Things in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are only working out for the three “F’s” of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP), opposition spokesperson, Lavern King has told Vincentians in New York.
“I’ll tell you what the F’s of the ULP are. The country is only working for the family members of the ULP, … the close friends of the ULP, … and the chummy foreigners who are friends of the ULP,” she said at the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) “Hope For Home” town Hall meeting in Brooklyn.
“We must not forget David Ames and how he got a Vincentian passport,” King said at the town hall meeting, dubbed “Hope for Hope”, the second and final of which will be held in Toronto on Sunday.
“SVG must work for every ordinary Vincentian too, not just the 3 F’s of the ULP,” she said, telling the meeting that she was representing a portion of the Vincentian population who are “deeply frustrated”.
“I bear a heavy burden knowing that in our beloved SVG, we face a near 50% unemployment rate among our young people. It’s a harsh reality that we cannot ignore any longer.”
She said that many people think that when the NDP speaks it is exaggerating things.
“… it is a fact that many aspects of our nation are in the red. I have in my hands a list of over 44 promises from the ULP manifesto, pledges they made for the young people of SVG,” she said, adding that in the interest of time, she would only highlight three.
She said that in its manifesto for the November 2020 general elections, the ULP said it would embrace the Book Loan Scheme.
She noted that the NDP introduced the Book Loan Scheme in 2000 and allocated EC$2.7 million to it.
“In 2023, one would expect the ULP to at least match that figure. But, instead, they allocated a mere $1 million. We are 23 years later, and we are putting less money into the book loan scheme. This is not progress; this is regression,” King said.
She said the streets of SVG are also “red”, adding, “more and more blood is being shed and people no longer feel safe in their homes and on the streets”.
SVG has recorded 41 homicides this year, one less than the recording-setting 42, of 2022.
The number this year includes four people killed by police officers in the line of duty and a man that an off duty officer shot in her home, claiming he was an intruder.
King told her New York audience that the ULP also said in its manifesto that it would focus on community crime prevention and early interventions.
The manifesto said this would give young people the best chance at rehabilitation and personal growth. As part of this, the ULP further promised to provide legislatively, and practically, sensible alternative sentencing particularly to first time, and young offenders.
“Instead we have more and more of our young people going down the wrong path, several of them, instead of getting the opportunity to learn a skill and to be redirected, they’re just left to a one-size-fits-all system which does not consider rehabilitation and as such they end up becoming hardened criminals,” King said.
The NDP spokesperson said it must be disheartening for Vincentians in the diaspora reading news about what happens in SVG.
“… because I know that it feels like almost every week now you expect to read of another crime — be it gun violence or robbery as a means of survival”.
She further spoke about the ULP’s promise to restructure the Disadvantaged Student Loan programme, adding that she personally feels this pain.
“I am telling you that the young professionals in St. Vincent are frustrated because oftentimes, no matter how much you try, because the conditions are not conducive to our success, we find that we still come out struggling and in the red.”
King said she remembers as a child she used to cover her answers from some of her classmates “because there are classmates who would ‘scrib’ (crib) on your paper…
“Dr. Friday and his team promised us they will cut the interest rate on student loans from 8 and 9% down to 4.5% and just like those people in our classroom who used to scrib on our paper, the ULP went ahead and they took that particular promise. And as sure as day and we have night, it was not fulfilled.”
She said that the ULP promised in their manifesto that they would waive the interests on loan payment during the covid months and reduce the percentage on the interest of those loans.
“And here we are today in 2023 and that, too, did not happen.”
She asked the audience to picture a young relative in SVG to whom they send money to help them through school and then they graduate and cannot find a job.
“And here you are still sending back home money because there are no jobs for the young people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Friends, our country is in the red and it is not working for young people of our country.”
She said the NDP has a team under party president, Opposition Leader Godwin Friday, that is ready to work.
She noted the launch off the NDP’s “Youth Guarantee Pledge” one week earlier, which says under an NDP government, every young people will have the opportunity of a job, training place or an internship.
“This, friends, is a real commitment to young people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. So, instead of talk and broken promises, we are promising action; instead of pointing fingers we are taking responsibility and we are ready to get to work.”
King said she would not be a hypocrite and say that as a young person she has not flirted with the idea of migrating.
“I have thought about it because I’ve wondered how I can help my family members more. It is not because I want to. I do want to remain at home. I do want to build a life in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But we must have a government that is ready, willing and able to provide the environment for us to be successful and for us to thrive,” King said.
She thanked Friday for affording her the opportunity to serve on the executive of the NDP, adding that she was voted in as the party’s PRO fresh out of university, when she was 24 years old.
“I think that made me the youngest serving person on. the executive. And so, I always say we have a party that enables young people, a party that is welcoming to young people and a leader that has the interest of young people at heart. So it makes me proud to be part of this team,” King said.
She also thanked Vincentians in New York for their support.
“The diaspora has a huge role to play and every day we think about our friends abroad. Speaking as someone on the front line of the campaign I can tell you that your support will play a critical role between winning and losing, between our country continuing on a downward spiral and becoming a prosperous nation. I want to let you know that your interventions are needed, your interventions are valued and your interventions are appreciated.”