By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Jan. 5, 2024)
If you are not afraid for our country, you are courageous. If you don’t have concerns, you can safely be labelled uncaring, even callous. Winston Churchill, a former British prime minister, is credited with saying, “If you think you are going through the darkest pits of hell, keep on going because there is light on the other side.” Bad advice: Change course. We dare anyone to point us to a silver lining.
2023 was probably one of our worst years since independence. Everything appeared on a standstill. Young and old walked aimlessly, zombie-like, in the towns and villages. Begging has reached unprecedented levels. Older men and women, young men and a few women stalk passers-by for money. People are finding it increasingly more difficult to keep body and soul together.
The mental health of citizens is being shredded. More and more people are losing their bearings. Their minds are betraying them. They find it extremely difficult to cope. The prisons are filled with mentally challenged inmates who cannot be brought to trial. The government refuses to hire an experienced psychiatrist. Our society is decaying. This burden is felt mainly by the poor and vulnerable.
One wise man said if you want an adequate gauge of a country, look at the prisons. Well, we have problems. Big problems. Of the 399 persons housed in our prisons, more than 30% of the inmates are serving sentences for murder, manslaughter, attempted murder and wounding. This alarming statistic demonstrates that our society is exceedingly violent.
Fear of violent crime is having a crushing effect on the quality of life of citizens. Violent criminals are becoming even more daring. They feel no restraint to operate under the cover of darkness. Homicides are occurring at the break of dawn, as we saw with the killings at Buccament and Ottley Hall or just after dusk with the mass shooting in the Harbour Club area of Kingstown.
Last year, there were 55 homicides caused mainly by gun violence. This number is 13 more than the 42 homicides officially recorded in 2022. Many others were shot and maimed and brought to a hospital. These shooting victims caused further pressure on our already inadequate health system.
The nation is asked to believe that poor parenting and ill-disciplined and worthless young men are to be blamed. The dismal economic conditions which pervade the country are dismissed as a cause for much of the crime and violence. One is left to wonder if the growing frustration, hopelessness and helplessness which has a death grip on large swaths of our restless youthful population can also be attributed to poor parenting and the recklessness of the youth.
Gun violence is not the only cause of death in SVG. There is growing fear among young and old that the Grim Reaper is having a bountiful harvest. Over the last two years, social media has been buzzing with RIP/Condolences. The death announcements on NBC Radio sometimes run for 20 to 30 minutes. There is now more than a whisper that many of these deaths are directly related to the vaccines which citizens were coerced to take. More people are openly speaking about their state of unwellness following the vaccines. Many vow never to take another shot. Others claim they were duped and betrayed by national leaders who recommended the vaccines as safe and effective.
Public and private sector workers who lost their jobs, income and livelihood because they refused to take the unsafe jab were hardest hit. They wait for their case to be heard at the Appeal Court on Jan. 29 and for their day of revenge at the polls whenever they are called.
2024 offers no silver lining. We can expect more deaths and plenty more debt. The government’s projected budget is EC$1.6 billion. It provides few jobs. Therefore, our unemployment and underemployment numbers will remain virtually unchanged. The national debt is EC$2.4 billion. Last year, Gonsalves borrowed approximately EC$308 million. This new round of borrowing represents a 12.8% increase, proudly placing a bigger hook in the “gill of the nation”.
In 2024, the government will be compelled to pay EC$283 million or 37% of current revenue to service the national debt. In simple terms, 37 cents of each dollar earned will be paid to cover Gonsalves’ wasteful and reckless borrowing. The total domestic debt stands at EC$639 million. As of September, the government borrowed EC$84 million. This figure amounts to a 15%$ increase on the domestic debt. The external debt is EC$1.8 billion. Compared to 2022, it grew by 13 %. With this accelerated borrowing binge, the national debt is projected to double in eight years.
Where is the money going? EC$600 million is going to a port the country does not need and cannot afford. In the last 10 years, we borrowed EC$200 million to build roads, yet they remain in horrible conditions.
It is time to break Gonsalves’ spell. Our country can do better. We must prepare and organise to ensure SVG does better.
*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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