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Stay up to date with Dr Godwin Friday and the NDP as we get SVG working again with our plan for jobs and growth.

National Address by the Hon. Dr. Godwin Friday, President of the New Democrat Party and Leader of the Opposition, September 21, 2022

National Address by the Hon. Dr. Godwin Friday, President of the New Democrat Party and Leader of the Opposition, September 21, 2022

Fellow Vincentians, greetings. Several weeks ago, when I spoke with you about conditions in our country, I promised to continue our conversation on important national issues. Education is such an issue. And with schools reopening, a discussion on education is not only timely, but necessary. Opening of school is an exciting time for our children. As parents, we want the best education for them. We know it is about preparing them for life. Few things can be more important. The start of the school year brings its own challenges and uncertainties. We accept them, and try to meet them as best we can.

What we cannot accept, however, is the chaos that too often comes with the opening of school. On opening day this year, many schools were not ready. Students at prep school were sent back home because the building was still being painted. Grammar school could not reopen because the regular school building was still not ready. And a temporary plywood school at Arnos Vale was being used by another school. Elsewhere, there was delays for a day or two, and even for an entire week. Official confusion now appears to be the norm. This could have been avoided with proper planning. This is not a time for unsubstantiated government statements about being ready. The minister of education should get his act together, and show leadership and competence. Our children and teachers deserve better.

We all know the importance of education. A good education is the best inheritance we can give our children. And it’s a sound investment in our country’s future. However, our education system must not place unbearable burdens on families. Parents should look to the new school year with hope, happy that their children are finally returning to their classroom. They should not have to worry unnecessarily about the high cost of textbooks, shoes, and school uniforms, and the ever increasing registration fees. Students preparing for CSEC and CAPE exams should only focus on what might be on their exam papers, and not on how they would pay for their subjects. For those hoping to attend university, they need to know that there is an affordable way to do so. That they won’t have to mortgage the family home and risk everyone’s welfare to pay for their further education.

Our education system must be relevant to the times, also. It must develop the whole child, and instill within him or her an abiding curiosity about the world, and enduring love of learning. At the moment, there is not enough support or focus on creating global citizens. Students have received their CSEC and CAPE results. There are some outstanding individual performances. And a few schools did very well. Congratulations to students, teachers, and parents for those results. But sadly, we know that this is not the whole story. It is only the good part.

The full picture is troubling, as far top many secondary school students do not make it to graduation within the normal five years, or ever. For example, like my alma mater, the Bequia Community High School. This year, the principal reported at the graduation ceremony that of 21 students who started in form one, only three made it to the graduating class of 2022, which had a total of 12 students. This is not a unique situation. Other schools across the country have poor graduation numbers. They are not getting the support they need from government. Consequently, they are failing our children. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has one of the highest rates of repeaters and dropouts in the OECS. This is a serious problem that must be fixed urgently.

It is accepted that a good education provides better options for young people, and is an effective way to combat crime and other antisocial behavior. The escalation in violent crime, especially gun related killings, demands urgent action from the government to fix our failing education system. So that it can provide positive options and more opportunities for our young people. The country needs less rhetoric from the prime minister and the government, and more constructive action. We must cater to the diverse needs of students by providing programs that engage students and motivate them to complete secondary school. This requires not slogans and photo ops, but a real plan to deliver for our children, their parents, and teachers.

Teachers, they play a vital role in our society. A good teacher inspires children and helps them to develop a love of learning. Yet, we see that many of our best and most experienced teachers remain excluded from the classroom because they were fired by the government for not taking the COVID-19 vaccine. This misguided and hardheaded approach by the government has left schools without sufficient teachers to start the year. Over 200 teachers remain out of work, yet the government says there are not enough teachers and they must hire relief teachers. Why hire inexperienced people to act as teachers, when there are over 200 experienced, competent teachers, ready to return to work, to teach our children? This makes no sense. The government’s stubborn response has been to tell teachers they must reapply to get back their jobs. This is without any assurance of actually getting back their jobs and pensions and benefits. The teachers, rightly, see this as adding insult to injury.

