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Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves announced EC$30m in gifts at St. Vincent’s 30th independence parade on Tuesday. (Photo: Oris Robinson)

TAIPEI, Taiwan: – Citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have much to smile about after their prime minster announced independence gifts totally EC$30m (US$11.11) in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, Independence Day.

Dr. Ralph Gonsalves used the occasion of the country’s 30th anniversary of independence from Britain to dish out pork to the nation’s students, civil servants, sport and cultural personnel, and a wide cross-section of the population.

“Fellow Vincentians, the elderly, the disposed, the farmer, the worker, various categories of public servants, sports persons, and cultural artiste, among others, have made sterling contributions to our nation’s welfare.

“It is right and proper that we say thanks in a tangible way,” Dr. Gonsalves said before the announcements.

The gifts are undoubtedly intended to further endear Gonsalves’ eight-year-old Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration to citizens ahead of a constitutional referendum on November 25 and general elections next year.

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(Listen to Gonsalves detail the ‘gift’ at the bottom of this post)

Gonsalves admitted that the 66.7 percent vote needed to implement the new constitution was “steep”.

He encouraged citizens to vote in favour of the document even as the opposition New Democratic Party is calling for a “no” vote.

“But let us work together and let us say “yes” to our new constitution…. I am confident that the people will rally and they will say “yes”. This is the hour of our reckoning,” Gonsalves said to cheers.

He further said that this year “has not been a walk in the park” economically even as he told citizens that hardships occasioned by the global economic fallout would continue into 2010.

He said that the crisis would have a “delayed and prolonged impact on the less developed economies, such as those in the Caribbean”, but Vincentians had experienced comparably few job losses and no diminution in state benefits.

“My government will never allow any erosion of the impressive gains which our nation has made over the last eight years in the war against poverty.”

The handouts

Vote no
Gonsalves called for a “yes” vote on the constitution amidst the opposition’s “Vote No” campaign. (Photo: Ovid Burke)

Gonsalves announced that the country’s 5, 000 National Insurance Service pensioners each received a onetime additional 50 percent payment of EC$200 (US$74) last Friday, costing the NIS EC$1m (US$370, 000) .

The nation’s 6,000 public assistance recipients will each on November 2 receive a onetime additional payment of $200, totalling EC$1.2m (US$444, 000).

The government imported 16,000 sack of fertilizers and will sell them half price at EC$55 (US$20).

Gonsalves said that 2,000 farmers would benefit from the subsidy which would cost taxpayers EC$880,000 (US$296, 000), in addition to a subvention two months ago.

Some 5,000 skilled and unskilled Vincentians are expected to gain employment from an EC$10m (US$3.7m) roads and building beautification programme to be carried out by the state-owned Building Roads and General Service Authority (BRAGSA).

The 5,000 students who were successful in the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), Caribbean Advance Proficiency Education (CAPE), and Cambridge University Advanced Level examinations will each this week receive EC$500 (US$185).

The nation’s 30,000 students enrolled at primary, secondary, technical-vocation, and post secondary institutions will each on November 9 receive an independence gift of EC$200 for a total of EC$6m (US$2.2m).

“The gift is a confirmation of our love for our children and our people. They are our treasure. They are our jewels upon which our future is grounded and I am sure that they and their parents will spend this gift wisely on their education and upkeep,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves said that his administration had set up three separate educational funds capitalised at EC$500,000 (US$185,000) each to provide further education overseas for nurses, police, and sports and cultural persons.

“We say thank you for your contribution,” he said, adding that his administration takes care of public servants and teacher quite well and promised “additional provisions”.

Land distribution

Gonsalves’ pork barrel also included a land distribution programme which will see 806 persons receiving a total of 4.6m square-feet of land for housing purposed.

The lands, which have a market value of EC$25m (US$9.25m), will be sold from 10 cents to EC$1.50 (US$0.03 to US$0.55) per square-foot.

“We are going to have a lot of generosity here,” Gonsalves said to applause as he announced that his government would invest an EC$15m (US$5.5m) subsidy into the programme.

The lands are located across the multi-island state in the following areas: Chateaubelair, Wallilabou, Dark View, Spring Village, Keartons, Barrouallie, Layou, Dubois, Clare Valley, Lowmans Hill, Great House, Green Hill, Diamond, Carapan, San Souci, Byera, Park Hill, South Rivers, Colonairie, Georgetown, Langley Park, Fancy, Canouan, Bequia.

He said that his administration planned to purchase and distribute more lands in the New Year.

“We must turn dead capital into live capital, dead property into live property,” Gonsalves said.

Honourable citizens

Gonsalves also announced that nine Vincentians would receive Goodwill Ambassadorship. They are Sylvester McIntosh, Frankie McIntosh, Glenroy “Sulle” Ceasar, Adonal Foyle, Reginald DaSilva, Gloria Ballantyne, Ann Anderson, Nelcia Robinson-Hazel, and Jenita Lewis.

Stamps will be issues in honour of Sancho Lyttle, Sophia Young, Phyllis Punnet, Grace Eustace, Kenneth “Vibrating Scakes” Alleyne, Delroy “Fireman” Hooper, Festus Toney, and Dr. Edgar Adams.

“We thank them and congratulate them for their honourable service,” Gonsalves said even as he sent condolences to the relatives of Toney who died two days before the announcement.

Gonsalves said that the gift, in a year of economic challenges, was “extraordinary in its generosity and wise in its application” even as he was hopeful for the country and the Caribbean region.

“To be sure, there are awesome challenges. But these are can never be as burdensome as those which we have endured,” he said at the end of the speech which traced the nation’s progress through colonialism and post independence.

Several ally nations sent diplomatic or military contingents to SVG to witness or take part in the independence celebrations.

These nations include Poland, Canada, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Portugal, India, St. Lucia, Japan, Mexico, Taiwan, and Venezuela.

(Listen to Gonsalves detail gift package below)