As Independence Day celebration fast approaches, the debate as to our national heroes has once again been placed on the frontburner. Many names have been touted to be on this honours list. One such individual is Sir James Mitchell, who unselfishly pursued policies to foster economic development rather than political expediency to win elections.
The James Mitchell led administration (1984 -2001) is arguably the best government in St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) relatively short history as a nation state. This assertion can be examined in the context of development and economic development, which are often used interchangeably. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, development is the process in which someone or something changes and becomes more advanced. On the other hand, economic development is the programmes, policies or activities that seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community. The emphasis on change in defining development means that the projects and policies pursued by any government should be a change agent. In essence, transformational — improving the quality of life of Vincentians.
Many Vincentians have a myopic view of development, with the mistaken notion that buildings are development. However, development theorists have emphasised improvements in health, education, infrastructure, access to water, electricity and sanitation as some of the basic tenets of economic development.
In this regard, it is discernible that many of the policies and projects the NDP pursued can be classified as transformational, improving the material and physical wellbeing of Vincentians.
For instance, when the NDP demitted office in 2001, access to pipe borne water had a national coverage of 90% while electricity had a national coverage of 82.5%.
The NDP created a land-owning class of Black Vincentians by acquiring and dividing up the Richmond Vale, Lauders, Diamond and Orange Hill Estates for the landless. (In doing this, the NDP dismantled the colonial legacy of the White plantocracy.)
In the case of the Orange Hill Estate, a white landowner had owned 3,200 acres of land in North Windward. The indigenous Vincentians north of the Rabacca, who had toiled as peasants on that estate, were now made land owners. Furthermore, the NDP introduced electricity, water and landline telephones to North Windward. This is in contrast to the Milton Cato Labour Party, who had referred to the indigenous people as living behind God’s back.
In the field of education, the NDP opened the A’ Level College in 1996, affording students from the non-elitist secondary schools the opportunity to access and pursue A’ Levels studies, a requirement for entrance to university. Previously, students from the St. Vincent Grammar School, Girls High School and St. Martin’s Secondary were the privileged few who gained acceptance in a cramped setting at the St. Vincent Grammar School, which was the seat of A’ Level learning.
In the field of employment, the NDP employed Vincentians who obtained an education in Cuba, at the height of Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Milton Cato Labour Party administration viewed such professionals as communists.
The empowerment of women is another discernible feature of the NDP government. The NDP abolished the colonial policy of dismissing unmarried public servants who became pregnant. The creation of a Women’s Desk recognised and institutionalised the important role that women play in society.
There is no other project in SVG that has had such a profound impact on Vincentian society as Little Tokyo Bus Terminal, which was constructed in 1992. The terminal created a focal and central designated pick up and drop off point. Accompanying the terminal were the introduction and designation of bus stops and sheds throughout SVG. The traffic lights could also be included as part of that whole transformational process of communication/transportation in SVG in the 1980s and 90s. Furthermore, the creation of car parks in Kingstown was prescient given the increase in the number of vehicles today.
A modern fish market with cold storage facilities, afforded fisherfolk the opportunity to store and sell fish and even purchase ice in one locale. This, in itself, enabled the smooth supply of fish in the market.
The liberalisation of the airwaves by the James Mitchell NDP administration led to a plethora of FM radio stations, which possibly led to his own downfall. Moreover, opposition parties under the NDP were afforded airtime on the national broadcaster during election campaigning. This is a far cry from today, where the opposition NDP is not afforded time on the national broadcaster, which the ruling party then in opposition itself enjoyed.
The community self-help scheme was another transformational initiative undertaken by the NDP administration. Villagers were empowered to take initiative at the Community level by repairing and surfacing roads. This is in contrast to the pleas of an opposition parliamentarian today, calling for the creation of a constituency development fund, to undertake projects and financially help poor constituents.
Arguably the greatest achievement of Sir James administration is the pivoting of the economy towards tourism. With the advent of the creation of the European Union in 1994, Sir James foresaw trouble for the banana industry because it meant that large banana distributors from other European countries were now able to compete in the British market against Van Geest (the distributor of Windward Island bananas) and Fife. Today tourism has become the mainstay of the economy.
There are many other development imperatives which would arguably make Sir James the best prime minister to grace this land so far and a national hero.
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