The solution is to reinstate the teachers now and welcome them back to the classroom. No one is buying the government’s legalistic excuses and vague promises. And the teachers have said they are not taking the bait. So what must be done? Instead of having an adversarial relationship with teachers, we must stand with them. They are a vital part of our education system, working with students, parents, and the community to nurture our children. We must do all we can to maintain that positive relationship and make it productive. We must also ensure fairness and equity for teachers. In this regard, we support the teachers and public servants in their call for a salary increase, starting with 10% over two years. An NDP government would agree to that increase. We also agree that the teachers who were fired by the government because of the vaccine mandate should be reinstated and compensated.

Despite the self praise and boasts of this government, we have a lot of ground to make up in our education system. Plasters and platitudes cannot mask the failure of the system anymore, and cannot comfort students and parents who are losing out. To make things better, I recommend the following. We must improve conditions in schools, by maintaining the buildings regularly so that they don’t become uninhabitable and have to be closed for long times for repairs. This approach would avoid the spending of millions of dollars to build temporary plywood schools, to replace the rundown ones. Those millions could be better spent in a planned, regular maintenance program.

And on other amenities, our children are part of the 21st century economy. So our schools must prepare them for it. The new technologies used in online learning, during the pandemic, have opened our eyes to promising possibilities. Let us embrace them and integrate them permanently into the way we teach and learn. Giving a child a laptop is not the fulfillment of that objective, but merely the beginning of it. This also requires reliable, high speed internet service in all schools. And in fact, in every home. High speed internet is no longer an optional luxury, but a necessary part of education. We must upgrade teacher training to make effective use of information technology in everyday teaching. The now familiar platforms and techniques of online learning should not be abandoned just because we have returned to the traditional classroom. Let them be our new normal.

Further, it is not only about how we teach, but also about what we teach. The present curriculum and programs do not adequately prepare all students for life. I am calling for a comprehensive review of our curriculum, at all levels, to ensure it supports, challenges, and prepares our children for the future. For too long, our education system has focused on traditional academic programs that culminate with CSEC, CAPE, and a university degree. Our schools should also be equipped to provide and assess students in skills and technical aptitudes needed for jobs and our economic development. The Caribbean Vocational Qualification, CVQ, is part of the process of achieving certified skill workers, promoted by the CARICOM single market and economy.

Though this CARICOM initiative was established in 2007, it was not until 2016, almost a decade later, that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was granted approval to offer Caribbean Vocational Qualification. And while other CARICOM countries have been offering CVQs at levels one and two with much success at the secondary school level, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has in effect been offering limited skills training to limited numbers of out of school use. Indeed, since St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been left behind regional counterparts because the necessary instruments to facilitate implementation at the secondary level are not in place. So we see why, after 21 years in office, Prime Minister Gonsalves, what lament that there are not enough skilled tradespersons to take up jobs in our construction industry. And that despite high unemployment here, the government has asked to allow foreign workers to take jobs in hotel construction. We must turn this around.

Therefore, we recommend that the following strategies be implemented. One, ensure that technical and vocational education is well integrated into the education system so that every child has the opportunity for a comprehensive education. Two, ensure competency based curricular, linked to the CVQ framework, in all secondary schools and other suitable settings in the workplace and the wider community. And three, establish a qualification framework that enables learners to move seamlessly between academic and vocational qualifications, in formal and less formal education settings.

Also, we must revamp and expand The YES Programme to provide opportunity for on-the-job training, while earning a living wage. Further, increase opportunities for skills development, and lifelong learning, through vigorous and well-managed continuing education programs. I’m a big supporter of such programs. In addition to technical and vocational programs, we must teach agriculture in all primary and secondary schools. We are, after all, an agriculture nation. Further, to develop the whole person, the whole child. And promote our culture, music, art, dance, and other forms of cultural expression must be regarded, not merely as optional courses, but as essential components of a modern education. So they must be taught at all levels and in all schools. In keeping with this, and the recognized importance of shaping our unique national identity, instruction in the Garifuna language should be made widely available in our schools.

