Independence Day 2014: Believe in SVG
Thirty-five years ago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines became an independent nation. On that day, October 27, 1979, in our Constitution, we reaffirmed that our nation is founded on the belief in the supremacy of God and the freedom and dignity of man.
We solemnly expressed, then, in our foundation document, that we desired our society to be so ordered as to express recognition of democracy, free institutions, social justice and equality before the law. In our quest to realise the maintenance of human dignity, we pledged to safeguard the right of privacy, of family life, of property, and to foster the pursuit of just economic rewards for labour.
Today, thirty-five years later, on behalf of the sovereign people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I reaffirm our commitment to these freedoms, principles and ideals. Accordingly, we proclaim yet again our unwavering belief in God and our bedrock belief in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A nation does not stand still. If we do not add constantly to our noble heritage, it would be depleted over time; if we do not grow as a people, we would falter; if the nation does not go forward, it would go backward. In order for us to progress as a people, we must believe steadfastly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I believe in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I believe in our Caribbean civilisation of which our nation is an integral and vital part.
Fellow-Vincentians, the current global socio-economic and political condition which impacts our nation and region is fraught with complex difficulties and challenges. These include: the slow-down in the growth of the world economy; the unconscionable dismantling of trade preferences for bananas for small states like St. Vincent and the Grenadines; the harmful conflicts in Iraq, Syria, the Middle East generally; Ukraine; international terrorism; the spread of infectious diseases like Ebola; and the deleterious consequences of climate change. We in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the region do not contribute to any of these impactful problems, but we are on the front-line in facing the pressures and hardships flowing there-from.
Regionally, the connected, though distinct, unravelling of CLICO and BAICO insurance giants, the stresses of some indigenous banks and other financial institutions, unsustainable public debt levels in most countries, devastating natural disasters, and an increasing incidence of serious crimes, home-grown and imported, have added to the troubling socio-economic woes.
Yet, we cannot allow the global and regional difficulties and challenges to overwhelm us or to prompt us into a negative posture. We have many good things going for us, especially our people’s resilience, their capacity for hard and smart work, their astuteness in finding spaces and opportunities for advancement in the global and regional apparatuses; the solidity of their tried and tested values, our instinct towards solidarity in the face of natural disasters or other travails, and the bundle of natural resources at our disposal for creative use.
2010 to 2014
In the last five years, 2010 to 2014, inclusive, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been struck hard by five (5) major adverse climate events: Hurricane Tomas in October 2010, the April Floods of 2011, the Christmas Eve disaster of 2013, and two prolonged droughts in the first five months of 2010 and 2014. In the aggregate, these natural disasters caused loss and damage amounting to EC $600 million or roughly one-third of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Christmas-eve disaster alone amounted to $330 million or 17 percent of GDP. In that disaster, twelve of our citizens lost their lives. We remember them today with reverence, in solidarity and fellowship, and in our prayers.
Over the last ten months since the Christmas-eve disaster, our people and their government have responded admirably to rebuild the lives and material conditions of families, communities, and the nation. In this process, we have been accorded prompt, and on-going assistance, from friendly governments and institutions regionally, in our hemisphere, and internationally. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts. In our profound gratitude, we assert that we are not, as yet, out of the proverbial woods. There is much work to be done in the enterprise of relief, rehabilitation, and sustained recovery.
Despite all the challenges and difficulties facing us, the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been recovery, slowly but surely. Since 2011, positive economic growth has been recorded for every year. The aggregate real economic growth in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has increased by 4.9 percent for the three-year period 2011-2013, inclusive. This improvement has just about edged ahead of the aggregate decline in the economy for the three-year period 2008 to 2010, inclusive. Still, the economic recovery is too slow, and uneven, to absorb an acceptable level of new entrants to the labour market while maintaining the existing workers at their jobs, particularly in the private sector.
PROGRESS AMIDST CHALLENGES
Yet, your government has ensured that we not only hold things together, but advance, in progress, on several fronts. To begin with, employees in the public sector, including in the central government, have not been laid off as a consequence of any economic or fiscal challenge. Indeed, more persons are currently employed in the state sector than in 2008, at the start of the global economic downturn. This is especially so for vital public sector employees such as teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers, and public servants generally. Moreover, special employment programmes exist for public works and for university and Community College – the Support for Education and Training (SET) programme.
There have been, too, no spending cuts in critical areas such as health, education, housing, national security, and agriculture. We have been both enterprising and prudent as all the circumstances demand. The delivery of laptops (almost 30,000) every student, first in primary and then in secondary schools, has been an example of a dramatic commitment to our young people and their education. Other examples abound in other areas such as: the unprecedented $20 million housing reconstruction programme after the Christmas-eve disaster, and continuing; the exceptional $6 million soft-loan programme to farmers through the State-owned Farmers Support Company; the modernisation of the health sector and enhanced delivery of health services as necessary accompaniments to the Education Revolution; and the targeted public investments in the Police, Coast Guard and Fire Services, regional air transport, and natural disaster management.
Concurrently with all this, and more, has been the ongoing construction, without let up, of the Argyle International Airport, a long-held dream of generations of Vincentians which is about to be realised with the airport’s completion and opening next year. Those Vincentians, at home and abroad, who have not yet visited the site of this marvel of national, regional and international solidarity, should do so. I am sure that it would please them enormously.
CHIK-V AND EBOLA
Despite the remarkable advances in our health and wellness sector, including in public health, and our health partnership with other governments and institutions globally, including non-governmental organisations, threats loom large. First, there is the pesky Chikungunya, and now, Ebola.We have taken credible steps in both battles, in conjunction with regional and international partners. But much more needs to be done. My government will shortly be announcing further dramatic and even more focussed measures in this regard. Everyone has to be engaged in the campaign against Chik-V and Ebola. We are confident that the Chik-V can be defeated, and the threat of Ebola be overcome.
LIFE AND LIVING
Fellow citizens and residents, independence, like life and living, is not only about material, bread-and-butter conditions, fundamental as they are. We know the scriptural truth that “man and woman cannot live by bread alone”. The spirit of love for one another and our nation under God’s suzerainty is essential for our life and living.
Every Independence Day, we must begin our reflections, historically, from at least 1763 when Britain assumed colonial over-lordship of St. Vincent and the Grenadines consequent upon the Treaty of Paris and the general carve-up of the Eastern Caribbean between the British and the French. Through our history of 216 years of almost unbroken British colonial domination between 1763 and 1979, our people have endured hardship and oppression, native genocide and slavery, indentureship and socio-economic marginalisation, race and class discrimination. Through it all, we have struggled for freedom, justice, and democracy, to emerge as a modern, sophisticated, independent nation-state taking its rightful place in the community of nations, internationally.
Still, there are many historical wrongs to be righted. We are, accordingly in the forefront of the vast regional campaign for reparations against the former colonial powers on account of the awful legacy currently of native genocide and slavery perpetuated against our forbears.
At this time, we remember our failures and setbacks, our triumphs and advances, our limitations and possibilities, in our march for a better life in justice, freedom, democracy, and independence. We remember and praise the valiant efforts of our forbears and their leaders. We remember with profound gratitude the heroic leadership of our National Hero, the Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer, Chief of the Garifuna People, and the extraordinary contributions of other exceptional leaders, including especially, George Augustus Mc Intosh, Ebenezer Theodore Joshua, Robert Milton Cato, and J.P. Eustace, all of blessed memory.
Thirty-five years point to a growing maturity. As we celebrate our Independence Day 2014, let us believe in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and its future. Let’s love one another.
Happy Independence 2014!
Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines