ST. VINCENT: – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on Sunday, Nov. 14 made the Unity Labour Party’s (ULP) case for a third consecutive term in office.
Vincentians will elect a new government on December 13 in what pundits say is a clear race between Gonsalves and his ULP and the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), led by economist Arnhim Eustace.
Political observers have dismissed Ivan O’Neal and his Green Party as non-starters.
The group has not identified candidates or the constituencies it intends to contest, although O’Neal said last week that his party, which received less than 1 per cent of the votes in 2005, was favoured to win the general elections.
Gonsalves, decked in a black pinstriped suit adorned by a Remembrance Day poppy, a pink shirt, and his trademark red tie, told supporters in Calliaqua of the “outstanding achievements” of the ULP since coming to office in 2001 and said there was an “overwhelming case for re-election”.
“We have implemented literally hundreds of projects and taken hundreds of initiatives and that is one reason why we should be re-elected, because we have the credibility of performance. But that’s not the only thing. We have a people-centre vision, a philosophy of social democracy, the socio-cultural framework for our Caribbean civilisation to ennoble it further. And you know, we have the best package of practical policies and programmes,” Gonsalves said.
The finance minister said the country had excelled in wealth and job creation, reducing poverty and indigence, economic development and fiscal consolidation, the education revolution, the health and wellness revolution, the low income and no-income housing programme, reforming the Police Force and strengthening law and order, and liberalising and extending telecommunications.
“There’s been massive progress in every single area despite the fact that over the last 10 years we have had to put up with a lot of problems from outside: rising oil prices to unprecedented level; all sorts of natural disasters — 9-11. And, despite all the challenges, we have been able to make this country grow and strengthen the livelihoods and the safety net of the people,” Gonsalves said.
“These times are too challenging to put the government in the hands of people with no vision, no clear philosophy or the wrong philosophy, no credible policies and programmes. These challenges times demand capable hands, creative hands, safe hands and minds of the comrade and his team of quality candidates. That is what we need for five more years,” he said.
He further said the government has built the Canouan jetport, is building the Argyle International Airport and has saved regional airline LIAT, built a bridge over the Rabacca Dry River, significantly upgraded the road network, and provided water and electricity to almost every household.
Gonsalves spoke of the EC$165 million (US$60 million) in debt relief he secured for the Ottley Hall Marina Project even as former Prime Minister Sir James takes legal manoeuvres to evade testifying at the inquiry into its construction.
“I am not saying that he did anything illegal. But he don’t want to come tell us whey we money garn,” Gonsalves said in dialect.
“Mitchell, when he is going about pompersetting, he has to tell us where we money gone!” he added.
Gonsalves said his government has improved the material circumstances of all classes of Vincentians, including state and private sector employees, farmers and fisherfolks, and pensioners.
He spoke of advances in tourism, including the Buccament Bay Resort, the first resort on mainland St. Vincent and the development of 14 tourism sites across the country.
“…all that done by the Unity Labour Party, laying the foundation for further increasing in wealth and bringing more tourists to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and creating more jobs,” he said.
Gonsalves said that his government has facilitated private sector development as never before and announced that he gave instructions last week for more than $10 million (US$3.7 million) of the EC$30 million (US$11.11 million) owed to be sector to be paid out.
He said that two weeks ago the country ranked among the top places in the Caribbean and Latin America to do business
“We have benefitted the private sector in this country like no other government in the past and we will continue to do so and we will help even those who do not like the Unity Labour Party government for some kind of personal or vanity reason,” the minister of economic development said.
Gonsalves said his government has increased public assistance from EC$60 (US$22.22) to EC$175 (US$64.81) per month and will further increase it by EC$40 (US$14.81) next year.
He further spoke of investments in health, education, and the youth, saying the Youth Empowerment Service Programme (YES – Programme) has been adopted as a model in Latin America.
Gonsalves said the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) rose from EC$1.1 billion (US$0.4 billion) in 2001 to EC$2 billion (US$0.74 billion) in 2009 and the nation has the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union.
He further said that the local economy has been commended as the best run in the eight-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Gonsalves said that his country has spent EC$1.3 billion (US$0.48 billion) in capital programmes and that he “begged” for most of that money.
“What else do you want us to do and in a ten short years,” he said as he sang along to the campaign song “Leave the Comrade Alone”.
He said the party has prepared its manifesto and the top-ten policies include further job creation and poverty reduction; sustainable economic growth; consolidating fiscal discipline; and, extending and deepening the education revolution, including the implementation of the one laptop per student policy in January.
A ULP administration will pay greater attention to uplifting the communities including road repairs in villages and feeders roads and sports and cultural facilities.
It proposes to make the country safer and strengthen law and order and will lay the basis of a new city at Arnos Vale.
The party will deepen regional integration even as it sorts out “the problems in CLICO and British American”, will pursue “operation recovery and reconstruction” to rebuild the country after Hurricane Tomas, and build a new hospital in Arnos Vale.
Gonsalves listed several project and policies, which he said the NDP will roll back or stop.
“Over the past ten years, they have taken backward, obstructionist and anti-national stances on a number of excellent progressive people-centred policies and programmes,” Gonsalves said.
Among these, he mentioned the education revolution, the Rabacca Bridge, the medical diagnostic centre at Georgetown, the financing and support for LIAT, the Argyle International Airport, participation in PertroCaribe and ALBA, the country’s bid for a United Nations Security Council seat, the sale of lands to citizens for 10 cents; an EC$30 million (US$11.11 million) loan for agricultural diversification, the Home Help for the Elderly programme, the divestment of shares in the National Commercial Bank and the Buccament Resort Project.
“I am telling you, every policy they oppose if of benefit to the people. And, if you put the NDP back in office, it will be disaster for this country,” Gonsalves said.
He said statement from within the NDP suggest that they will reduce the number of state employees, including civil servants.
“Eustace intend to balance the budget, according to him, by slashing spending on education, health, the elderly, sports, culture, housing, tourism and poverty reduction. Always, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) programme: balance the budget but unbalance the country,” Gonsalves said.
He said the ULP was providing a surplus on the current account while having a strong programme of capital development.
“The NDP, dey ‘fraid ideas like how jumbie ‘fraid holy water. They have no set ah policies to come to the people wid. Yo’ think cussing Ralph gine put bread on table? Yo’ think maligning de comrade gine build roads? Yo think bad-taling I-and-I gine do the Argyle International Airport?” Gonsalves said in dialect.