Education should not be unaffordable and a burden for families. The rising cost of living continues to hurt families. At this time of the year, school books, uniforms, bus fares, and daily lunches cut deeply into family budgets. We believe that VAT should be reduced to lower the living costs for everyone. I spoke about this several weeks ago.

And we must do other things too. Registration fees for secondary schools are too much. At a time when families are facing pressures across the board, we believe registration fees should be eliminated. Further, CSEC and CAPE subjects must be paid by the states. The state parents and students should not have to go begging friends and strangers for money to pay for their subjects. Having admitted all students to secondary school, and encouraged them along the way, it makes good sense to complete the process by paying for their final exams for their subjects. For too many families, the joy of securing a place at university is dampened by the fear of expensive student loans. Our student loan rates are among the highest in the region. We have a plan to cut those rates in half, to four and a half percent.

While the ULP have become consumed with their internal divisions, and their shelved succession plans, the rest of us, who care more about our country, must plan for the future. We in NDP have a plan to deliver at all levels of our education system. It supports students, teachers, and parents. Most importantly, it is a plan that will build our education, and skills levels, to meet the needs of the economy. And to prepare our people for jobs now, and in the future.

My friends, this is not the last word you will hear from me about education. I also want to hear from you, however, you, our people. I especially want to hear from parents, teachers and, most importantly, students about the problems you encounter and your ideas about how to fix them. As part of this process, I will be convening a round table, maybe more, with educators, employers, and other interested persons, to further discuss education and chart the way forward. I want a more effective and responsive education system that delivers for all. I believe we can do better. And I know that working together, we will do better. I wish our students and teachers all the best for the new school year and beyond. My friends, thanks for listening. God bless you. And may God bless our beloved country.

National Address by the Hon. Dr. Godwin Friday, President of the New Democrat Party and Leader of the Opposition, August 11, 2022

National Address by the Hon. Dr. Godwin Friday, President of the New Democrat Party and Leader of the Opposition, August 11, 2022

Fellow Vincentians.

Greetings.

I wish to speak with you about the state of affairs—political and economic — in our country and how we might address the challenges we face.

Recently, the ULP held their convention. You may have seen or heard about it.  Ordinarily I would not comment on it. I mention it now only because the ULP, for the time being, holds the reins of government and, therefore, their current predicament has serious implications for the running of our country.

We saw how Gonsalves and the ULP turned their Convention into a discussion about themselves. Rather than focusing on the issues that matter to you, the people– your jobs, your businesses, your standard of living– they spent their time talking about themselves, their personal ambitions and Gonsalves’ aborted succession plans.

Notably, having spent years building up Saboto Caesar, it took Gonsalves one weekend to knock him down as apparently no longer being fit to be leader of the ULP. Having spent years declaring that he was part of the ULP family in whom he was well-pleased, it became abundantly clear that there is only one family that matters in the ULP – the Gonsalves family.

That is a crisis that their Party and its long-suffering members will have to come to terms with. That display at the Convention proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the ULP is a house deeply divided, that is built, not on democratic values and practices, but on the whims and autocratic fancies of one man, Ralph Gonsalves.

For the rest of us in the country, it proved that the ULP are unfit for office, as they have no plan, no programme, no hope beyond clinging desperately to power.

There, Gonsalves urged his followers in the ULP to submit to his guidance, but it is clear where that guidance will lead. He will destroy his party and sacrifice the best interests of our country to get his own way and secure his chosen successor –his son Camillo–as Prime Minister.

While the leadership of the ULP is hopelessly divided and they are caught up in their own confusion, we in the NDP are focused on the issues that matter to you. We know them because we talk with you about them.

My dear people, it is time for us to move forward as a country. No man is indispensable!  Of necessity, the baton of leadership must pass to new hands, or our country will fall further behind, and our people will pay a high price for it.

I offer myself to serve you. In the last general election, you honoured me by making the NDP the party of choice for the majority of the people and me, its leader, the popular choice as political leader. In the profoundest sense of democracy, where majority rules, you voted for the NDP and for change. But, our political system has its shortcomings and at times gives a party the popular vote, yet not the government.

