whatsoever for human life.  We must focus on being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.  In this mix, of especial concern, too, is the violent offender who is mentally twisted or deranged.  In this regard, the Mental Health Services must work very closely with the Police, the Prosecutors, the Law Courts, and the Prisons.  Often this is not done well enough or at all; the consequences of any neglect in this regard can be deadly.



March 3rd 2017

 The AIA, a dilemma for the NDP

Introduction


The official opening of the international airport at Argyle, and the outpouring of support for the project, the ULP and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, have created a dilemma for the opposition New Democratic Party, and its leader, Loraine Friday. Over the last three weeks, the NDP has been scrambling to find a strategic response to the smooth change over, as the flight activities at the ET Joshua airport moved over to Argyle.

Indeed the NDP now finds itself up the creek without a paddle, not sure where to turn. Having lied to their supporters, having fooled a number of them, by saying that the construction of the airport project was impossible, and that the wind factor would prove to be the downfall of the project, they are now faced with the prospect of eating “humble pie”, in large doses.

The estimates are that close to fifteen thousand supporters of the NDP, visited Argyle to attend the official opening ceremony. Their applause was long and loud as they listened to the various speakers. They had nothing but admiration as they witnessed the landings of the charter jets out of Toronto and New York. And they asked themselves, “Why did our party oppose such a project”?

The answer to this question came as another lie from the NDP. Their new leader, Lorraine Friday, claimed that the NDP always supported the project, but that they wanted certain fears addressed. Nothing could be further from the truth. All the members of the opposition, without exception, in parliament, poured “scorn” on the international project at Argyle. They opposed it at every turn. They were critical at every opportunity, and they engage in a system of lies and half truths, all aimed at creating doubts in the minds of Vincentians.

The Dilemma

Given the overwhelming support coming from Vincentians at home and abroad, the opposition NDP now finds itself between a rock and a hard place. With their eternal nasty campaign against the AIA, they now have to explain to their supporters, how this change of heart came about. How did they go from calling the construction of the project the worst thing in the world, to now state that the project will be very successful?

That’s the dilemma facing the NDP. Vincentians are experiencing the AIA, flocking to the site even after the official opening, to see the planes land and take off. They are seeing with their own eyes that the runway is safe, that the wind factor does not affect the operations of the airport, that the terminal building is one of the best in the region.

They hear the expressions of joy and pride coming from the Vincentians who returned here on the charters from New York and Toronto, creating history. They see the arrivals of the jets from Havana and Caracas, and they ask themselves, have we been fooled by the NDP? Many of them are looking at the leadership of the NDP in a different light, with more skepticism, and more doubt, no longer willing to believe the lies and half truths they are hearing. Their conscious thought is that “this is our export, is we who build it, and is we have to make it work, so we have to be proud”.

All over the region people are talking about the feat achieved by the country, against all odds. We have completed a task that many leaders have talked about for 40 years, and no one had the vision to lead us to this dream - the completion of an international airport at Argyle, and such an airport! The Barbados Nation newspaper in an editorial last week quoted as follows “It is the account of great vision, loyal friends, purposeful self-reliance and dogged determination. The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines deserve to fully enjoy the fruit of these wonderful human attributes”.


 The way forward

All Vincentians must now support the Argyle International airport. All Vincentians must now disregard the dirty nasty campaign that the NDP is still conducting on the airport project. All Vincentians must now join with the Tourism Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture and other related organisations, who are planning to bring business to the country, by using the airport.  

The NDP has nothing good to offer the people of this country. You will remember that one of their strong supporters, Doug King Howard of New York, wanted one of the chartered flights to crash at the AIA. To date there has been no public response from the NDP, showing disapproval for this dastardly suggestion. We cannot forget that another of their supporters, Luzette King, on face book a few years ago wanted a tsunami to wash away the airport. To date, there has been no public condemnation by the opposition NDP, of this evil and wicked statement.

It is a joy to behold a people casting off the old order of negativity and learned helplessness, and embracing the immense possibilities of a new dispensation, even in the face of the restraining hand of limitations. Faith was renewed, among the people and they resolved to explore, with energy, the construction of the Argyle International Airport.

Over the years, we as a nation will buckle down with the hard work of making this facility work for us, increasing our job creation and the provision of wealth for our nationals, both at home and abroad. Argyle, beautiful historic Argyle, is our St. Vincent and the Grenadines, our beloved homeland.  It is a gift of love to us from the Divine Giver of all treasures. It is especially for our young people and their future.



February 24th 2017

Excerpt from the 2017 Budget address

Economic and Fiscal Performance

Introduction


Mr. Speaker, the World Economic Outlook (WEO) published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in October 2016, under the title Subdued Demand: Symptoms and Remedies, offers the summation that:

In the WEO, the IMF, in its assessment of the baseline scenario, projects that global economic growth in 2016 is at 3.6 percent, and is forecasting an improvement in 2017 to 3.4 percent.  The projected uptick in 2017 is premised on improvements in emerging markets and developing economies and increased momentum in the USA’s economy. 

Attendant risks on the horizon globally are: Political discord and inward-looking policies; stagnation in the advanced economies; China’s ongoing adjustments and associated spill-overs; and vulnerabilities in the financial condition of emerging markets.

The not unreasonable advice, proffered generally by the IMF, and of relevance to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is that:
Clearly, along with this general and sensible advice, due attention has to be paid to country-specific priorities.

Economic and Fiscal Performances

In the CARICOM region, economic and fiscal performance has been uneven.  In the member-states of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) as a whole, there have been improvements in the central governments’ fiscal condition and in economic growth, although there has been unevenness within and between member-countries.  Quite troubling, is the continuing depression in economic activity in our main regional trading partners, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.  The tightening of foreign exchange availability particularly in Trinidad and Tobago has posed especial risks and hardships to the traffickers and farmers who trade with that country.  This is a matter of serious concern which we are seeking to address satisfactorily with the relevant authorities in Trinidad and Tobago.

In 2016, both the fiscal and economic situation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have improved.  Real economic growth in 2016 is projected by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Statistics Department and the ECCB to be at 2.9 percent, the best growth performance since the global meltdown of 2008.  Economic growth in 2016 was realised by growth in Tourism, Agriculture, Construction, Transportation, Wholesale and Retail Trade, and Assorted Services.  The projection for economic growth in 2017 is similarly modest, although a better performance in stay-over, yachting, and cruise tourism is forecast.

The preliminary summary of the fiscal operations of the central government in 2016 reveals the following:  A current account surplus (before amortization) of $59.2 million, as against a budgeted deficit of $11.9 million; an overall surplus of $11.4 million compared to an actual deficit of $38.9 million in 2015 and a budgeted deficit for 2016 of $154.8 million; an increase in current revenue in 2016 over 2015 of $70 million, and $25 million over the budgeted figure for 2016 of $564.6 million; a less than optimal performance of capital expenditure of $75 million, below the $99 million of 2015.

The fiscal situation is still challenging due to increasing expenditure on salaries and wages, pensions, and debt servicing.  Waste and inefficiencies in government occasioned by systemic weaknesses and sub-optimal personnel performance, continue to be troubling and costly.  All these are very much on the radar of the government for marked improvement.

Public and Private sector investment

Mr. Speaker, significant public and private sector investment is earmarked for 2017; there is on-going, and imminent start-up, investment.  The private sector investment flows from nationals of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (at home and abroad), regional and international investors.  The public sector investment is driven by the capital programmes of the central government and State-owned enterprises.

The capital investment programme in the 2017 Estimates of the central government is budgeted at EC $229.6 million.  Funds are sourced externally (grants and loans) and internally (revenue, grants, and loans) to finance this programme.  The four major constraints on implementation of the budgeted capital programme are: (i) Limitations in the public and private sector capacity to implement the projects; (ii) oft-times slow release or draw-down of available funds due, among other things, to bureaucratic delays by donors/lenders and the State administration itself; (iii) crowding-out of capital spending by the demands of recurrent expenditure, planned or unforeseen; and (iv) the extent of debt-servicing.

Sector Investments

The major economic public sector investment projects in the 2017 Budget include: Health and Wellness ($16 million), most of which is earmarked for the 10th EDF Modernisation of the Health Sector ($8.5 million), for the Modern Medical Complex, and a temporary facility for the Lewis Punnett Home; Capitalisation of the Contingencies Fund ($6.7 million); Climate Change and Natural Disaster Reduction Initiatives ($22 million) through the RDVRP; Caribbean Regional Communication Programme (CARCIP) ($5 million); Port Development Project ($2 million); Geothermal Project ($8 million); Renewable/Clean Energy ($4.3 million); Argyle International Airport ($31.5 million); Agriculture Infrastructure ($14  million); BNTF ($6 million); Transport and Works ($64 million) particularly roads and natural disaster reconstruction; Housing and Lands ($16.4 million); and last, but not least, $7.7 million for various projects in Education.



