By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Feb. 10, 2023)
PM Gonsalves is rightly proud of his Madeiran roots. With all his pretensions, he could care less about SVG, its history, civilisation, future, or patrimony. He has a settler mentality. This land is not his home. He is just passing through.
As Eric Williams said of the British and post-slavery Caribbean, Gonsalves views SVG like an orange. He will suck it dry and then prepare for his exit with one particular caution: avoid stepping on the peal and falling.
He is the architect of a dangerous economic development model — a model that sees SVG as nothing more than a big stone with good soil and plenty sand. There are limits to the mantra that SVG is open for business. If we don’t swiftly reject the policies that flow from such a concept, soon, we will have nothing to sell or give away. We will be foreigners in our own land.
The government’s decision to permit Aecon Construction to dredge 1.17 million cubic meters of sand perilously close to the Argyle International Airport, the largest capital project in our country’s history, continues a pattern of giveaway of our heritage and birth right, all for a few dollars more. The elite could care less about the economic and environmental devastation brought on by their reckless policies.
Less we forget, the area earmarked for disruptive dredging is close to some of our most fragile environmental landmarks: Milligan Cay Bird Sanctuary and the reserve for migratory birds. (Recognising its ecological importance, the colonial authorities offered official protection in 1945), the turtle-laying beaches, mangrove swamp, the Kings Hill Forest Reserve and the seagrass beds are integral for coastal defence, according to Dr Andrew Simmons, and environmentalist. Add to this wreckage the possibility of flooding at the Argyle airport.
Clearly, the governing political elite insatiable lust for praise and personal primitive accumulation is exploitative, pro-free enterprise, unsustainable and fundamentally anti-national. It is wilfully blind to the fact that a huge slice of the population remains mired in unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and hopelessness. Its insatiable appetite for fame, wealth and power demands that it craves more time at the helm.
Once the story broke that the Government granted the permit to dredge off Argyle, and the environmental and economic fallout was laid bare, Gonsalves tried in vain to separate himself from the Physical Planning Unit, the executive authority responsible for making such a decision. To say that Physical Planning can issue the permit, but the Cabinet has the final authority is to admit that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
They had no plans to oppose the dredging permit. Informed sources disclosed that Aecon made presentations to the government. The government bought hook, line, and sinker Aecon’s geophysical study. Contrary to the decades-long ancestral knowledge of our fisher folks, the government accepted the view that there’s no marine life in the area. Oblivious to basic scientific information, they accepted Aecon’s assertion that using sonar would protect the fish rather than kill them. Well, sonar disorients and destroys marine life.
How else to explain Gonsalves’ enthusiastic giveaway of everything Vincy and his rejection of those with far more Vincentian roots than he? Our exiled Garifuna brothers and sisters in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, New York, Texas and California are denied honorary citizenship. Meanwhile, Gonsalves presides over the wanton giveaway via lease or fire sale of Vincentian lands. He boasts that millionaires and billionaires fight among themselves in the Grenadines islands of Mustique and Canouan. Huge slices of public land on Bequia are auctioned for prices out of the reach of most citizens. The government is facilitating the snatching of local lands via compulsory acquisition and turning them over to developers in Union Island. Soon those with ancestral roots will have no land to pass to the next generation. Our patrimony is being squandered all for a few dollars more.
On mainland St Vincent, the giveaway is evident at Buccament, Mount Wynne and Peters Hope. Foreign hotel developments are earmarked with no hope for citizens except for menial jobs.
Whereas Joshua and Mitchell systematically dismantled the plantocracy, Gonsalves overseers the largest sale of lands to white foreigners since adult suffrage. White people have re-emerged as the largest landowners in SVG.
The owners of these developments are racist hounds. They treat Vincentians like the dirt on which they walk. They hire and fire them at will. As we saw with Archibald Construction, these foreigners refuse to pay income tax and PAYE. They force workers to do extra time, mindful that they are cuddled and protected by the Gonsalves clan.
The ULP government granted the permit to dredge for sand off Argyle because it expected the deal to fly under the radar. The company disclosed that the money it will save by dredging the sand here rather than importing from Suriname is a “commercial secret”. Someone in the state administration will get a few dollars more, and the state will collect “peanuts” as we will from the lease to Rayneau of lands at Richmond. Absolutely no thought is given to the environmental and economic fallout. With leaders like these who can begrudge thieves!
Year after year, wound follows wound as this government sells what’s left of our homeland. Only decisive civic action can save us from inevitable environmental and economic demise. As we have seen, citizen activism prevented the construction of the wharf at Layou and the destruction of the coral reef at Villa. Exposure of the government’s clueless environmental policy off Argyle may save our marine treasures, protect the livelihood of our fisher folk at Calliaqua and protect our shoreline from further erosion.
We must intensify our effort to protect and preserve our country for our young people and generations yet unborn. Gonsalves’ ULP proves itself unfit to be part of this future.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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