Nevertheless, the proverbial writing is on the wall: change is necessary, and will come. It will come, not because I say so, but because you the people have decided that the time for it has come, for as one former ULP supporter recently conceded to me “One man can’t run the country forever”.

Meeting People

I have been meeting our people all over the country:  in villages; in their homes; on the streets; and, when invited, in their places of worship. Wherever I go, the message is the same.  You say to me and my team that you want us to focus on the things that matter to you— focus on your needs and your concerns: your jobs; your livelihoods; your future.  In other words, focus now on bread-and-butter issues– because our current circumstances require it.

Enough of the gutter politics! What may be entertainment for some, is profoundly serious for our country, and most of us are sick and tired of the selfishness, the arrogance, the bluster, and bombast in what now passes for leadership in the ULP and government.

They sow the seeds of division and would set us against one another—in our homes (brother against brother), in our workplaces (colleague teacher against colleague), in social circles (friend against friend), in places of worship (elder against elder).

Thankfully, we are better than that, and know that we can do better.

Our present circumstances and examples from elsewhere in the world have shown us that political leaders who seek to divide the people—who seek to divide us irreparably— serve only themselves.  The people become merely the means to an end, that end being personal political power for its own sake!

Shutting up opposing voices, demonizing, and vilifying carriers of alternative views, whether in a political party or in the society at large, can never be right. We can’t continue that way. Such politics are not relevant to our time!

Our people, especially the young people, understand that. They tell us that they are not happy with such politics.  Our people are better informed than ever and demand more from their political leaders.

Let us all agree on that. Gutter politics and narcissistic self-reverence in the political leader have not served our people well and have led our nation down a slippery slope to dark place, where democracy is threatened, and our standard of living has declined.  If we, the inheritors of this beautiful country, don’t stand up against it, the situation can only get worse.  We have a duty to inform ourselves, defend our democratic values and work for progressive change.

 

Buccama Workers

The surest way to improve our standard of living is to grow our economy and provide employment for our people. That is why we support the efforts to revive the troubled Buccament Bay hotel project.  However, despite extravagant promises from the government about jobs, it appears that in the rebuilding work foreign workers– mainly from the Dominican Republic—hold most of the jobs.

What happen to Vincentian workers; they don’t need jobs?  We have a serious unemployment problem in our country. Instead of talking about who will succeed him, Prime Minister Gonsalves should address this situation and assure our people that they will be given priority for available jobs at the project.

Fix Home in the North

To many people in the north whose home were damaged by the volcano still don’t have a roof over their heads. Their homes have not been repaired thought the government has money to do it.  It is long overdue.  NEMO, BRAGSA fix the home and help the people to return to their normal lives. Forget about political partisanship. We are one people. Give help according to need. That is the only valid basis for assisting the affected people.

 

Reinstate Unvaccinated Teachers, Public Servants 

And what of the teachers, public servants and police officers who were fired because of the government’s misguided vaccine mandate?

I have called for the reinstatement of the fired teachers, public servants, and police officers. Prime Minister Gonsalves recently announced that teachers would have to re-apply to get their jobs back. So, there is no guarantee of getting their job back: they might pick and choose who to “rehire”.  Moreover, rehired workers would have to start over, with no guarantee of getting their benefits or long service awards. To tell teachers they must reapply for their jobs is disrespectful to them after they have served selflessly and will continue to devote their lives to the future of our children.

The punitive measures against unvaccinated teachers and health care workers must stop. All over the world, governments, businesses, and other organizations have rejected covid-19 vaccine mandates and have earnestly begun the process of learning to live with the disease, which will be with us for a very long time to come, perhaps forever.

The Gonsalves government has mishandled the COVID crisis from the beginning and continue to do so. They are out of touch with the concerns of the people because they have been isolated in a bubble far from the everyday concerns of the people.

Note the recent embarrassing episode in which a memo from the Ministry of Health, signed by the Permanent Secretary, indicated that health workers would be required to take a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot every five months only for the Minister to say the following day that the memo was an error and no such decision had been taken by the government. Can you believe that?  Here, there is clearly a failure of governance.

