By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(Plain Talk, Oct. 4, 2019)
The constituencies of South Leeward and East St. George are interesting in many ways. If one were to compare them, we may find more than meets the eye. At the time of the last elections, East St. George and South Leeward were the two largest constituencies. South Leeward being largely agricultural, working class and residential, while East St. George composed of a dominant middle and upper and professional class, a solid entrepreneurial base, with a dominant hotel and entertainment sector, yet possessed with large pockets of poor and working people.
There is more. In 2013, two individuals were thrust into the political arena. Camillo Gonsalves and yours truly. We mirrored each other in many ways but differed in significant ways, most particularly, he being the Prime Minister’s son. Camillo was placed on a fast track to political stardom, rising as he did from Senior Crown Counsel in the Attorney General’s chambers, to United Nations Ambassador, to Foreign Affairs Minister, to election in one of the safest ULP seats in the country, then to Finance Minister with the PM chair beckoning. Me, a much slower grind.
Camillo’s academic training mirrors mine in every particular: First Degree in journalism and political science, Graduate Degree in political economy and international relations. We both read for law and became practising attorneys in the United States before returning home. In the 2015 elections, Camillo romped home to victory with well over 3,000 votes. He got every conceivable assistance to ensure that this victory was secured. In contrast, there was palpable utterings among a significant and influential cabal in the ULP that the South Leeward seat must be sacrificed, if only to stymie my victory and ascendancy. In South Leeward, most party supporters worked valiantly, but with tepid support from the party’s centre, some say sabotage, the party lost South Leeward by 118 votes.
South Leeward had always been neglected and voters taken for granted. Dougie Slater promised the people a playing field in 2005, and it was delivered 10 years later, just before the 2015 elections. During this same period, a single constituency got two spanking new playing fields with floodlights and all, and another field was refurbished at Chili. The playing field at Hope, was so poorly designed that when it rains, a virtual river gushes onto the field and covers a large portion of the grass with silt. Locals warned against this very problem, but community buy-in was disregarded, the “experts” knew best.
The Vermont Valley is a fertile community that produced an abundance of agricultural products. The farmers love the mountain slopes, but in the last 25 years, the roads leading to and from these rich farmlands have become almost impassable. A commitment was made in June of 2014 to send tractors to clear the mountain roads in North Leeward, North Central Windward and then South Leeward before the 2015 elections. The tractors never got to mountain roads at Very Vine, Paradise, Gaskill and Queensbury. Four years later, the tractors are yet to get there. Small wonder that farmer supporters fell off for the ULP in the 2015 elections, as many families who depend on the land for a living lost enthusiasm and stayed away from the polls. Since the 2018 budget, Very Vine mountain roads in Vermont were slotted for repair. The people await the festival slated for 2020 for some relief.
No one can persuasively deny that South Leeward has some of the worst roads in the country. Has anyone seen the Zippers that were showcased patching up the roads in East St George in the run up to the 2015 elections? The road to the Vermont Nature Trail presents a real-life adventure. The occasional patches in the roads are so shabbily done that they wash away with the slightest downpour and amount to an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money.
There are five community centres in South Leeward. At Campden Park, a new centre erected to replace the one whose roof collapsed more than a decade ago, remains locked up, presumably until 2020 election fever begins its destructive, corrosive roast of the people. The centre at Retreat, Vermont is dilapidated with neither light or water, a broken toilet and missing windows. At Penniston, the community centre is shuttered, almost swallowed up by a forest. At Rillan, the centre is really a disaster relief outpost that is not offered to the community for daily use. A similar disuse continues at the Clare Valley centre, except for the fact young children find refuge there while their parents work.
In South Leeward, there were the fewest Lives to Live projects. Once the nation rolled past the last elections, work stalled, leaving unfinished projects and broken hearts. They too will get a new lease on “Life” as 2020 elections approaches.
Youth unemployment is a huge problem in our country, but it takes on deadly proportions in South Leeward. Police statistics indicate communities such as Campden Park, Questelles, Rillan Hill and Vermont are hot beds of violence and crime. Of the 400 persons behind bars, over 100, a staggering 25%, are from South Leeward. Yet, there are few persons from these communities working at the ports, especially that at Campden Park. You will have to go deep up the windward coast to find more than 50% of the employees at our ports.
What happened to the commitment to transform Campden Park into the 7th town? What happened to the proposal to move the Cruise Ship Berth? Why has the suggestion to bring it to Campden Park never gained traction, even though its construction at Arnos Vale Bay, where the water depth would have created an engineering challenge? What happened to the sensible idea to revive agriculture by marrying idle hands with idle lands, or the proposal to create Rapid Road Repair Response units in every village?
Now contrast this sad tale with what happened in the run up to the 2015 elections and what has taken place since. One constituency is in the ascendancy while the other mires in hopelessness and despair. Benign neglect and or callous disregard impact negatively on real flesh and blood people.
Now, you see why I was made to lose the 2015 elections. I would have never stood for this sad state of affair. I can never stand for it.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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