February 17th 2017

 From a dream to reality

Introduction

They cursed it, they wanted a tsunami to wash it away, they said that it will be used to plant peanuts, they further said that it will be a golf course, and they called Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves a certified crazy man; all that and more, to say that the international airport project at Argyle, was an impossible dream. The Ralph haters did all that they could to stop the project, but in the end they failed.

On Tuesday February 14th 2017, Vincentians turned out in their thousands at Argyle, to celebrate their Valentine gift, a brand spanking new airport. The impossible dream became possible, and the leadership of the ULP, was confirming that the level of trust demonstrated by the voters of this country, when they returned the ULP to office for four straight terms, was not misplaced. Indeed it is being said, with a high level of justification, that only Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and the ULP could have constructed the international airport.

On Tuesday people lifted their voices in joyous accord, praising the airport, and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. They lifted their voices in prayers of thanksgiving, for there were many who were skeptical about the project. And they lifted their voices in praise, because as a nation, St.Vincent and the Grenadines had achieved something that many thought was impossible.

The Collective will of the People

 Beyond the physical buildings and facilities, the construction of the airport defined the quality of leadership within the ULP. From the conception of the idea to the execution and delivery stages, the ULP never wavered, never doubted and always stayed the course. The ULP provided the leadership and direction for those Vincentians who understood the importance of the project, and wanted it to succeed.

To be sure the project faced many challenges just like any project of the same magnitude and scope. First there was the issue of relocating over one hundred and forty families from the Argyle area, a task which was accomplished without any fuss. Then the IADC had to tackle the earthwork required for the runway and terminal buildings. This was not an easy exercise, given the topology of the Argyle area, but the Chatoyer-Che contingent, comprising Cubans and Vincentians, did a commendable job, all things considered. The IADC also had to consider some special interest issues, such as the removal of the Catholic church and cemetery in the area, and the preservation of the petroglyphs. These were not easy decisions and a lot of consultation was required before action was taken.

At the end of the day, the completion of the project sends a strong message to the rest of the world, that we as a people, can achieve, once we apply a collective will and work together. There were tremendous criticisms, lies and half truths about the AIA, mainly by persons associated with the opposition NDP. Today, the rest of the region is paying tribute to the Vincentian civilization, for the completion of this wonderful world class facility. As a people we must be proud of the AIA and make it work for us.

Without wishing to single out anyone, the people in the communications department of the IADC, must come in for tremendous praise for the work done, in keeping Vincentians informed, about the project. Other media houses and media professionals went looking for faults, but the IADC folks worked hard to ensure that we always got the true picture.

Making it work

Now that the celebrations are over, and we have had our tours of the AIA, and so forth, we must settle down to make our international airport a success. We must first of all dedicate ourselves towards the care and protection of the airport. In all our activities at the new facility, we must keep this in mind, always. The people who use the airport, primarily our visitors and travelers, must be accorded all courtesies. We expect that immigration, customs and security officers will do their jobs in a professional manner.

At all times the public will expect our international airport to be clean and tidy, and we need to develop an excellent reputation in the region, and among travelers. The restaurants and shops at the airport must be part of this process, and generally speaking we expect all our workers, to lift their game, and welcome in a new philosophy in relation to service.

The AIA ushers in a new era in terms of the socio-economic development of the country. The ministries of tourism, agriculture and economic planning will execute plans and programmes to take advantage of this, but it also requires the participation of our farmers, fisher folk and craft persons. The situation also cries out for new private investors to partner with the government, if this is required, to produce and distribute goods and services.

The AIA will bring opportunities for travel and leisure, for partnership in areas such as ICT, and the provision high quality goods and services. We must take advantage of this situation to provide jobs for our people. The Argyle International Airport is also critical for our future generation, so it is important that we preserve it for them.
                                                                                  
Conclusion

As a people we have done well to construct the AIA. While we celebrate the opening, we must say thanks to those persons who were critical to this project. There are a number of Vincentian professionals who were trained during the construction period of the project, and these skills will become important as we move forward.

Long live the Argyle International Airport.


The Argyle International Airport: Making it work

Introduction


The Argyle International Airport will be a hive of activity this week end, as organizing committee make their final preparations for the events to mark the opening of this all important project. This week we present an excerpt from the 2017 Budget address of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, in relation to Argyle International Airport.

“Argyle International Airport: Making It Work


The Argyle International Airport (AIA) is scheduled to be opened on February 14, 2017.  This project is one of four major initiatives in the field of civil aviation undertaken by the ULP government since 2001 to address the critical developmental socio-economic issue of air access.  The other three are: The saving of LIAT and its on-going restructuring, and development; the establishment, in conjunction with the five other independent states of the OECS, of the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) as a Category One Civil Aviation Jurisdiction; and the construction of the jet airport at Canouan.  Each of these has been contributing positively to the socio-economic development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and will continue to do so in the future.

The fourth civil aviation pillar, the AIA, holds out immense development possibilities. Even the admittedly conservative projections  by the 2015 Staff Report of the Article IV Consultation of the International Monetary Fund, estimated at least a 1.5 percent increase in our country’s GDP in the medium term from the operation of AIA. We must thus all make the AIA work for our nation’s further development.  I have every confidence that the AIA’s management, under the Chairmanship of Garth Saunders, working in tandem with the SVG Tourism Authority and all other relevant stakeholders, would make a success of the AIA.

AIA a National Symbol

Mr. Speaker, I do not intend to be detained today by providing rebuttals to the mountain of falsehoods, unwarranted, negative, and even unpatriotic, statements made against the construction and operation of the AIA by minority elements, largely stuffed with political prejudice.  Even at this very moment, some of these jaundiced political elements, spurred on by the “dog whistle” utterances off some more supposedly respectable opposition personalities, are willing the AIA to fail or are wishing it a tsunami of harm, for no reason other than the celebrated fact that the Unity Labour Party government has accomplished a veritable miracle by turning a long-held dream of a hopeful people into an historic reality.

The AIA is not only the largest capital project, by far, ever to have been constructed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  It is also a metaphor, a symbol, an alive testament to what a determined people, properly led, and supported by a wave of principled internationalist solidarity of friends and allies, can achieve.  The construction of the AIA, amidst all the topographic, financing, managerial and resource challenges, is one to be recorded with justifiable approbation in the annals not only of Vincentian and Caribbean history, but in the developmental story of disadvantaged nations across time.

Now, all of us must make the AIA work to the benefit of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, at home and in the diaspora.  It is our patriotic duty to ensure that this happens.

Capital Resources

In the Budget for 2017, capital resources of $31.5 million are allocated to make payments related to the completion of the construction of AIA, and the acquisition of furnishings and equipment for its operation.  Additionally, as anticipated, there is a temporary subsidy for its operation.

Mr. Speaker, one significant operational cost of the AIA is that of electricity.  As Honourable Members are aware, over a year ago, at a public signing ceremony at Argyle, I signed with the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF) a soft-loan agreement of just over EC $2 million to fund the first phase of a solar energy project for the AIA.  VINLEC is executing this phase of the project in the sum of $2.4 million.  Additional grant resources for solar energy at the AIA are available to supplement this allocation.  The initial phase of this project is for the installation of a 300 KW Solar PV system.  The targeted aim is to secure, in the shortest possible time, solar capacity at AIA of some two megawatts. We are seeking to obtain the bulk of the funding for this strategic venture through grants.


ECCAA Approval

Mr. Speaker, the AIA has been granted appropriate certification or approval as an international airport by the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA).  As I had indicated hitherto, both on account of the requisites for the publication of the civil aviation charts and procedures of the AIA and the very workings of international airlines themselves, regularly scheduled international flights will not be available in the first few months of AIA’s operations.  However, LIAT and other intra-Caribbean carriers, regular charter flights from and to international destinations, and cargo aircraft, will immediately enhance air access to and from St. Vincent and the Grenadines for passenger and cargo traffic.  I am sure that the operation of the AIA will prove the politically jaundiced doomsayers wrong again.

Cost of the AIA

The estimated cost of construction and equipping of AIA is approximately EC $700 million.  The actual estimated value of the construction is in excess of EC $1 billion, much more than the actual construction cost, given the in-kind assistance provided by our several partners.  The debt on the AIA is approximately EC$400 million, most of it (over EC $300 million) in “soft loan” terms, mainly from ALBA, Petro Caribe, and Taiwan.  Assets, mainly property owned by AIA (but not including the airport itself), the IADC, and National Properties Limited (for IADC), amount to over EC $400 million.  In short, there are enough assets available to pay for the debt at AIA.

I invite all of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, including our Diaspora, to celebrate when the AIA opens on February 14, 2017.  The AIA is a magnificent accomplishment.”


Feb 3rd 2017

 Love is in the Air

Introduction


In the next ten days the International airport at Argyle will be officially opened and all incoming and outgoing air traffic, into, and out of the mainland, will use this spanking new facility. All is set for two days of celebration at Argyle, first the Monday February 13th 2017, for the opening exercise, and then the following day, February 14th, Valentines Day, for the celebration rally. It will be a big event, a day of love, and many Vincentians will gather at Argyle to celebrate a dream come through.

Over the last two weeks Vincentians have been flocking to the airport site to participate in guided tours. It is estimated that some 25,000 persons flocked to the Argyle airport to get a firsthand look at the facilities, and there has been an outpouring of love and patriotism. Love for this new facility, because they as Vincentians, are proud to be the owners of a facility that is on par with the best airports in the Caribbean. Patriotism, because as Vincentians, they want to be identified with this dream, this achievement, and this heralding of a new economic development era.

Indeed, love is in the air as Vincentians demonstrate their love for the ULP administration, and its leader, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who provided the visionary leadership for the construction of the airport. Despite the obstacles, the dirty attacks and lies from the opposition NDP, and the problems created by the global economic and financial crisis, the ULP administration was able to deliver a state of the art international airport to the people of this country.

ULP in love with Vincentians

The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines trusted the ULP administration to deliver on this all important project. They returned the ULP to office in 2005 when Prime Minister Gonsalves announced his plans for the construction of the airport. This was followed by election victories in 2010 and 2015, a clear indication of the confidence placed in the ULP.

The ULP has responded with an amazing outpouring of love. No sector of the economy suffered from this project, and the ULP did not withdraw its financial support of critical sectors like education, agriculture and health. If anything, the budgetary allocations for these sectoral areas increased over time.

The construction of the international airport is an existential dream come true. The largest capital project ever in the history of St.Vincent and the Grenadines was conceptualized, fashioned and constructed in a most extraordinary and creative way. This has moved the member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, to declare that the work is “a miracle”.  What all others thought was impossible, the ULP made it happen. Only the ULP government possessed the capacity to make this work for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

This project has attracted the personal attention of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. Back in 2005, when he addressed the nation about the airport project, he said “Personally, I have been tireless in my efforts on the International Airport Project. I have spent countless man-hours on this Project at home and abroad, and in divers lands. I am fully satisfied that the government’s decisions on this matter are correct…”

The NDP’s response


The opposition NDP is truly an amazingly unpatriotic party. With the airport on the verge of its official opening, they are caught between a rock and a hard place, trying to determine how to respond to this situation. Their party’s spokespersons on radio continue to badmouth the project, to the dismay of many of their supporters. They are trying all sorts of strategies to stop the opening from coming off. The News newspaper of January 20th 2017, even quotes the leader of the NDP, Lorraine Friday, “as appealing to the tower to have the flights aborted, as there is no justification for such form of opening”.

This of course is an incredible statement from a man who wants to take his party into government. Here is a project, beloved by Vincentians, at home and abroad, for the future development of the country, and Lorraine Friday has nothing good to say about it. And he goes as far as to call on the tower to turn away charter flights on February 14th 2017. Simply incredible and unbelievable!

One the other hand, St. Clair Leacock, the member for Central Kingstown, speaking in Parliament on January 30th 2017, said “Mr. Speaker, I just rise to offer an unconditional congratulation to the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the pending opening of the Argyle International Airport. We on this side have had much to say Mr. Speaker, but I conclude by saying that a generation unborn would ask, what were we quarrelling about?”   

What were we quarrelling about? That is a question that the NDP must now answer in relation to a project which is central to the future development of the country. As Leacock tries to imply, our young people will reflect on the attitude of the NDP to this project, and wonder how that political party could oppose something that is good for the country. History, and the electoral process will judge the NDP harshly in the future.

Conclusion

Without a shadow of a doubt, February 13th and 14th will go down as very important days when the history of the country is written. Vincentians will flock to Argyle on those days, to celebrate the opening of their beloved international airport. 


January 27th 2017

The Argyle International Airport: the Leadership factor

Introduction


It is an accepted fact that the construction of the international airport at Argyle, is the largest capital project ever attempted by any administration in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The scope of the project, the cost of the project, the mobilization of the resources, the vision provided and overall, the leadership which ensured that the project was completed, despite several hiccups.

It is this leadership factor that is being addressed in this ULP article for the week. To be sure, this project required strong leadership skills from the very inception. The ULP formulated its approach to the problems associated with air access to and from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as far back as 2001. The election manifesto then, elaborated on plans to build an international airport on mainland St.Vincent.

At the same time, the ULP implemented relevant public policies on air access and development. We must remember the establishment of a hub at the Hewannora International Airport in St.Lucia, and the role played by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves in keeping LIAT in the skies. We must also remember the practical work done to streamline and upgrade the airport facilities in the nation, including the construction of a jet port at Canouan, and the rehabilitation of the ET Joshua airport.


The Leadership factor

The leadership of the ULP administration clearly outlined the issues related to the international airport in a clear and concise manner, so as to erase the doubts in the minds of some Vincentians. At the onset, the question on the minds of most Vincentians was “do we need an international airport, and can we afford one?” (If the answer is in the affirmative). Having studied this issue for some years, the ULP administration answered the question in the affirmative. It was abundantly clear to Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and the leadership of the ULP that the full realisation of the potential of the country’s growth and development, hinged on the presence of an international airport, among other vital considerations.

The leadership determined that the country’s tourism potential could not be fully realised without an international airport. Indeed the integration of the economy of the country, with CARICOM, Latin America, the USA and Europe, was being affected because of the huge restraints in air access. This situation also created a brake to the movement of nationals in North America and Europe, in that they could not travel to their homeland as frequently as they would like.

On the issue of affordability, the ULP leadership recognised that, given the costs involved, there was a need to find creative means to finance the project. Almost immediately, the ULP leadership understood that it would be foolhardy to borrow the seven hundred plus million dollars to finance the project. First the ULP would have to find a suitable credit facility to provide this money. Secondly, the debt servicing required, would affect other critical areas of the economy, as the money for interest payments in particular, would have to come from money already allocated for government projects and services.


The Funding process

Out of this thinking came the term “the coalition of the willing”, a group of countries who shared the vision of the ULP, to construct the international airport, and who were willing to provide substantial assistance. At the top of the list were the countries of Cuba, Venezuela, Taiwan and Trinidad and Tobago, who were early contributors to the project, as members of the “coalition of the willing”.

Later will come Mexico, Canada, and the local organisation called the “Friends of the Argyle International Airport. Every little bit of financing raised was critical to the project, including the well promoted “drop a dollar” campaign, fashioned by the Consul General to Canada, Fitz Huggins.

Meanwhile the ULP administration took the decision to vest some State lands in the IADC, the company that was charged with the construction of the airport. Government also sold some crown lands, particularly in the Grenadines, to raise further funds for the project.

One significant strategy must be recorded here. In the construction process, the IADC was required to remove a number of houses to facilitate the earthworks. This process was conducted with remarkable ease, based on the even-handed attitude of the ULP leadership. The IADC was generally open, fair, reasonable and progressive with the owners of properties, to the extent that they were provided with a re-settlement grant, and were allowed to remove any fittings, windows or roofing material that was salvageable, from their former homes. Most of them are settled in the beautiful Harmony Hall area.

Conclusion

The construction of the international airport at Argyle is truly a remarkable story. It shows the vision, leadership, the strength of character, project management skills and resourcefulness of the leadership of the ULP administration, in completing the largest ever capital project in the history of the country, in the face of some of the most vile and dirty criticism seen in a long while, by a group of unpatriotic Vincentians, many of them supporters of the opposition NDP.

The Argyle International Airport is also the story of the faith of the voters, the electorate of St.Vincent and the Grenadines. They clearly said that only the ULP could build the international airport, and returned the ULP and Comrade Ralph to political power in 2005, 2010 and 2015.

