Arnhim Eustace says Vincentians have forgotten what his party did during its 17 years at the helm. (Photo: Oris Robinson)

ST. VINCENT:- Christopher Columbus did not discover St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2000 and the Unity Labour Party (ULP) begin its development when it came to office in March 2001.

That is the message Leader of the Opposition and NDP president Arnhim Eustace wants Vincentians to bear in mind as they vote in general elections on Dec. 13.

He told party supporters in Marriaqua this week that it is annoying to hear, especially in Parliament, that the NDP did nothing to develop the country while in office from 1984 to 2001.

“It’s as if the world started in 2001. It seems as if Columbus came here sometime in 2000 and then we began to develop in 2001,” said Eustace, whose five-month stint as prime minister ended when he lost the March 2001 elections.

“You’re going to tell me that a party went to the polls four consecutive times, win each time, including once winning every seat in this country, yet they did nothing. So, people voted for nothing?” he said.

“It is insulting to say that people — a whole nation — voted for a government and a prime minister – Sir James [Mitchell] – for 17 years but that government did nothing,” Eustace said.

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Eustace told party supporters in Marriaqua that he could list over 100 programmes, policies and project undertaken by NDP administrations that transformed the country.

“People have forgotten what the New Democratic Party has done during the period from 1984 until we left office,” he said.

Tax reform

Eustace, who first ran on behalf of the NDP in 1998, said that after coming to office in 1984, the NDP changed the laws so that only persons making EC$5,000 (US$1,852) or more annually would pay tax.

Previously, all Vincentians paid tax as a percentage of their income. About two years later, the NDP increased the tax exemption threshold to EC$10, 000 (US$3,703) annually.

When the Dr Ralph Gonsalves ULP administration came to office in 2001, only persons making EC$12,000 (US$4,444) a year paid income tax, Eustace said.

“What Gonsalves has done over the last few years is follow some of that and increase it to a EC$1000 every time until it reached EC$17,000 or EC$18,000. But that was started by the New Democratic Party … let us not forget that,” Eustace said.

He said his party also reduced company taxation in the higher brackets from 45 per cent to 35 per cent, with even lower rates for companies that were exporting commodities, and removed taxes on company dividend less than EC$20,000 (US$7,407).

The NDP also cancelled death dues, Eustace said, adding that many persons would have otherwise lost their family home on the death of loved ones.

“We didn’t just talk. It was done and you have people today who have the comfort of knowing that on their passing there are no death dues that their families have to meet in order to be able to save their family home.”

As agriculture became more difficult and farmers were making less, the NDP removed taxes on agriculture, Eustace said.

He said this was done for two five-year period and when the ULP came to office in 2001 they continued the policy.

“So, no farmer pays income taxes on his farming income.”

Eustace further said that to encourage businesses to hire, the NDP passed legislations where employers could deduct from their tax payments the value of salaries paid to new employees.

“So, that encouraged you to employ people. You can bring in those people, pay them a salary and then you can get a tax break off of that because you hired somebody,” he said.

“So, just in the area of income tax, all those are things that the New Democratic Party achieved and introduced for the benefit of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Eustace, a former minister of finance.

Heath sector

Eustace said that the NDP had a policy that no resident of St. Vincent and the Grenadines should live a more than 15 minutes drive way from a clinic or health centre.

The NDP remodelled the country’s main hospital in three phases.

“That was the policy and that was what determined where you put health centres,” he said, adding that NDP administrations rebuild the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital in three phases financed by the European Union.

The NDP also established the HIV/AIDS Unit and the Environmental Health Unit.

He said that when his administration left office in 2001, the Biabou Health Centre was already designed and would have been completed if the government’s fourth term was not curtailed by the “Roadblock Revolution”, the political unrests of 2000.

His government introduced the solid waste disposal programme and negotiated and ordered the garbage trucks.

Eustace said the ULP has claimed this as their doing, even as he said successive government continue some programmes started by their predecessor.

He said the ULP, however, did not implement a health insurance programme that was designed by the University of the West Indies for the NDP, in which residence would have paid one percent of their salaries to get basic health coverage.

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“Some of the problems that people have today of meeting their medication and so on would have been covered by that health insurance programme if the Unity Labour Party had continued the policy developed by the New Democratic  Party,” he said.

“And the programme, while it was basic [and] only covered a small amount initially, by now, it would have been ten years old and therefore would be covering more of your health cost,” he said, adding that an NDP government will implement the programme.

“These are some of the areas in health where I think the NDP has achieved something for the benefit of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Eustace told party supporters.

Road network

Eustace said that the NDP built roads all over St. Vincent and the Grenadines even as opposition parties described them as “agouti tracks.

“And not only that. We maintained the road. You didn’t have those grass curtains you see now… where you can’t even see around the corner because of the amount of bush and grass at the side of the road,” he said.

“…what they didn’t understand was that those ‘gouti tracks helped basic poor people in this country in many important ways. And now, it seems to me that they want to reduce the wide road to ‘gouti tracks by putting up Ralph curtain,” he said, using the name resident of Bequia gave to the tall grass at the side of roads on their island.

