Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday, on Monday, signed his New Democratic Party’s (NDP) “Youth Guarantee Pledge” to the youth of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for a brighter future.
At the launch event in Villa, the opposition leader presented his party’s “plan of hope” for the youth of SVG, which the party said is intended to provide them with better opportunities for growth and development.
“… we cannot afford to lose our brightest and our best. A country that does that is doomed to failure. We will not let that happen,” Friday said as he noted that many young Vincentians are opting to migrate.
He said he and his colleagues in the NDP have wrapped their brains around the situation, consulted the youth and understand the passion of the youth to live and raise a family in SVG.
“… we in the New Democratic Party, we pledge to our young people that by the end of our first term in government, every young person in this country will have the opportunity of a job, or a training programme, or a place or an internship with an employer.”
Friday said young people who don’t have a job and have completed a training programme will be placed in internship programmes to get a leg into the world of work.
“Actively set up departments in the ministries to do this but not as a matter of political favour but as a function of a department of government to help young people to find their place in the country and in this economy,” Friday said.
“That is something that is not just doable. It is a duty; it is an obligation that we have to the young people of this country. When you hear that 41% of them are unemployed,
we cannot accept that. There must be more than we can do and we will do for the people…”
He said some people may consider the pledge a pie in the sky. “It is not.”
The opposition leader continued:
“If you are not working as a young person, what is the obligation of the state or the government to you? Is it just to leave you to go and scratch for yourself?
“Or does it say, ‘Well, listen, you see all those fellas who used to be in farming and they longer are able to do that because they kill agriculture, how do we enable them to retrain and retool to be able to do real jobs here in our economy.”
He said the event was “not a one-off thing.
“It is not something that we take lightly, because we know of the difficulties that are facing our country but particularly the young people of our country.”
Friday said that 41% of the nation’s youth are unemployed and poverty is growing among young people.
He said many people graduate from school annually but year after year passes and their turn does not come to play a part in the economy of the country and to make things better for themselves and their families.
“So, they look for a way out to leave St Vincent and the Grenadines and to find greener pastures,” he said.
The opposition leader told the launch that Vincentian young people are leaving for other Caribbean countries, such as Antigua, St. Kitts and Grenada, in addition to traditional destinations such as Canada, the United States and the UK.
“… because St. Vincent and the Grenadines has let them down,” Friday said, adding,
“We know in order for the young people to thrive in this country, we have to provide opportunities for them to develop their talents and to develop their skills. That is to say our education system must provide for that.”
The opposition leader said the nation’s youth must also have an opportunity to contribute to its development and to feel valued as citizens of the country.
“… not as somebody who is scratching at the door trying to get in. They are already in but they do not have the opportunity and, sadly, they are left to fend for themselves.
“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and if you can’t make it, two years, three years out of college and you can’t find work, then that is your problem, that is not the government’s problem. That is the approach that you have now…”
Friday said this is very sad because when he goes around the country, it is the most painful story he hears, not just form parents but from grandparents “who look at their youngsters, bright-eyed, remember them in kindergarten and secondary school and all the way through CSEC and CAPE and then our country says to them, ‘the rest is up to you’.”
Rebuild economy; start with agriculture
He said that in order to provide opportunities for the nation’s youth the economy has to be rebuilt.
“This is why we are very serious about our plan and we have four pillars that we have identified just to simplify it so that people can understand where our focus will be.”
He said that agriculture must be a part of the economy of SVG.
“It will not be in the same way of your parents and grandparents because we have to move with the technology and the times. But this country cannot succeed without its agricultural backbone,” Friday said.
He said some people feel agriculture is something of the past. “But if you can’t feed yourself, you are in a sorry state.
“If you have lands that are fertile and rich and farmers who are diligent and ready to go to work but they simply don’t have a system in place … to help them to succeed anymore, then we are losing one of our greatest resources in this country.”
He noted that SVG does not have oil, gold or ores.
“What we have is the talent and intelligence of our people, their willingness to work, and we have the rich soil and the land.
“That is ours — God-given. We will make the most of it in the New Democratic Party.”
He said the second pillar is the blue economy, “a sexy new term” that encompasses the fishing industry, shipping industry, boat building and repairs, and, among other things, the yachting industry.
He said there is “tremendous potential” in the blue economy “but it has not been given the focus and the leadership that’s required to make it succeed”.
‘The new economy’
Friday also spoke about “the new economy”, which include things like information technology industries and handicraft industry.
He said that has been “looked down upon as just some sort of amusement or pastime when it is, in fact, 100% is usually value added here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, using the skills and talents of our people and has a tremendous value that has not yet been fully exploited”.
The opposition leader spoke about the music industry, arts and craft, which he said are the cultural backbone and important in shaping the nation’s identity and destiny as a people
“But also, we must recognise it as an important part of the economy and to make those opportunities available to our artistes to succeed, to provide the legal framework and the marketing mechanism to help them succeed.
‘the tourism economy’
The fourth pillar, he said, is the tourism economy, which provides the largest source of foreign exchange earnings in SVG.
He said the sector has “tremendous potential that we have only just begun to unleash.
“Imagine a country as beautiful as St. Vincent and the Grenadines, unparalleled, unmatched in the entire Caribbean in my view and still we are at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to tourism development,” Friday said.
He said there is tremendous potential there for local investors, for entrepreneurs and for the service industry to grow and develop and to provide real jobs at all levels for Vincentians.
“So, these are the pillars of the economy that we must develop to provide opportunities for our young people. But the state of affairs now, the way in which the government has ignored the challenges facing our young people, has brought them to a point where they question whether there is any place for them here in this country, whether this country has any hope for them,” Friday said.