Long live the Argyle International airport, and may it bring socio economic benefits to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.



January 20th 2017

 Why the NDP opposed the Argyle International Airport

Introduction


In less than a month, the government will officially open the international airport at Argyle. In fact this will be done on February 14th, 2017, Valentine’s Day. This is an event that many Vincentians have been anticipating, the day when the airport becomes operational. It has been a long road, with ups and downs, but finally, the ULP administration is ready to unveil the largest capital project in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Despite all this, and in the face of the evidence on face book, in the local media, and on the API television programme, the NDP continues to “badmouth” the project. Despite receiving an invitation from Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to attend the opening exercises, the opposition continues to “badmouth” the project. And there is no end in sight. Readers can remember the infamous “find it where” comment by Arnhim Eustace during his interview with Jerry George, a clear signal that the NDP, despite its posturing and attempts to be relevant, was opposed to the airport project.  

Opposing the project

On August 8th 2005, when Prime Minister Gonsalves announced to the country, that his administration was going to embark on the airport project, the NDP went into a tailspin. They asked themselves a number of questions. Did the ULP possess the project management skills to supervise such a project? Where will they get the money from? How will this affect us politically, if the ULP is successful? The answers to these questions forced the NDP to mount a programme of opposition to the project. They designed a mountain of lies, half-truths and “commess” on the airport project, while offering nothing substantial in return.

Nothing was spared, and every event associated with the construction of the airport became a problem for the NDP. Their talk show hosts went to work on the site for the airport, the arrival of the equipment from Venezuela, and the subsequent procession to Argyle. They talked about the wind at Argyle, and the wind studies programme. Every bill that the ULP took to Parliament in relation to the airport, and the functioning of the IADC, met resistance from Arnhim Eustace and company.

Members of the IADC Board of Directors came in for criticism, and they reserved their worst, for the Chairman and CEO Dr. Rudi Mathias. They called him all sorts of names, they claimed he was no engineer, and that he was out of his depth. At one point, they tried to start a rumor claiming that Rudi Mathias was engaging in land speculation around the project. All lies of course.

Above all, they recognize that they could not allow the ULP and Ralph Gonsalves to complete the project. The positive public relations from the project was too much for the NDP, and they knew that the ULP will reap great political support, given the elections in 2010 and 2015. At one point, in 2015, they announced that there was a company that was ready to come in to complete the project. This was aimed at scoring cheap electoral votes, and it backfired!

Now the project is ready for operations, they are trying desperately to find some weak points to mount more attacks. That is not going to happen. They are now remembering the advice coming from their former leader, Sir James Mitchell, that if they allow the ULP to build the airport, then “crapaud smoke their pipe”. They should have remembered the mantra of the ULP, that good policies make good politics.

The Operations

The stage is now set for the operational phase of the AIA. Key management positions have been filled, or are in the final stages of being filled. A policy making board under chairman Garth Saunders, is now in place to guide the process forward. During the period leading up to February 14th, 2017, the staff at the AIA will be involved in training and simulation exercises to become familiar with the operations at the AIA. There will be checks and re-checks, changes and adjustments as the process goes through meticulous fine-tuning.

This will be a great period of adjustment for the entire country. We will go to sleep on February 13th, 2017, knowing that when we awake, we must now go to Argyle for all arrivals and departures by air, from the mainland. Airport workers, customs, immigrations and security personnel, taxi drivers and other support staff, along with providers of services, must now go to Argyle, their new base of operations.
In some ways, this is like children attending a new secondary school, full of excitement, having to cope with new facilities, and making new friends.

Conclusion

And so we await that great day, February 14th, 2017 when we will travel to Argyle for the official opening ceremony. Those who can wear red, will do so because it is Valentine’s Day. Others will do so because they want to support their beloved party, and the leaders who kept the faith, and stayed the course, to provide the country with the largest capital project in the history of St.Vincent and the Grenadines. Still others will come in colours of their own choice, since this is an airport of all Vincentians. Many in the Diaspora are eagerly awaiting news of the charters which will land at the AIA on that day. Still there are others who will arrive or depart on LIAT, who are looking forward to the experience.

Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and the ULP family have done well. Let us celebrate the official opening of the Argyle International Airport in fine style. 



January 13th 2017

 First Anniversary of the Fourth term

Introduction


It’s January 2017, and the public servants, particularly those in the office of the Budget Director in the Ministry of Finance, are busy putting together the budget for the year. This follows a series of consultations with all the ministries and heads of department to determine the resources required to operate professionally. Here and there, there will be some changes and minor adjustments, to meet the changing demands of the government, and the development agenda of the ULP administration.

Over the last three weeks or so, the public servants have been presenting their programmes for 2017 to the Cabinet. Sometimes the discussions can be robust, as the government tries to get the best out of the allocated financial resources. This year the government will present the estimates of expenditure and revenue on January 25th 2017. The House of Assembly will spend the next two days debating the estimates. Then on January 30th 2017, the Appropriation Bill 2017, or the Budget, will go before the House. Before this, there will be the Throne Speech from the Governor General, Sir Frederick Ballantyne, to be followed by the Budget Address to be delivered by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

These are challenging times for small island developing states, given the current global economic conditions, and the climate change issues that have been affecting the country. In fact Prime Minister Gonsalves, in presenting his budget address for 2016, sketch out the situation in this way.

“Financing Budget 2016 will be challenging within the context of the limitations of the small, open economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; the persistent structural weaknesses of an uncompetitive economy with colonial and plantation legacies; the economic slow-down in our regional and international partners; the uncertainties in the global political economy; and the on-going fallout from repeated recent natural disasters.  Still, our country possesses a bundle of strengths and possibilities which ensure that we continue to meet the multiple challenges in our national condition with a solid measure of success.

In successive Budget speeches, particularly since the massive global recession of 2008 to 2011, and its continuing adverse consequences, I have, over and over again, highlighted the structural limitations of the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the harsh effect of the removal of the preferential market treatment for our bananas in the United Kingdom, the debilitating impact of the continuing turmoil in global monopoly capitalism and its material discontents, the devastating blows inflicted on our small-island state through the terrible manifestations of a deleterious climate change, and home-grown restraints occasioned by the anti-social or violent conduct, and unproductive work habits, of a small minority of our people.  I again reaffirm all of this as the composite core of the contextual weaknesses and limitations of our social economy.  Unless we grasp properly the full meaning of this contextual frame for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it would be hardly possible for us to fashion an appropriate strategic path forward, having taken account, too, of our strengths and possibilities.

And St. Vincent and the Grenadines possesses strengths and possibilities, not only limitations and weaknesses.  It is central to the development of our economy, and nation overall, that, as far as is humanly practicable, we reduce our weaknesses and limitations, and enhance our strengths and possibilities.  The core of our strengths and possibilities resides in ourselves, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, at home and in the diaspora. We are, increasingly, and largely, a skilled, industrious, and sophisticated people who are capable of running modern, competitive economic enterprises.  To be sure, there are gaps in the adequacy or sufficiency of our trained personnel, but such gaps can be, and are being, filled through prudent acquisition of the skills from abroad and by enhanced training of our nationals, concurrently.

Further, we are blessed with the bounty and beauty of our landscape of 150 square miles and our seascape of 10,400 square nautical miles.  Our land acreage though small, is fertile with an abundance of quality fresh water.  In our land, too, is the presence of substantial energy resources of hydro, geothermal, wind, and solar.  Our seas are full of a diversity of productive marine resources.  Our country’s geographic location and its tropical climate are bonuses, overall”.


Budget Direction

The election manifestos of the ULP, from 2001 to 2015, all contain the detailed policies and programmes of the government. The 2017 budget is grounded in the 2015 manifesto of the ULP, and shaped within the framework of the National Economic and Social Development Plan of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, 2013 to 2025. There are many regional and international initiatives which will also be included in the 2017 budget. Overall the budget will address the people-centered approach of the ULP in terms of the socio economic development of the country.

So on January 25th 2017, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves will outline the fiscal situation of the country, and the plans for the development of the country going forward. We will also hear the plans of the individual ministries as these pertain to the sectors of health, education, agriculture, social development, forestry and energy.

2017 looks like a good year for the people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, given the new projects to come on stream, or to get their official opening and ground breaking ceremonies. Vincentians can hardly wait to see the good things in the 2017 budget.