 

Cost of Living 

The ULP’s self-absorption and failure of governance have real consequences for the people. The government has failed to address the biggest, most pressing issue facing our country today, the cost-of-living crisis.

As the cost-of-living increases, our standard of living falls.

Life has become more difficult and challenging for families, many of whom are now forgoing essentials and cutting back in every way they can.

It is a sad reality that those who have the least are hardest hit.  Spending on necessities takes up a larger portion of their income.

Increase in cost of living is not just a challenge for today, but or the future also.

Rising prices, with stagnant wages, undermine our standard of living. They force persons to dip into limited savings, to postpone retirement (if possible) and put off making big life decisions like getting married, building a home, or mortgaging a family home to pay for a child’s education.

For our businesses, particularly small enterprises, it hampers the ability to invest, inhibits hiring of new workers and halts growth.

The initial aftershock of the Covid pandemic has been exacerbated and magnified by the Russian war in Ukraine. The impact on food, fuel and food prices has been felt worldwide.  Average wheat prices increased by 165 per cent between May 2021 and May 2022. This has fed into a cycle of ever-increasing prices. Some cooking oils have increased by over 200% since the start of the year. International rice prices are at a 12-month high and expected to increase further. Oil prices are high.

These global trends impact us in SVG as local prices soar. I do grocery shopping frequently in Kingstown, doing my own errands or when Mrs Friday gives me her shopping list, purchasing from the vendors and in the supermarkets. So, I see this first-hand.  And I, too, have questioned the cashiers from time to time to verify that the price of one item or another was not an error, because it had increased so much.

Over the past 8 months the prices of food, fuel and other goods have risen considerably.   Current prices at a rural shop on the mainland show that a pound of chicken back has increased from $1.75 to $2.50, leg quarts for $3.00 to $4.00, turkey from $3.50 to $5.00, a small margarine from $4.95 to $6.50, 1 litre of cooking oil from $10.95 to $16.00, a bag of penny loaf bread from $2.00 to $3.00.

The cost of electricity has risen. The fuel surcharge was $0.28 per unit in March 2021 and increased to $0.72 in July this year.

A recent survey reported in the Searchlight newspaper showed that nearly 82 per cent of respondents said that the hike in cooking oil, electricity and food prices have caused them to cut back on basic food items with many saying they are now paying $200 more for the same basket of goods bought before the Russian invasion of Ukraine a few months ago.

Gasoline at the pump is now $18.16 per gallon; it was $8.50 in September 2020. Obviously, the high gas price makes things harder for all motorists and puts pressure on minibus operators, taxi drivers and fisherfolk who use fuel in their work daily. 

High cost of living is not some passing phenomenon that will be over in another month or two; it is expected to be with us for a quite a long time.

The government has a duty to do everything it can to cushion the effects of rising costs on households and protect our communities.

Further delay in taking mitigation measures will only cause more pain and suffering.

Across the OECS and in the wider Caribbean, governments have cut fuel taxes, reduced import charges, controlled the prices of basic goods, increased direct supports to those most in need and helped with utility bills.

Wherever I go, I hear the cry from ordinary people: “I need help”.

“Why is the government not doing more to help me with the high cost of living?”  “Do they even have a plan to deal with this problem?”

I know that every day,  making ends meet is becoming more difficult. I know of the struggle to pay light bills, to put food on the table, to buy shoes, clothes, and books to send your children back to school in September.

A few days of road work might help a bit but can’t cover most of the bills.

More relief is needed.  We in the NDP have a plan to immediately help to ease the effects of rising cost of living and ensure that we protect families.

We urge the following:

1)   Reduce VAT from 16% to 13% and ensure that the savings are passed on to ordinary consumers. This will help everyone across the board;

2)   Increase the number of zero-rated VAT items;

3)   Immediately repeal the Customs Service Charge increase (i.e., “the Big Tax on Everything”) to reduce import costs;

4)   Increase support for lower income families by expanding existing support payments and ensure this support is distributed based on need and not by political favour;

5)   Provide import duty concessions for the transportation industry, that is to say minivans, buses and taxis.

6)   Restrict unlimited increase in Vinlec bills by putting a cap on the fuel surcharge.

