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Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
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By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” June 2, 2023)

The world-renowned Brazilian educator Paolo Friere said the best gift leaders could give their people is to teach them to question. In other words, people must learn to question.

In a recent speech in Rwanda, PLO Lumumba, the former head of Kenya’s anti-corruption commission, asked and answered his question. “What is the responsibility of the citizenry? The responsibility of the citizenry is to make demands.”

One must ask questions before making demands. And as the Russian writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn has argued, “the simple step of the courageous individual is not to take part in the lie”.

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Have we been pressured and socialised not to ask questions? To what extent do the pressures of life and living prevent us from thinking logically or even thinking at all? The Russian writer Maxin Gorky noted that the world’s working people “spend their entire lives preparing to live”. There is a significant force to this thought. Across the world, some of the poorest people support very anti-people policies and leaders. Some writers have argued that such strong support to leaders who evidently do not have the people at heart reflects a lack of consciousness. Others claim it’s a false consciousness. The folk wisdom “cockroach has no business in a fowl party” is relevant as more of us will see it.

If all of that is not bad enough, the American writer Upton St. Clair makes clear that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it”.   St. Clair’s critique seems directed at the credentialised cadre of workers/leaders who go along to get along. Those who hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Some say this proudly, but the term has come to mean ignoring bad behaviour by pretending not to hear or see it.

But Martin Luther King Jr says, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

How then do we accept as proper and normal that government allows three of the top schools in the land, St. Vincent Grammar School, Girls High School and Thomas Saunders Secondary School to go into a state of disrepair, thus causing disruption, dislocation and necessitating extensive simultaneous rehabilitation and repairs? Why do the authorities allow public facilities like the toilets in the Kingstown Market, Little Tokyo, and other police stations and schools to deteriorate to such an extent?

Has anyone stopped to take a look at the police headquarters? Why is the canteen not in use or windows broken and other parts boarded up? These questions cry out for answers, especially since the government has spent over EC$100 million to purchase material from the Jamaican company over the years. Does this government have a special relationship with the Jamaican company? Why not spend that money with local business people?

Why do we tolerate the horrible state of our roads and the matter-of-fact admission of a former minister of works that “everyone knows that the roads are bad”.’ Were we not promised the mother of all road repair programmes following an EC$86 million loan from the Kuwaiti Fund? Can we point to a single piece of road properly repaired from that loan money?

A few months ago, the current minister of works informed that another EC$126 million was borrowed from Taiwan to build and repair roads across the island. Is that money currently available? Are repairs presently being done, or will we witness a spate of repair work as we get closer to the next elections?

Is there any truth to the expressed view that money borrowed from Taiwan does not flow through the Contingency Fund? Section 68 of the Constitution states, “All revenues or other moneys raised or received by Saint Vincent (not being revenues or other moneys that are payable, by or under any law for the time being in force in Saint Vincent, into some other fund established for a specific purpose) shall be paid into and form a Consolidated Fund.”

We owe more than half a billion dollars to the Taiwanese. If there is truth to this statement, how does the failure to place the money in the constitutionally mandated consolidated comport with notions of accountability, transparency and good governance best practices?

Is it true that the government borrowed over EC$10 million from the World Bank and gave it away to supporters under the guise of post-volcanic eruption support?

Some years ago, we established a Zero Hunger Trust Fund, partially funded by a levy on telephone calls. There was also a 1% from the VAT that goes to this fund. How much money has this fund raised since its inception? How much of this money was spent?  Is there any money left?

With the launch of the PetroCaribe fuel initiative by Venezuela in 2005, SVG has received more than EC$500 million. Was a Heritage or Legacy fund established with this money? Is any of that money available, or was every cent spent?

We spent more than EC$700 million to build the Argyle International Airport. Another EC$600 million is earmarked for the Kingstown port.

Apart from the issues of necessity, economic viability, environmental certainty and sustainability of some of these projects, other questions loom large. Where money is being spent in abundance, there is great opportunity and temptation for corruption. What kinds of checks and balances do we have to ensure that well-placed public officials are not playing loose and fast with state funds and resources?

With the amount of money spent by the state over these last 20 years, there is a pressing need for forensic audits of all of these programmes and projects. We may be surprised by the findings.

*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.

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

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