By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Sept. 9, 2022)
As our nation approaches its 43rd year as an independent country, things don’t look too bright. The festive jingle “tings nice agen” aired to celebrate carnival after a two-year absence has all but disappeared. We are back to the grind physically, emotionally, economically, and politically.
Vincentians have had little to smile about, and there is nothing on the horizon which evidences that things are going to change for the better anytime soon. If anything, we may be in for a dismally dark period ahead.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected 5% economic growth for this year. We will be hard-pressed to get there. Much of the expected growth is hinged on an expected uptick in tourism and hotel construction. If we go by the pre-COVID years 2018/2019, our economic performance got nowhere close to 5%. The government is betting on improved employment numbers and more money turning over and trickling down from construction of big projects.
There is mobilisation work at Diamonds with the Holiday Inn, and Beaches Sandal is said to be working; however, Royal Mills at Ratho Mill and Black Sands at Peter’s Hope have not seen any activity for months. Apart from starting to clear the lands at Mt Wynne years ago, nothing of substance has taken place with the projected hotel there. Government officials no longer speak about this project.
The sad reality is that government seem to attract investors who have “a bag of chats” and a very small purse. We have not gotten over the Ames debacle at Buccament, Black Sands is more than four years behind schedule, and Royal Mills investors have stopped investing.
The government continues to blame the COVID pandemic for the slowdown or non-activity at these sites, but the excuse has run stale.
Amidst this economic reality is mounting pressure. Something has to give, and our society appears to be bursting at its edges. Unemployment remains alarmingly high. Various United Nations agencies have tabbed our unemployment figure at above 40%. The number of citizens living in poverty is rising as the world economic situation deteriorates. A leaked government report from 2018 pegged the overall poverty figure at 38%, with deep pockets of poverty in most constituencies on the mainland. In the last four years, our conditions have worsened.
There is growing hopelessness and helplessness across the land. Frustration is mounting, social and economic pressures are transforming SVG into a smouldering pressure cooker.
Something has got to give. The moral and social fabric of our society has loosened. The social contract between society and its citizens, between the governed and our leaders, is being shredded.
There is a societal disconnect between what society projects as the good life and the opportunities it can accord its people to achieve that good life. Many, especially the youths, are finding ways to make ends meet. The effort to survive finds expression even among those who are employed.
Everyone has a side hustle. Our streets and blocks are littered with able-bodied citizens sitting or roaming with nothing to do. Many turn to prostitution and crime. All kinds of other harmful activities are gaining the attention of the population, which is primarily young. The selective approach to issues of choice encourages young people to abandon healthy and conscious lifestyles for a contrived embrace of freedom and free choice. The result is confusion.
Violence is now the stock in trade. You look at someone too long, sometimes out of admiration, and offence is taken. The most superficial disagreement spirals out of control and ends up in a “cuss out”, injury, hospitalisation and death. Over 30 of our young people have suffered violent deaths, with more than three months left in the year.
Our leaders have called for a serious conversation on the pressing issues of the day. But they seem unprepared for a real conversation. Everything comes back to politics. To blame YouTube, the opposition and internet crazies for the violence that rocks our society amounts to an abdication of national leadership and responsibility. This government promised to be tough on crime and the causes of crime. Government officials clearly do not have a clue on how to tackle either.
When a leader spends more time on the body piercing of an opposition politician than on issues of bleaching, the economy and gun violence, it becomes clear that he has chosen to sidestep real problems for a sideshow.
The Commissioner of Police cannot expect public cooperation and assistance in solving crime when the government’s policy and police action turn villages and neighbourhoods into occupation zones. You cannot brutalise young men today and expect their parents, siblings and friends to offer assistance tomorrow. Community policing is not police presence. Relations of mutual respect must be built with all citizens.
We have consistently warned that politicians need be wary about claiming what appears to be a drop in crime. Once they foolishly claim the good news, they must claim the bad.
Our country is on a path that leads to an awful place. We must change course quickly, or our immediate and long-term future will be irreparably harmed.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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