That was the response of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to a reporter’s question about whether he (the PM) erred when he made a statement that some persons have interpreted to mean that educational tourism can outstrip the contribution of bananas in its heyday to the Vincentian economy.
“This is an industry (education tourism) which can bring us more money than bananas brought us in the heyday. It wouldn’t have the wide base as bananas in the heyday had, but in terms of the dollars, the knock on effect and so on and so forth,” Gonsalves said at a press conference on Sept. 1.
He made the statement as he wrapped up a presentation on the joint contribution to the economy of the four medical schools here and an English Language Institute to be established at the Community College.
Speaking at a press conference last Tuesday, Gonsalves noted that Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace had said that in 2007, the 300 medical students generate EC$38 million to the economy.
“Of course, the multiplier was always a little too high, but he wanted to dramatise the position. So, he said it’s 38 million,” Gonsalves said, adding that there weren’t 300 medical students in the country at the time.
“Well, clearly, if that is the case in 2007, in 2014, with 700 [students], it will be in the region of 90 million [dollars] at least,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance.
“And then when you add another 200 students who are coming from Ecuador, teachers to learn English language here as a second language, we see we have a growing industry and I made the point and if they listened the tape I was talking about and the whole concept in which I was talking, is that I said that what is coming with the 200 — with the Ecuadorians — will be as much as what we are earning now from bananas,” Gonsalves told the most press conference last week.
“In relation to the revenue from the banana industry and compared to the revenue from the English learning institute and the medical facilities, are you saying — for the record sake — that it was a mistake that you made; it was an error, when you said heyday?” the journalist asked.
“The point about it is in 1995, bananas was in its heyday. I was talking — I was describing a process, which is taking place in the banana industry, and a process which is taking place in the educational service industry. I’m making the point that if you are looking at 200 students here for the Ecuadorian — how could 200 students bring you what a hundred million used to bring you in 1992? Because, the 200 students are not going to be able to bring you that,” Gonsalves said.
“If you take the 700 medical students and the 200 [Ecuadorians] and others which are coming, you notice an industry which is growing, an educational industry, which could, as a growth industry, we could rival what we have in bananas. Because the highpoint of the banana industry was 1992, the year just before the 1993 single market and economy in Europe, when England joined it, and then you began to have a decline, slowly, then sharply,” he said.
“That’s the only point that I was making in relation to an industry that had a high point and was in decline because of the market conditions and in the market regime, and another industry, which has the potential of rising.
“I mean, it seems to me to be a very straightforward issue,” the prime minister said.
But the journalist noted that the prime minister had said in his press conference on Sept. 1, that education tourism can generate more money than banana made in its heyday, but subsequently said more money than banana generates now (about EC$5 million annually).
“I am not a moron. You will concede that I am not a moron? Therefore, if I told you that 700 students will bring a certain level of resources to the country — that’s the medical students, and 200 will bring a certain level, how could anybody conceivable think that I would say that 200 students coming here from Ecuador can bring into the economy a 100 million dollars?” Gonsalves responded.
“That’s the point, Mr. Prime Minister,” the journalist said. “All I am asking is if you are saying yes, you are admitting that you made an error?”
“I am not saying it is an error,” Gonsalves said. “All I am saying to you is that you are not listening to the process of the discussion which I had and it’s only someone who will think that I am moronic will ever believe, will ever consider, that 200 students coming in from Ecuador could bring in what a hundred million brought in from bananas. I never said that. You listen to the entire presentation as I was explaining it.”
“You never said heyday?” the journalist asked.
“I said heyday, I said heyday, but I was making reference not to any specific year. I was taking about a process with the decline of the banana industry, and a process here, where there are possibilities not yet arrived, but in the process of movement. But, if you want to express the position that I was or am moronic in that analysis, you can do it,” Gonsalves said.