January 6th 2017

Moving forward in 2017

Introduction


By all accounts, Vincentians have had an event filled 2016. Apart from the weather related events in November 2016, the machinations of the opposition NDP, the unfortunate loss of life from criminal activities, and the industrial issues at Buccament and Ottley Hall, the country has done pretty well over the last twelve months.  Naturally there is a lot to look forward to, in the New Year, and Vincentians are all excited following the official announcement from Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, that the international airport will be opened on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Daily on Face book visitors to the project have been posting great photographs showing the outstanding work that has been carried out at Argyle.

Clearly from that date, February 14th 2017, a new developmental era will be ushered in. The international airport will take the economic development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to a new level. There are immense possibilities for tourism development, and investors will be happy that this project is now operational. Farmers are already looking forward to a new and faster way to get their produce to international destinations like New York, London and Toronto.

Our regional and international visitors will welcome the opening of the international airport. International visitors will of course be happy that they can fly from international destinations without having to use the gateways in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. LIAT pilots will be happy with the fact that Argyle eliminates the issue of the downwind take off at E.T Joshua, and the difficulties when the wind speed is high. Of course, Argyle is designed to facilitate take off and landing in any direction.

2017

The public servants are in the process of preparing the estimates of revenue and expenditure for the 2017 budget exercise, but there are several projects which have already been earmarked for this year. The geothermal project will get rolling this year, and there will be significant activity in the north east area of the country, as construction and drilling work gets underway. This project will be a game changer for the economic development of the country, in terms of providing for a reduction in the cost energy, and being an alternative source for businesses and industries.


Now that the construction work at Argyle is closing down, the ULP administration will embark on a major road construction and repairing exercise. The plan is to use the equipment from Argyle to build and repair these roads as quickly as possible. Several roads have already been earmarked for attention, including the Belmont/Ginger Village road, and the roads in the Congo Valley area.  Already the Minister of Works, Senator Julian Francis, has announced that the stone crushing plant used at the Argyle project will be located in the north west area, probably around Richmond Vale.
                          
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has already informed the nation about the funds which will come from Kuwait, etc., for the road programme in 2017. Expect to hear announcements about further funding to repair infrastructure damaged in the heavy rainfall in November 2016. Expect to hear more from the Zero Hunger Trust Fund as activities expand to reduce the level of hunger and poverty in the state. Expect also to hear more about the new city at Arnos Vale, as activities shift to the new international airport at Argyle.


The Construction Sector

While the Tourism sector will continue to play an important role in economic development in 2017, the construction sector will still play a critical role in terms of a stimulus for the economy, and the creation of employment. The Mt. Wynne/Peters Hope project comes to mind in this regard. When construction begins in 2017, the investors will be looking for labourers, carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians.

There will be jobs in store for the skilled workers from Central, South and North Leeward constituencies. And to think that there are persons who want to stop this project, and deprive Vincentians from this part of the State, from earning a living. How unpatriotic!

The truth is that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is poised for a construction boom, perhaps the greatest in living memory. It will be supported by an array of equipment from the international airport project, to include concrete batching plants, stone crushing facilities and an array of heavy duty equipment; along with a number of skilled technicians and professionals.

Let us remind you that in 2017, work will be done on the expansion and relocation of Port Kingstown and the Cruise Ship pier and terminal building. And to this list, we must add work on roads and bridges, river and sea defences, the continuation of the housing development programme, and infrastructure development by state agencies like Vinlec, the NIS, National Properties and the CWSA.

Conclusion 

All this is being pulled together by the leadership of the ULP, under the careful watch of Comrade Ralph. While the opposition NDP is floundering under its self imploding leadership crisis, and the sabotaging of their vice president, St. Clair Leacock, the ULP continues its impressive programme of economic development.

The new leader, Dr. Godwin Friday, has a leadership style that is already obsolete, and he is no match for the ULP, and the young brigade of Saboto Caesar, Camillo Gonsalves and Luke Browne, among others. The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have placed the future development of their beloved country in the hands of the ULP, knowing that the ULP has been tried and tested, and that the party will deliver.


Dec 16th 2016

First Anniversary of the Fourth term

Introduction

Last week the ULP administration observed the first anniversary of the fourth term in office in quiet reflection and introspection. There was no big celebrations, given the situation with our brothers and sisters north of the Rabacca river and in North Leeward. Still December 09, 2016 is a significant date in the history of the ULP, for we must remember the “shenanigans” of the NDP, and the claims that the government will not last two months in office, and that Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves could not present a budget in 2016.

We must also remember the protest actions of the NDP and the way they disrespected the office of the Supervisor of Elections, and the reign of terror they unleashed on the Ms. Findlay. We must remember their threat not to go to Parliament to take the oath of office. All of that came to nothing.

The NDP went to court to challenge the results of the 2015 elections in two constituencies, Central Leeward and North Windward. We all know the story of that attempt, and the ruling of Justice Cottle in that regard. We will hear more about this as time goes by, and we hear the result of the appeal mounted by the opposition.

2016

The ULP has made great strides in relation to its development agenda in 2016. Great work has been done in the health centre, particularly in relation to the construction of the polyclinics in Mesopotamia and Clare Valley, and the enhancements to the Milton Cato General Hospital. Plans for the start up of the Geothermal project in the north of the country are far advanced and work on this project should jump start early in 2017.

There is also the Mt. Wynne Peters Hope project, which has generated much debate in the media here. That project is ready for its ground breaking early in 2017, bringing jobs to the people on the Leeward side of the island in particular. Investment activities have proceeded apace in the tourism sector. Construction work on one hotel facility in Bequia is underway, and the marina in Canouan is ready for its opening ceremony.

Of course the major activity in 2016 was the efforts to complete the construction of the international airport project at Argyle. This delay is due to the adverse weather conditions which affected the country, and resulted in damages to the road network in the area. The Minister of Works, Senator Julian Francis is spearheading the recovery work in this respect, and we expect things to return to normalcy by the end of the year. In the meantime we encourage Vincentians to visit the terminal building to see the amazing changes as the IADC retrofits the arrival and departure areas for operations.

Expect the NDP to continue to be critical and bad mouth the airport project, since their opposition from 2009. They have said some of the worse things about this project, a project that is critical for the future development of the country. When it is completed and operational, the NDP will have some serious questions to answer.

In terms of infrastructural development, the ULP administration has secured funding for the development of major feeder roads in the State, and repairs to some critical secondary roads. This means that construction activity in 2017 will be heightened. Added to this will be the repair work to several bridges in the State, including the Spring Village bridge. The Mt. Young bridge is already being used by commuters in the north of the country, in a fortuitous way, after the bailey bridge was damaged by heavy rains.

The ULP continued its much talked about education revolution in 2016, as students vied for scholarships to pursue their tertiary education abroad. Again, we must be proud that two Vincentians became valedictorians at the University of the West Indies, a trend that is establishing itself. Our students are setting new goals in terms of their educational achievements, but here and there, some areas of concerns have to be addressed.

Finally one major project in 2016 which will impact the drive to eliminate dirt poor poverty in the State was the launch of the Zero Hunger Thrust Fund. This revolutionary move will attack the issue of hunger among persons who are dirt poor. The government has instituted a levy on mobile calls, to raise money for this fund, and to continue the war against poverty and undernourishment. The Zero Hunger Thrust Fund has already started the “adopt a classroom project” aimed at enhancing learning and skills development among children in areas affected by poverty.


Conclusion

All told, 2016 was a busy year for the ULP administration with a host of development activities, and 2017 shapes up to be an even more energetic year, given the list of projects coming through the pipeline. Additionally the government will continue to manage the fiscal conditions in the country with prudence and enterprise. In 2016, things have been fiscally steady, but we are not out of the proverbial woods as yet, and the leadership of the ULP will continue to consolidate the economic gains, without being reckless and extravagant.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has already outlined his transition plan for the ULP, even as the NDP struggles to come to grips with the fallout from their plan. With its “people-centred approach” the ULP will continue its work, bolstered by the fact that it is the party of choice of the people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines.




December 10th 2016

St.Vincent and the Grenadines has lost a great friend

Introduction

On November 25th 2016, the people of Cuba were plunged into a period of mourning and grief, when the news was announced about the passing of their beloved Commandante, Fidel Castro Ruz. Since then international leaders and governments have paid tributes to the former leader, who in his own way, led a process to unshackle his country from imperialism, to a just and inclusive society, in the interest of all Cubans.

