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The next leader of St. Vincent and the Grenadines after Ralph Gonsalves exits the scene would need more than ethos, pathos, and logos.
Being likable and worthy of respect, being able to persuade by appealing to people’s emotions and being able to persuade by logic would be acceptable, but not sufficient to lead this country through 21st century challenges which are becoming increasingly acute.
The next leader will have to have the qualities of a master builder and/or a manager, and will have to possess a deep demand for freedom of thought and action. He/she would have to have drive and determination and the know-how.
The person must have a profound understanding of SVG’s economy, relative to the economies of other small-island developing states and the international economy and international affairs.
The next leader after Ralph will have to be able to continue Ralph Gonsalves’ legacy in CARICOM as a forthright, unorthodox, daring and astute leader. He or she must also be prepared to be a regional leader as well.
Specifically, in the local context, the new leader will have to be able to work around the challenges of a small, structurally-dependent, heavily-indebted, resource-challenged, vulnerable, open economy that is St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The new leader will have to work around what Prime Minister Gonsalves has described as an economy with a weak or limited internal demand, or by definition, a vulnerable economy, which is incapable of generating self-sustaining growth, by itself.
Agriculture, energy, food security, climate change and climate compliance, private sector development, ICT, trade, youth development and the continued development of other key sectors will have to be the major areas of focus.
The challenge of consolidating social and economic achievements, such as the significant reduction of hunger and poverty and the continued improvement in health care delivery and education made by Gonsalves and his administration, will also be a huge task for that leader and his/her administration.
From a regional context, a report by the UWI Institute of International Relations — from a study conducted in April 2011, to analyse the Caribbean regional integration process, to help identify options for moving it forward, seems to suggest that there has been a shift, in the initial focus of regional integration which was centred on competing effectively in a globalizing economy.
The study found that “the new focus now extends towards responding to ‘existential threats’ which bring into question the fundamental viability of Caribbean society itself”.
The report went on to say that in responding to issues such as; climate change, trans-national crime, the decline of regional industries, food security, governance challenges and international diplomacy, there is need for co-ordinated regional responses.
It went on to state that — “these problems are becoming increasingly acute in the immediate present; failure to act immediately, decisively and coherently at the regional level could quite conceivably herald the effective decline of Caribbean society as a ‘perfect storm’ of problems gathers on the horizon”.
With a size of 150 square miles, no oil and natural gas and a population of just over 109,000 people, St. Vincent and the Grenadines looks nothing like a regional powerhouse.
Ralph Gonsalves, however, through his contribution, so far has highlighted SVG in bold on the regional map and has given us an influential voice.
Gonsalves was the leading voice in CARICOM in responding to a number of issues, most of which brought positive results.
Among the examples are: his stance on the revocation of citizenship from Dominican-born persons of Haitian decent, his position articulated in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on the UN-Haiti Cholera debacle; his positions on the CLICO / BAICO fiasco; his moves to salvage LIAT — even against the potential breech of certain provisions of the revised treaty of Chaguaramas, where LIAT’s competitor Caribbean Airlines was enjoying a fuel subsidy from the Trinidad government; his moves to save an important financial institution in Antigua and Barbuda; his continued move towards the achievement of greater freedom of movement within the OECS and CARICOM; his positions on neighbouring Martinique and Guadeloupe in relation to their associate membership of the OECS and other sub-regional bodies and his moves to sign on to Petro Caribe and ALBA to deepen integration between the Caribbean and South and Central America.
In order to be influential in affairs of the region, the next leader must be one who is not afraid to deal with important regional issues or take principled positions, even where he/she is standing alone, just as Gonsalves has done in the aforementioned circumstances and as he is currently doing — where medical marijuana, reparations for slavery and native genocide and climate change are concerned.
Even internationally, Gonsalves has taken less popular positions, nonetheless, positions of principle. His position articulated in very important international circles, regarding Taiwan being able to gain more autonomy from Mainland China, is one such example.
The historical linkage which exists between St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize (where a great deal of its nationals consider us to be their mother country) could also augur well with our moves to strengthen our position in CARICOM and to deepen ties between the Caribbean and Latin America.
The leader after Ralph must lead from his soul, he must possess strong political will and discernment to be able to bring about needed changes at the right times. He must have an understanding of the times, both spiritually and physically.
The leader after Ralph must not be someone who can promise St. Vincent, or even the Caribbean region a brighter day. Instead, he or she must show that they understand fully, the 21st century challenges and opportunities and must show that they can manage things through the challenges and that they can capitalize on the opportunities whenever they present themselves.
Vincentians must therefore choose wisely, the individual and his team who will take the baton from Ralph.
Demion (Black Star) McTair
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