Opposition Leader Godwin Friday says that the Budget Address that Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves delivered on Monday “sounded so good” as to mask the realities of life in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
“It sounded as though St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the place where everybody should be,” Friday said, adding that government lawmakers who were clapping in response to his comment were doing so prematurely.
“His sweet sounding-words and his hopeful rhetoric could not be describing the experience of people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the opposition leader told Parliament today (Tuesday) in his ongoing response to the EC$1.6 fiscal package.
“He could not be talking about a country which has over 21% of the persons are unemployed, where 41% of the young people are unemployed, where poverty is increasing, not decreasing,” he said, noting that the government is yet to publish the findings of the 2018 poverty assessment report.
“I don’t even know if they’re doing the current one that should have been done since 2008,” Friday said.
He said that Gonsalves’ speech did not convey the reality that SVG is a country where crime is at its worst ever.
“Last year, we had record homicides year after year. And last year wasn’t just a record. It smashed the record at 55,” Friday said.
“In a country where one-third of the students in secondary school drop out before they get to Form 3,” Friday said.
He told lawmakers the finance minister’s account was disconnected from the reality of people’s lives.
“This is why you’re saying that when you’re in power for so long as they are, they become isolated in your own bubble,” he said of the Unity Labour Party, which has been in office since March 2001.
“And they see things the way they would like them to be. They want people to judge them by their intentions rather than by their accomplishments.
“They become isolated in their own bubble. And they see things the way they would like them to be. They want people to judge them by their intentions rather than by their accomplishments. And because you have good intentions, then you must have good accomplishments.”
The opposition leader said that the finance minister seemed so impressed with how much money the government was going to spend and with the size of the projects they were building, he he did demonstrate anything about the impact of the projects on people’s lives.
“One big project had to compete with another in his presentation for place of prominence because there were so many of them, according to him, and he assumed that because these projects were big and novel then they must be making people’s lives better.”
Friday, however, said that one just needs to walk the streets of the capital, Kingstown, or any village across the country and talk to people.
“I’m not just talking about people who are unemployed or persons who may be down on their luck. I’m talking about people who have been the backbone of the economy of this country, the middle class, and they will tell you that their experience is that this is the most difficult time they’ve had in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.That’s the lament that I hear all the time.”
Friday said Vincentians know that the reality in SVG “is that we have a lot of work to do and that the budget that is being presented this year, this leap year to 2024, should offer hope to people..
“It shouldn’t just be a budget that talks about mega projects,” Friday said, adding that the photo on the Estimates of the EC$600 million port being built in Kingstown was “impressive”.
“The question is, how are these things going to impact people’s lives? We asked this question, of course, when they were building the airport, and they said that it would be — the minister said it himself yesterday — if you build it, they will come. But that is not how you plan for economic development. “
Friday said a movement has to have a vision of what the project is and how it connects to people’s lives..
He said development ultimately it’s about people and “not about concrete and steel that is necessary to facilitate development, but ultimately development is how it affects the lives of people.
“And this means in terms of increasing wealth and well being but also increasing skill. Giving opportunity for people to function and to feel that they are contributing to the country and to their own lives,” Friday said.
“Not that they have to sit back and watch others do it and then wait for a handout from government,” the opposition leader said, adding that there was a failure by the government to fully recognise and integrate that thinking into the development process.