Eustace said that the NDP built the Sion Hill intersection, installed traffic lights in Kingstown, and refurbished the Windward and Leeward highways.

Fifteen days before the party was voted out of office in 2001, it signed the agreement to refurbish the Fancy to Arnos Vales stretch of the Windward Highway, which was completed only recently.

“They could have started that project long ago and finished it much earlier than it was finished,” Eustace said.

Land reform

Under the NDP’s land reform programme, the government negotiated with the owners and purchased the Orange Hill and Lauders estates, and “ordinary people had opportunity to own land for the first time”.

“Sir James was very strong on that. You must negotiate with the owners. Come to an agreement, rather than saying ‘I taking this and I [will] pay you later’, just like they are doing at Argyle now,” Eustace said.

The NDP constructed the Sion Hill intersection and built “gouti tracks” all over the country.

He was contrasting the NDP under its founder and former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell and the ULP’s acquisition of land for building the Argyle International Airport.

Eustace said Vincentians therefore said they were not accepting proposed changes to the Constitution and voted against the document last Nov. because it did not say that the government would pay market value for lands acquired by the State.

Education

Eustace said that what the ULP trumpets as the “Education Revolution” is a hastily implemented version of the NDP’s plan for education from 1999 to 2010.

“The only thing different that they did, they say they want to do it between 2005 and 2010. In other words, they wanted to do it quicker,” he said.

Among other things, the “Education Revolution” has resulted in universal access to secondary education and a marked increase in the number of Vincentians at university and public officials with university degrees.

Eustace however said that with universal access to secondary education, many students entered secondary school unable to read and hence dropped out of school.

“In some schools, only 16 per cent of the students who started graduated. … Where is the other 84 per cent now?” Eustace said.

He said an NDP government would invest more in primary education, adding that there were also adult and special education programmes under the NDP.

It was the NDP that introduced technical-vocational education and created the post of Chief Education Officer and Development Officer.

“This New Democratic Party started paying the economic cost to go to the University of the West Indies for every Vincentian who qualify,” Eustace said, adding that this  averaged EC$15,000 (US$5,555) to EC$25,000 (US$9,259) per year for each student.

Eustace said the NDP introduced the Book Loan Scheme and capitalised it at EC$2.7 million (US$1 million) while the ULP allocated $6,000 (US$2,222) in their first year in office.

“They are so short-sighted and stupid,” he said, adding that text books change and some books are damaged or destroyed.

Eustace said that while more Vincentians have gotten scholarships to study overseas, the government should ensure that their universities are accredited.

“Any child of mine, once they go on a scholarship like that, I want to know that the university is good that they are going to,’ he said.

He further said the NDP established diplomatic relations with Cuba and when it was voted out of office, there were 145 Vincentians students in Cuban universities.

The party also repealed the law that forced unmarried teacher to resign if they got pregnant and further granted teachers maternity leave, increased from one to three months.

“People don’t talk about these things. All those things have been forgotten. But they are part of the history of the New Democratic Party. They are part of the achievement of our party in its quest to improve the living standards of all our people,” Eustace said.

Sir James Mitchell was Prime Minister during all but five months of the NDP’s 17-year rule. (Photo: Ovid Burke)

He responded to ULP criticism that the NDP built no schools during its 17 years in office.

He said the NDP secured financing for all three phases and built the first phase of the Community College.

NDP administrations also built the C.W. Prescott, Westwood Methodist, and Gomea Methodist primary school, in addition to Technical and vocational centres at Georgetown and Campden Park and the Campden Park Secondary School.

He further said that the party expanded and/or refurbished academic institutions across the country, including Lodge Village Government, Lowmans Leeward Anglican, Kingstown Government, Lowmans Windward Anglican, Barrouallie Anglican, Byrea Anglican, Calliaqua Anglican, Belair Government, Marriaqua government, Chateaubeliar, Lauders Infant, Ashton Government, Union Island Secondary, and Kingstown Preparatory.

“But they are saying we never built any schools here. … That is why tonight I want to remind you of some of the achievement of the New Democratic Party and to assure you that when we get in, we will do even more than we did then. We have the skills, we have the experience, and we will find the money,” Eustace said.

He spoke of the party’s “wonderful team of candidates” and said the party did not want to give “false hope” and does not have “false pride”.

“We are humble people and our concern is that we achieve, in the same what that I listed some of the achievements of the New Democratic Party in the past,” he said.

“One day, we will see another set of new achievements and those achievements will come from the New Democratic Party, which will win the next elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Eustace said.

He said the party is “alive and well” having recovered from the March 2001 defeat.

He said that in 2002 and 2003 when Gonsalves “was at the height of his popularity” the NDP sometimes couldn’t get a corum to hold meetings.

“But we persevered. We kept on going and now we are coming close to the promised land — very close to the promised land. But we want to come to that land not for purposes of being in power but for the purpose of serving the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and your presence here tonight attests to that fact,” Eustace said.