KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — Caribbean nationals need to be more informed about financial matters, making government more accountable to their populations, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said yesterday.
He made the point as he accused the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves government for trying to evade the supervision of developmental organisations by borrowing from commercial banks.
Eustace, an economist and former prime minister and minister of finance, spoke of a recent ranking, which puts Venezuela as the second of 22 countries most likely to be unable to repay its loans.
Venezuela is one of the nations partnering with the Gonsalves government to build an international airport in St. Vincent.
Eustace said the oil-rich South American nation has not been meeting its financial commitments to the project.
“We can’t pin all our hope on that kind of environment,” Eustace said, adding, “That is why we have to ensure we continue to operate with international institutions and bilateral donors and so on.
We can’t shun anybody because we are interdependent. We don’t have savings in our country to carry the kind of investments that are needed in our country. So you always have to get funds from abroad,” he further said.
Eustace said the public must increasingly “grasp the intricacies of these things”, adding that doing so “will give you a better understanding [so that] when people come to talk foolishness you will know that they are telling you lies”.
He described as having “a lot of information” a presentation Sunday night by former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur on the state of that country’s economy.
“But, the thought that struck me most of all [was] how many people really grasp the point that was being made,” Eustace said.
He said financial illiteracy in the region is “not a failure of our people itself. It is a failure of conveying the information over time so that over the years and generations our people become literate in these areas”.
Literacy is “not a matter of just reading and writing. It is a matter of being able to absorb and differentiate and understand the implications of what is being said and we are very far behind in that — very far,” Eustace said.
He said that while there are “ very, very brilliant people in our countries”, his notion of “dissemination of information in its most basic form across the whole population … is a generational work.
“That is not something that is going to happen overnight. Each succeeding generation should be a little wiser in these issues and our countries will be better-managed ‘cause once they understand, politicians can’t play,” he said.
Eustace spoke of a financial literacy programme offered by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.
“They give you, the average man, a better understanding of what these things mean. … Our population has to become much more sensitive and … programmes like these can help.
“We have to be able to understand those issues more broadly. A larger proportion of our population has to be able to understand these kinds of issues. … It is important that our people, including the government, understand the reality of the situation,” Eustace said.