History will record him as a visionary leader who worked extremely hard to ensure that a small Caribbean country, often regarded then as the resort for rich playboys, turned itself into an important country, and became a force to be reckoned with on the international scene.

History will record that Fidel Castro, together with his brother, Raul, led his revolutionary group, the July 26th Movement, in a revolution against the Batista regime. Batista was overthrown in 1959, and Fidel became leader of Cuba. This iconic revolutionary leader led the political process to unshackle the people of Cuba from a debilitating imperialism, and worked towards the establishment of an inclusive Cuban society, free of exploitation.

The international figure

Castro became an international figure through his leadership style, his successes in Cuba, and his internationalism and solidarity with the poor and the oppressed worldwide. His defeat of the South African armed forces at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale has been hailed as the crowning moment which led to the release of former president Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa. Indeed, during a visit to Cuba in 1991, Nelson Mandela credited the Cuban forces, by stating that the victory “marked an important step in the struggle to free the continent and our country of the scourge of apartheid”.

Fidel Castro also attracted international attention for his role in the missile crisis in 1962, between the United States and Russia. For Castro, that further attracted anger from Washington, and further tightened the trade embargo. Naturally, his efforts to keep the Cuban economy afloat, despite the embargo, have been praised by the international community.

The Bay of Pigs invasion, in which he defeated CIA trained forces, who tried to overthrow his government, brought him more admiration and support. The Cuban people revered him more than ever, because here was their beloved “Fidel” taking on the great United States, and emerging victorious. Cuba’s stature and position in the world soared to new heights.


Our Friend, Fidel

There can be no doubt that Fidel Castro was a friend of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, and of the current leader, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. Former administrations and leaders under the New Democratic Party and the Labour Party maintained diplomatic links with Cuba, and Vincentians benefitted from studies in that country.

That diplomatic relationship increased, and both countries became closer following the arrival of the Unity Labour Party in March 2001. Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves who regarded Fidel as a personal friend, has described him as “a warm and humorous person, a finished personality, full of a love for life and living”. A number of Vincentians have had the honour of meeting this great leader, and have found him to be a remarkable character.

Cuba has provided immense support for the country in a number of ways. Let’s go back to 2001 where the country endured a shortage of personnel in the nursing sector. It was to Cuba that the ULP turned to find trained nurses, to ease the problems created by the shortage. Cuba has responded magnificently to requests for assistance for Vincentians, from all walks of life. Remember the Vision Now programme which allowed persons to travel to Havana to address their eye problems? And what about the campaign to reduce energy costs by installing energy saving bulbs in households here? Do we remember those initiatives?

Perhaps the close relationship between this country and Cuba is demonstrated through the response of the Fidel Castro administration to the plans by the ULP, to construct an international airport at Argyle. From day one, Cuba has been part of the “coalition of the willing”, providing significant assistance in the construction of the airport. From the beginning of the construction, the Chatoyer-Che contingent, worked side by side in solidarity, Vincentian and Cuban workers, engineers and construction specialists, with one aim in mind - to complete this facility which will make a huge difference in the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Cuba has opened its universities and specialist schools to Vincentians to pursue their tertiary level education in a number of areas. This has been so for a number of years and will continue, even though Fidel is gone.

Conclusion

Without a shadow of a doubt, Fidel Castro was an extraordinary and towering political figure of immense historical and global significance. In the struggle for people’s liberation, he ranks alongside titans like Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Toussaint L’Ouverture. Like all human beings, he was not without fault, but these pale into insignificance when compared with the remarkable legacy he has left the Cuban people, and indeed, the rest of the world.

To be sure, no other world leader has steadfastly stood up to the might of the United States, and survived. For almost fifty years, Cuba under Fidel Castro has survived under an illegal economic by the United States, and was still able to provide Cubans with a superior education system, and exemplary health care. The world will remember Fidel.

 


Dec 2nd 2016

THE COMPLAINING INDUSTRY

THE ISSUE


There is in the Caribbean, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a politically-partisan complaining industry of monumental proportions. This industry is not to be confused with that of reasonable, justifiable and legitimate queries about the delivery of public and private goods and services to the population.  The complaining industry is a structured apparatus of unproductivity.  It is based on politically-partisan talk-show radio hosts who are sponsored by or affiliated to opposition political parties.  In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, its headquarters is NDP-FM, otherwise mistakenly called “NICE Radio”.  The complaining industry has a veritable factory for the manufacture of complaints, mainly unconnected to truth or the real world; it thrives on the stylizing of facts, half-truths, untruths, innuendos, and specious falsehoods.

The complaining industry has paid producers of complaints.  They are supported by an informal network of distributors.  Indeed, some of them are own-account producers of a lesser order than those who reside at the Headquarters.  The complaining industry is intimately connected to the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).  Indeed, this party’s leading members are among the principal contributors and overseers of the complaining industry.


TRIVIA AND THE COMPLAINING INDUSTRY

The complaining industry thrives on trivia.  Unable to attack coherently or at all the philosophy, central tenets, and overall performance of the ULP government, the complainers focus on trivial matters in which the proverbial dance can’t pay for the light.  To be sure, we must “get the small things right” as Comrade Ralph has pleaded.  But trivia and small things are different.  In any event, there are always small things to be put right in the nature of life and production.  At the same time, the big things must be accomplished for genuine development.  The complainers shy away from the big ticket items of the ULP in the same manner that jumbie avoids holy water.  The complainers tackle the big issues on such a low road that they demean themselves further in the process.

 
THE COMPLAINERS ARE FAILURES

The principal producers in the complaining industry are almost all failures.  And those who are not, have personal grievances against the ULP which they have sought to elevate into public policy.  They have entered public life for entirely the wrong reasons.

When you listen to, or read, the following from the complaining industry, do you know:
That one is a failed businessman, music entrepreneur and a one-time occupant of a foreign jail?
That a daily propagandist is a convicted felon who subsequently has been adjudged by the High Court in civil and criminal cases to be a purveyor of falsehood?

That one of them, a pharmacist, the less said about him the better?

That one, a self-proclaimed know-all has never succeeded at anything including his treatment of the English language?

That another has a height in inverse proportion to his intellect, unfit even for menial tasks at say, an insurance company or some such corporate enterprise?

That one a columnist, and lawyer by profession, has hardly even won a Court case, a total undisciplined waste of an intellect?

And so the list goes on!  The point is thus amply made.

 
COMPLAINTS AND LEARNED HELPLESSNESS

A hall-mark of the complainers is their sense of hopelessness and helplessness.  They speak and write mountains of words but no developmental narrative emerges.  They sup at the fountain of learned helplessness.  They follow their political leader, Arnhim Eustace, who never finds a single reason to do something but many reasons never to do anything.  They see only problems, not solutions.  Idleness and a lack of success in achieving anything paralyse them from acting positively.

They encourage their supporters to deny any personal responsibility for any difficulties they may face.  They blame it all on Ralph, Ralph, Ralph!  Anything which goes wrong in their lives, it is Ralph’s fault!  This nonsense has become a central doctrine of the complainers.


COMPLAINING AND PULL DOWN

The partisan complaining industry sets about pulling-down persons who do not join them in their folly.  So they verbally abuse pastors and priests, union leaders (Noel Jackson, Lloyd Small and Burns Bonadie), successful executives (Thornley Myers, Lennox Bowman, Joel Providence and Garth Saunders), high-ranking police officers (Keith Miller, Pompey and Lockhart), sports administrators, Ministers of Government, the Governor General, and above-all the Prime Minister.

Some have had to pay for their mouths in the Law Courts.  Others undoubtedly have their just desserts coming.

The complaining industry misses one central point:  Our people are essentially good-natured and do not like this pulling-down.  They may laugh at it, but they do not like it.

 
ASSOCIATES OF COMPLAINERS


The politically-partisan complainers seek out possible associates in civil society organizers.  Here and there a few unsuspecting ones join their bandwagon.  A few others with political axes to grind and personal vanities/agendas to accommodate jump aboard this disreputable train of complainers.  These are classic petit-bourgeois opportunists who are liable to jump anywhere at anytime and against whom a principled, progressive outfit like the ULP must be on the alert.

BELITTLING ACHIEVEMENTS


A core approach of the politically-partisan complaining industry is to belittle the phenomenal achievements of the ULP government.  So, they deny the existence of the Education, Housing and Wellness Revolutions.  They deny and distort the splendid economic record of the ULP government in creating more jobs, in reducing poverty; in consolidating and improving our fiscal condition, and in taking care of the elderly.  They treat the Canouan Jet Airport as no achievement and they down-play the massive significance of the International Airport being constructed at Argyle.

