Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves used his Independence Address on Thursday to announce that he will soon order the release of a number of young prisoners, and make permanent the appointment of a hundred clerks in the public service.
Gonsalves told the Independence Parade at Victoria Park that in a week or two, after a review that is underway is completed by the competent authorities, he intends to advise the Governor General to order the release of some young men and women who are serving terms of imprisonment “for relatively minor offences”.
“I consider that in all the circumstances that these young persons ought to be given a second chance. This is the internationally proclaimed Year of Mercy by persons of faith and we ought to exercise it appropriately to deal with young persons and others,” said Gonsalves, a Catholic.
He announced that 110 persons who are employed as temporary clerks, some of them for several years in the public service, will all be employed with permanent status from Jan. 1, 2017.
“This will provide them with the necessary job security and attendant benefits as public servants.”
On the basis of the 2016 CSEC and CAPE examination, 629 students who achieved the requisite standard will shortly receive a cash grant of EC$500 each.
“So, too, would the students who passed the associate degree programme at the required level at the Community College,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that on the basis of the 2016 CAPE results, his government has announced 26 scholarships, exhibitions and bursaries for university-level study.
Of these, eight are national scholarships fully funded for five years of study, five are national exhibitions fully funded for three years’ study and three are bursaries valued EC$60,000 each for three-year university programmes.
The awards will cost more than EC$5 million, said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance.
He further said that for the 2017-2018 academic year, the government will grant tuition scholarships to deserving applicants for university study and will continue to pay the economic cost for all eligible students at the University of the West Indies.
The state-owned Student Loan Company will continue to grant annually to eligible and deserving applicants, economically-disadvantaged student loans amounting to in excess of EC$4 million.
“All of this, combined with other university scholarships negotiated with friendly overseas governments and supporting institutions, continue to place St. Vincent and the Grenadines on track to have one university graduate per household, on average, by the year 2030. I say to the students give me even better results and I will find the money for you to go to university.”
Gonsalves said that his government will shortly announce the 100 or so successful applicants who have been accepted to the registered nursing and assistant nursing programmes, all of whom will continue to receive a free education, and a monthly stipend of EC$1,000.
He said SVG is the only CARICOM nations with such provision.
“I want the nurses to know, I want the nursing assistants to know that you are very special to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and you are very special to Ralph.”
Gonsalves said that all these and other “compelling initiatives for the youth, the elderly, the farmers, the working people, will continue to be honoured and implemented despite the economic challenges with which we are confronted.”
He further announced that the annual duty-free concession for Christmas barrels will commence on Nov. 14 and run until Dec. 31.
Last year, there were some 18,000 such barrels, he said,
Shortly, additional persons will be recruited for the Police Force, the Fire Service, and the Coast Guard.
The government will give special recognition to citizens at home and abroad who have made sterling contributions in the fields of sports, culture, education, health, the public service, business and community service.
In this vein, early next year, the government will announce the naming of various facilities “in honour of our distinguished citizens, particularly those who have gone to the great beyond.
“We must remember them as part of our exercise of nation building and the further ennoblement of our Caribbean civilisation,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that announcements will also be made for a few more sporting and cultural ambassadors.
Gonsalves also urged citizens to listen to his Budget Address later this year to hear what he has to say about the continuation of programmes and new initiatives.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is celebrating 37 years of political independence from Britain.