An increase in the monthly payout to welfare recipients as well as the payment of money owed to health care workers was among 20 announcements that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves made in his address to the nation, on Sunday, the 40th anniversary of independence from Britain.
A large crowd gathered at Victoria Park for the annual military parade, the highlight of the national celebrations, which, this year, was followed by a cultural parade through the streets of the city.
“I don’t want you to be thinking when you hear 20 that Ralph is about to call election,” said Gonsalves as he said he was going to make 20 announcements.
The Independence Address could be the last before general elections, which are expected by the end of 2020, ahead of the March 2021 constitutional deadline.
The first announcement was that from January 2020, the monthly Public Assistance payout to about 4,500 poor Vincentians will be increased by EC$25, Gonsalves said to cheers.
With the increase, recipients who are 65 and older will get EC$275 monthly and those under 65 will get EC$250.
“Our profound commitment to the poor continues,” the prime minister said, adding that he expects that next year, the National Insurance Services will increase the minimum pension “appropriately after the usual review”.
Nurses to receive outstanding payments
The prime minister said that some 112 nurses and nursing assistants who were due certain on-call and weekend allowances and were not paid for various reasons will be all paid in full in December 2019.
The rate is EC$250 monthly for staff nurses and EC$125 monthly for nursing assistants, translating to individual payments ranging from EC$375 to EC$28,875 — for a total pay-out of EC$995,332.56.
“I thank the nurses who brought this matter to my attention three or so months ago. I am pleased that we are righting this wrong. At the same time, I will like to remind all our nurses and nursing assistants who are doing a very good job of their ongoing obligation to deliver the best service possible to the various communities. Please do not let us down. You are very precious to us.”
Graduate teachers, public servants to be appointed
The third announcement was that the final batch of teachers — just under 100 — who obtained university degrees but were not appointed as graduate teacher will be so appointed.
“Henceforth, the appointment will proceed as a matter of course upon their acquisition of degrees,” said the prime minister, who noted that the teachers had been receiving graduate allowances.
Gonsalves said that, as has been done in respect of graduate teachers, the government will embark on a similar process from January 2020 to address the position of the unappointed university graduates in the Public Service.
He said roughly 140 such persons will be appointed at the appropriate grade level.
“The education revolution has occasioned a massive increase in university graduates. The Public Service establishment has to be reformed to accommodate this welcomed development in university training.”
More land titles to be handed out
The prime minister said that in this the 40th year of the nation’s independence, hundreds of land title issues for grantees of lands will be resolved to ensure the receipt of proper title.
“More distribution of housing lots will take place, too, as the land surveys and requisite infrastructure are done.”
He said the government has so far distributed or recorded title for more than 4,500 housing lots, adding that last Wednesday, Cabinet approved nearly 200 titles to state lands.
At a ceremony at Rabacca on Monday, 139 formal letters regarding these land titles will be distributed individually, Gonsalves said.
“We shall continue to turn dead property into live property. We shall assist our nationals always in putting a roof over their heads.”
PAVE, road cleaning
Among the announcements was that a clean-up Kingstown campaign is about to commence and that the Minister of Works will make the relevant announcements.
He similarly said that the Public Access to Village Enhancement (PAVE), costing about EC$6 million, is about to start.
Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves announced PAVE in the 2020 Budget, saying it will construct footpaths and steps in communities across the countries.
The prime minister said:
“All over our country, on our rugged terrain, scores, dozens of footpaths will be built over the next year as a 40th anniversary gift to occupiers of their homes in pursuit of easing of access.”
He said an EC$3 million road-cleaning programme will be instituted towards the end of November as a follow up to the EC$2.5 million road cleaning programme in August-September.
Ganja authority to give money for drug rehab
Meanwhile, over the next two months, the Medical Cannabis Authority (MCA) will provide EC$1.3 million in assistance to traditional marijuana growers who have been licenced to transition into the legal cannabis industry.
Gonsalves said that the MCA will also provide educational, health and rehabilitative support in the sum of EC$200,000 to assist drug addicts.
Rose Place residents to get homes in Lowmans
The government will also carry out a land distribution plan of over 200 acres of land in north-western St. Vincent for traditional growers of marijuana who are transitioning to medical cannabis.
The prime minister said that during the next 12 months, the government will build 35 housing units in the Lowmans Bay area to accommodate the resettlement of 35 or so families from Rose Place to accommodate the construction of a modern port.
Arrangements are also being made for accommodation of the boats at Edinboro.
“I promise you that there will be a magnificent transformation in the people’s interest over the next few years in the Rose Place area upon the completion of the modern port facility,” the prime minister said.
Subsidised fertiliser from Taiwan
He said a shipment of 5,160 of sacks of fertiliser from Taiwan will be distributed to farmers at highly subsidised prices to boost further agricultural production.
A grant of 40 sacks of fertiliser will be given to each of the 16 registered agro cooperatives.
“Notice the symbolism of 40. We have to big up the farmers,” Gonsalves said.
He said the physical infrastructure of the judicial system and parliamentary democracy will be strengthened through a US$20 million soft loan from a Taiwanese bank to construct a modern parliament building and courthouse complex on two parcels of land almost obliquely opposite the headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture at Richmond Hill.
Annual duty free concessions on barrels
The prime minister also announced that the duty free concessions of parcels and barrels this year will run from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31. This is the 19th successive year that the government is granting such a concession.
The 14th announcement was for citizens to keep their eyes and ears open for the commencement of a number of national and community projects, inclusive of roads, which will be formally launched over the next few weeks and months.
“There’s a large number of them. Huge,” the prime minister said, adding that one that touches his heart and soul is the impending opening of the rehabilitated former nursing hostel to accommodate residents of the Lewis Punnett Home until the construction of a modern geriatric facility at Fair Hall.
Cultural & sports ambassadors
Gonsalves also announced that Kingsley “Hero” Roberts, Peggy Carr and Cherry Ince have been accorded the status of Cultural Ambassador, while Sports Ambassador status has been awarded to Elliot “Morrie” Millington, Raltie Lowe, Ian Sardine, Kishore Shallow, and Doris McIntosh.
SVG’s history to be written
The 16th announcement was that the project for the writing of a comprehensive history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is being elaborated through the efforts of four Vincentian historians.
They are Michael Dennie, Adrian Fraser, Cleve Scott, and Arnold Thomas, all of whom hold doctoral degrees.
Gonsalves said that Cabinet has given approval for the initial budget, adding that the government will fund the project fully.
He said that during the 40th year of independence, a final determination will be made in time for national Hero’s Day 2020 — March 14 — for the elevation to the state status of national hero of one or more of the following: George McIntosh, Ebenezer Joshua, Robert Milton Cato, and John Pamenos Eustace.
In another announcement, the prime minster said a committee is being established by Cabinet to examine, review and engage in public consultation regarding the naming and or renaming of various public places, streets and building.
“The overwhelming number of Vincentians considers that some colonial-name public places, including streets ought to be renamed. It is part and parcel of the exercise of remaking ourselves in our own images to fit our collective sense and sensibility.”
The prime minister further said that during the coming 12 months, a special effort will be made to honour appropriately dozens of Vincentians “who have excelled in this or that uplifting human endeavour. The various communities will be asked to assist in the elaboration of a permanent honour roll as a fitting memory to our exemplars.”
The final announcement was that the activities under the recently launched Sport against Crime and Renewal @ 40 will be ramped up over the next 12 months.
“And we need all hands and minds for these two initiatives.