We say let the complainers complain.  The ULP will continue to deliver quality goods, services and projects to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  Let them talk false words.  We would demonstrate truth in action.



November 18th 2016

False Flag activities; the NDP’s propaganda machine misfires

Introduction


The issue of false flag activities and propaganda has been with us for some time, but is receiving more attention because of the heightened usage of social media by Vincentians. False flag activities have their basis in military operations and espionage situations, but recently these have taken on a civilian approach, particularly by opposition political parties and non-government organisations.

Coming out of the political campaigns of 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015, and the referendum of 2009, the NDP has used a number of false flag operations to undermine the activities of the government, and by extension the ULP. Naturally these have been unsuccessful. False flag operations utilize a number of lies to create confusion, and give the impression that government officials are corrupt and full of deceit. Only truth and facts will defeat any false flag operation.

At the centre of these activities by the NDP, is a London based company called Strategic Communication Laboratories, the SCL. You will remember that the ultimate goal of SCL and the NDP is to try to control the minds of the Vincentian voter. In the previous election campaigns the messages from the NDP and the SCL were aimed at that purpose, to control the minds of Vincentian voters. They did this by developing a number of so-called conspiracies aimed at creating a negative impact on the ULP administration, and members of the ULP.


Conspiracies

Perhaps the best conspiracies developed by the NDP and SCL were those used during the 2009 referendum campaign. They raged that any support for the new constitution would mean that the picture of the current Prime Minister will replace the photo of Queen Elisabeth II on the face of the current EC$100 bill. Some enterprising NDP supporters actually went as far as to design an EC$100 bill with the picture of Ralph Gonsalves displayed on it.

Naturally, this created a stir in the public and generated some negativity for the referendum process. The NDP and SCL followed this up by claiming that Vincentians returning home from the United Kingdom will lose their pension payments, if the constitution is changed. Again, this provoked a negative response to the referendum.

Simply put, the NDP will release some false information about this or that project or strategy. When this information is corrected, they will claim that it is a lie, and move on to the next step, claiming that the government is not transparent, and that the ULP is fooling Vincentians.

The NDP has targeted the International Airport Project at Argyle for a series of conspiracies, all of which backfired. Their main contention is that the airport would not get the necessary approval to commence operations this year. First of all the NDP is not sure who will provide the approval, claiming that it is the Federal Aviation Authority out of the United States. In fact it is the East Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority, ECCAA, which is based in Antigua. Both entities are members of ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Then there are the conspiracies in relation to the wind studies at the construction site of the project, the environmental impact assessment study, the economic viability studies, and the list goes on. The whole approach by the NDP tells the importance of the airport project to the country, and the political mileage to be gained by the ULP administration, when the project is operational. As such, they reserved their worse conspiracies for this project, but truth will also win out.


The defense

In the face of all these false-flag operations, the ULP is still able to maintain its position as the leading political party of the day. In fact, the ULP is celebrating a fourth historic victory at the rolls, “four in a row”, winning elections in 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015, all with the popular vote and a majority of seats. This is a clear indication that the unpatriotic machinations of the NDP have had little or no effect on the support base of the ULP.

In fact the voters of the country have seen the work of the ULP administration, and have developed a tremendous amount of faith in the leadership of that party, and in particular, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. In comparison, they have seen the work of the NDP, and the way they oppose everything that is good for the country, and have decided that they don’t want any part of Arnhim Eustace.

As mentioned before, truth is the factor that is responsible for the negation of the false flag operations of the NDP. To be sure, the NDP will continue their lying operations as acute desperation sets in. That desperation will come when they see the operations at the international airport get underway. The desperation will get worse when they see the operations at the new city at Arnos Vale, and the work on the geo-thermal project.


Conclusion

The ULP administration has delivered on its promises, and pledges to uplift markedly, the condition of life of our people and that of our nation. Undoubtedly we will face challenges, including those of Mother Nature, and the current global situation. But as a people, we are in love with solutions and we will find a way to rise above every crisis, and move forward, always offering continuing hope through our faith in Almighty God. No amount of false flag operations, lies and half-truths will deter the ULP administration from its people centered philosophy for the St. Vincent and the Grenadines.


November 4th 2016

Excerpts from the 37th anniversary of independence address delivered by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

Introduction


There were several important announcements made by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, as he addressed the nation at the parade to mark the 37th anniversary of independence. We present a selection from that address.
Appointment of temporary clerks etc.

First, the 110 persons who are employed as temporary clerks, some for several years, in the public service will be employed with permanent status from January 01, 2017.  This will provide them with the requisite job security and attendant benefits as public servants.

Second, on the basis of the 2016 CSEC and CAPE examinations 629 students who achieved the requisite standard will shortly receive a cash grant of $500 each.  So, too, would students who passed the Associate Degree programme at the required level at the SVG Community College.  This is a continuation of the initiative of our government.

Third, on the basis of the 2016 CAPE examinations, our government has awarded 16 scholarships, exhibitions, and bursaries for university-level study.  Of these, eight are National Scholarships, fully-funded for 5 years of study; five are National Exhibitions, fully-funded for 3 years of study; and three are Bursaries valued at $60,000 each for 3-year university programmes.  These awards cost in excess of $5 million in the aggregate.  Additionally, for the 2017-2018 academic year, the government will grant 70 tuition scholarships to deserving applicants for university study; further, it will continue to finance the economic cost for all eligible students at the University of the West Indies; and the state-owned Student Loan Company will continue to grant annually economically-disadvantaged student loans amounting to in excess of $4 million to eligible and deserving applicants.  All of this, combined with other university scholarships negotiated with friendly overseas governments and supportive institutions, continue to place St. Vincent and the Grenadines on track to have one university graduate per household, on an average, by 2030. 

Registered Nurses and Nursing assistants

Fourth, the relevant authorities in government, will shortly announce the 100 or so successful applicants in the aggregate for the coveted places, for the new academic year, in the Registered Nursing and Nursing Assistant programmes. The students in the Registered Nursing programme will continue to receive not only a free education but also a monthly stipend of $1,000.00.  I have been advised that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the only country in CARICOM with such a generous provision, a special initiative of our ULP government.  You may recall that last year, the positions for Nursing Assistants were made pensionable for the first time ever.

All these, and other compelling initiatives for the youths, the elderly, farmers, the working people, will continue to be honoured and implemented despite the economic challenges, with which we are confronted.

Early release from prison

Fifth, in another week or two, after a review is completed by the competent authorities, I intend to advise His Excellency the Governor General to order the release of some young men and women who are serving terms of imprisonment for relatively minor offences.  I consider that in all the circumstances that these young persons ought to be given a second chance.  This is the internationally-proclaimed year of Mercy by people of faith, and we ought to exercise it appropriately to these young persons and others.


Sixth, the annual duty-free concession for Christmas barrels will commence on Monday, November 14, 2016, and run to December 31, 2016.  Last year, there were some 18,000 such barrels.

Seventh, shortly, additional persons will be recruited for the Police Force, the Fire Service, and the Coast Guard.

Recognition for outstanding Vincentians

Eighth, I turn to the further recognition of those of our citizens, at home and abroad, who have made sterling contributions in the fields of sports, culture, education, health, public service, business, and community service.  Early in the New Year 2017, our government will announce the naming of various facilities in honour of our distinguished citizens, particularly those who have gone to the great beyond.  We must remember them as part of our exercise of nation-building and the further ennoblement of our Caribbean civilisation. Announcements, too, will be made for a few additional sporting and cultural ambassadors.

And my last announcement today concerns Haiti.  I have instructed the Director General of Finance and Planning to transfer an initial US $50,000 to assist the Haitian government in its relief efforts consequent upon the recent devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew.  The Haitians are our Caribbean brothers and sisters whom we love dearly. They are in our prayers.

Fellow-Vincentians, within a few weeks I will present to Parliament the Estimates for Revenue and Expenditure for the year 2017.  Thereafter I will deliver my Budget 2017 in the debate on the Appropriation Bill.  Please listen out for our government’s continued programmes and some fresh initiatives.

Fellow-Vincentians, as I conclude, I reiterate that today is a day for reflection of ourselves and our history; to think carefully about our past, our present, and our future which is the only time, that it is ours to desecrate.  We must truly get to know better ourselves and our history; to listen more to our parents and grand-parents; to shape a whole son and a whole daughter out of the compromises which history and contemporary circumstances have made us.

 In this process, renewals and rebirths are not only possible, but necessary and desirable.  As we learn from our past, we must not remain stuck in it; we take the present as we find it and make our future better from all our possibilities and strengths, despite our limitations and weaknesses.  We must discern truth from facts and let the real world validate the truth. 

We must not merely build monuments of the Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer, our extraordinary National Hero, and other exceptional personalities in our patrimony; their heroic deeds and teachings are better remembered not in marble, stone or bronze but in our hearts and minds, recognising always that despite their greatness, that they are mortals with limitations and weaknesses.

And so, today, we renew individually and collectively our quest to uplift ourselves and our nation further. It is our duty to act in furtherance of this noble quest. 

 


October 28th 2016

We have done well in 37 years of Independence

Introduction

This week Vincentians from all walks of life, celebrated the 37th anniversary of our nations independence in a number of ways. Vincentians at home are proud to display their national colours, particularly on their cars and their houses. Many workers designed their own uniforms in the colours of the national flags, and wore these with pride.

The truth is that as a country, we have made significant socio-economic and technological progress despite our geographical size, and our scarcity of natural resources. Much development has been accomplished and achieved in the face of unfavourable economic conditions. But much work still remains to be done.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines became independent in 1979, under the administration of Milton Cato of blessed memory. His labour party was in office for the period 1979 to 1984. This was followed by Sir James Mitchell and the NDP from 1984 to 2001. The ULP and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves assumed office from 2001 to the present day. It is this period of governance that has made many Vincentians proud.

What we have achieved

There is a general agreement that the level of education in the country has increased and improved, thanks to the Education Revolution. Our young people are more intelligent today than ever before, in the period leading up to our 37th anniversary. There has been an explosion in the ICT sector and many Vincentians have easy access to the internet and by extension to social media. Regionally, our country has gained recognition at the UWI campuses in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, an indication of the success of our students at the Community College. Our enrolment at these campuses has been staggering. And all this over a period of fifteen years.

The country now has a political leader who is revered and respected in the region and further afield. Dr. Ralph Gonsalves is now regarded as one of the leading Prime Ministers in the region, widely sought for his opinions and thinking on regional matters. The same cannot be said for the leader of the opposition NDP, Arnhim Eustace, who calls Vincentians a “wasteful lump of nothing”. How can you love Vincentians and refer to them in this manner?

Overall there has been significant developments in Health, Tourism, ICT, and Agriculture. Scholarships abound and our students are pursuing studies as far as Malaysia and Taiwan. In the area of diplomatic relations the ULP administration has developed new international relationships with a number of countries, particularly those in the Far East. This has resulted in benefits for the country particularly in the areas of geothermal energy and infrastructure development.
                                                            
Salaries have been increased and with the current low to zero inflation rate, many public servants, including teachers, nurses, and police officers, enjoy a comfortable standing of living. The government has made a significant dent in the poverty level, and with the Zero Hunger Trust Fund, this battle will continue.

Now the country is poised for further development with the imminent opening of the international airport at Argyle, the opening of the new city at Arnos Vale, and the ongoing work on the expansion to Port Kingstown. The opening of the international airport will bring investors to the State in large numbers, leading to more employment and wealth creation. Already the stage is set for construction work to begin on the Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope project, and tourism development in Bequia, Canouan, Mayreau and Union Island, are in train.

And so as we celebrate our 37th anniversary of independence we can look back at our achievements with a large degree of pride, confident in the ability of the ULP administration to deliver on its socio-economic goals. As a people we must take confidence from our leadership, knowing that the ULP administration is in love and communion with all Vincentians.

The Future

As we move forward, we must reaffirm the necessity to build a modern, competitive, post colonial economy which is at once national, regional, and global. In the process we must train our people to think in these terms, to acquire the required skills for this modern political economy, and to interface confidently with the region and the world. This is the only credible path to continued progress, prosperity and social and political stability.

Our nation’s small size imposes on us an obligation to interface in a meaningful way, with the region and the rest of the world, always in the interest of the development and upliftment of all Vincentians. Our people are overwhelmingly law abiding and non violent, but emerging is a unacceptably high incidence of violent crimes, committed by young men using illegal firearms. This is a worrying feature and the ULP administration is committed to reducing markedly, and then eradicating, these gun related, and other crimes of violence.

This is a task not only for the law enforcement agencies, but touches our homes, the schools, the churches and our communities. Indeed the media must be engaged in a focussed way to address this condition. Still for all this, our country remains safe, and the security of citizens, though challenged, remains sound.

Conclusion

We close by referring to the words of our National Anthem; “what ere the future brings, our faith will see us through”. We must recognise that Almighty God has been good and loving to us, and he has helped us overcome our limitations and realise a host of our possibilities.

 



OCTOBER 21ST 2016

Why the ULP is best for the country

Introduction

The two leading political parties here, the ruling Unity Labour Party, and the opposition New Democratic Party, have had to face the scrutiny of the voters of this country some four times over the last fifteen years. In each case, the voters have said that they want the ULP to administer the affairs of governance, and further, that they want Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to lead the country.

There is a lot of debate as to why this is so, even to the point where the NDP claims that the ULP stole the 2010 and 2015 general elections. In other words, the NDP has never accepted that the ULP is the better political party, and that the voters were right in casting their “x” for the ULP. Within their ranks, members and supporters of the NDP have come to the realisation that their party cannot win an election, once Arnhim Eustace remains as political leader. But the party lacks the political will to make the change in leadership.

The main differences

The ULP has a development policy based on the idea of a “people-centred development”. This means that the ULP has placed the people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines at the centre of its vision and philosophy for social and economic development. All this can be seen in the programmes and the strategies of the ULP. First there is the education revolution which seeks to ensure that there is universal access to secondary education. The mantra here is that no child must be left behind, and that all children must get a secondary school education. Rather than supporting this policy, the NDP has sought at every turn, to “bad talk” it.

In the face of all this our young students have moved on to great achievements. Vincentians are regularly being selected as valedictorians at the various campuses of the University of the West Indies. A valedictorian is often the student with the highest ranking among the graduating class, so this must be something to be celebrated.

Instead what do we get from the New Democratic Party? An unwarranted attack on the accreditation process at the Community College, trying to put down our students, and our hard working teachers. Despite information from the Ministry of Education, the University of the West Indies and the College, the NDP persisted with their attacks. The rest is history.

Consistently, the NDP has opposed many of the projects and strategies implemented by the ULP administration. Consistently they have proven the point, that they don’t like Vincentians, and further, they don’t want anything that is good for the country. The project that has captured most of their attention is the international airport at Argyle. This project has attracted the most hate from the NDP, and the most hurtful and spite ridden criticism from their spokespersons on radio.

The truth is that many NDP supporters are happy with the international airport project. The only issue is that they feel that it is their party, the NDP, who should be constructing the airport. Clearly they feel that the NDP is the party who should get the credit for the construction of the project. They understand that good government and good policies make good politics, and will provide kudos for the political entity in the entire process.

The ULP administration has a genuine love for people as demonstrated by the projects which have been implemented over the last fifteen years. Take the Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope project which will bring jobs for the people on the leeward side of the island. It is unthinkable that the NDP will oppose such a project. This only sends a message that the NDP don’t like the people of south, central and north leeward.

And there is the matter of leadership, another major difference between the ULP and NDP. The current leader of the ULP, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, is intelligent, charismatic, has a clear strategy for the development of the country, loves Vincentians, especially the poor and the working class, and is not afraid to mix with the common man. Arnhim Eustace by comparison is aloof, has poor leadership skills, and is under tremendous pressure within his party to keep his leadership spot. Ralph Gonsalves has been tried and tested as a national leader, under some of the worse global economic conditions, and has proven himself. Arnhim Eustace has no track record, and his views on national issues are flawed. Eustace is timid, believes in learned helplessness, is pessimistic and has no faith in the people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

Conclusion

The ULP has demonstrated over the last 15 years that strategic thinking and actions are its hallmarks. It is a general truism that if one seeks to cross the developmental divide with baby steps, the inevitable is that one would fall to the bottom of the widening gorge. Major leaps are required within a small resourced- challenged economy and society like St.Vincent and the Grenadines, for the realisation of genuine sustainable development.

The ULP boasts a record of outstanding and unprecedented achievements which have benefited every Vincentian family. The ULP offers continued hope for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In communion with all Vincentians, the ULP will move forward to achieve greater things, individually and collectively, for the betterment of the nation.​​


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