These measures are practical and realistic and can deliver benefit to everyone immediately.

Government revenue from VAT receive a boost from the higher prices for goods and services. As prices go up, so does government’s revenue from VAT. We must put people first, not government revenues first. I said it early in the COVID crisis and say it again: put the money where the pain is. That is, with families who are being crushed by the increase in cost of living.

Conclusion

We know and have always known, that we are stronger when we stand together. We value community and look out for one another.

Everyone has a role to play in getting us out of this difficult situation:

●     government must look to do everything it can to reduce costs and support those who need help;

●     importers and retailers must continue to do everything they can to hold prices in the short term; and now more than ever we need to ensure that cost reductions are passed on to consumers.

With resolve and focused leadership, we can turn this time of challenge into a moment of opportunity that can be our springboard to a better tomorrow.  But this requires political leadership that focuses on real problems not on made up ones, and puts our people’s welfare at the top of the agenda.

Anyone who does not see that is out of touch and out of time.

Let us not be distracted; we must remain laser-focused on dealing with the real and immediate problems confronting us—i.e., making ends meet, doing right by the teachers, public servants and police officers who were fired because of the government’s misguided vaccine mandate; prioritising our people for jobs from projects such as the Buccama hotel re-development; helping farmers and fisherfolk to become more productive and to be truly ready to benefit from initiatives in agriculture and the blue economy.

I want us to have a better future. I want our young people to be able to stay here and have a good life, with good jobs, decent health care, safe communities and most importantly with abiding hope for a brighter future.

We will talk again over the coming weeks as I continue to show how we intend to reach our goal of improving our political and economic conditionsin our country.

I believe in our people. I believe in our country.

I believe We can do better!

Working together,r we will meet the present challenges.

Working together, we will set the course for a brighter future for all.

Stay strong my people.

And may God bless us all.  Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Unity Labour Party’s Convention and its Autocratic Leader

Unity Labour Party’s Convention and its Autocratic Leader

Dr. Ralph Gonsalves’ political beliefs and deep rooted philosophy have been influenced by authoritarian and socialist leaders. In the 1970s, former Prime Minister, the late Robert Milton Cato, labelled him a communist and a dictator. As a result, he was unable to win a seat in the elections that he contested with political organisations that he formed. It was not until he joined the Labour Party, he won the North Central Windward constituency. At the recently held Unity Labour Party’s (ULP) convention, Vincentians heard from the real dictator.

At the convention, he took the time to list the ULP’s aims and objectives as they are in party’s constitution. And, stressed on the objective which states that, ‘members should refrain from making public statements contrary to the declared principles and policies of the party’. He gave them a stern warning not to criticize the party.  He didn’t say what the penalty was, if any member or supporter criticizes the party. One can only imagine what the penalty would be. So, a member or supporter cannot criticize publicly, cannot criticize privately nor criticize at the convention. What does that tell us?

However, more and more members and supporters of the ULP have begun to make profound public statements against their leader. They are dissatisfied with what is taking place in their party and the country. They have had enough of Dr. Gonsalves and the ULP. They have now begun to see the: victimization, corruption, nepotism, and the lack of accountability of the ULP government. The New Democratic Party (NDP) welcomes such individuals with open arms. We have a big tent. We have a country to build, and we need all the support where necessary.

It is the mass movement of supporters away from the ULP to the NDP that Dr. Gonsalves has recognized and cannot accept. So, he attacked the NGO’s in the country and cursed what he described as imperialism at the convention. But, he sucks up to imperialism when it suits him. The British grant financing to the port project in Kingstown is 27.7 million pound sterling.  Is that imperialist funding? Further, his vain attack on the president of the NDP, Dr. Godwin Friday, is only making him more popular. Dr. Friday is the people’s choice.

Vincentians must not be fooled by Dr. Gonsalves and the number of projects that he outlined at the convention. For twenty one (21) years, he has been talking about constructing a hospital, he has not delivered it. What benefits are there for the poor and working class in a new parliament building? His hotel projects seem to be never ending. Dr. Gonsalves did not mention how he is going to ease the burden of the exorbitant gasoline price for Vincentians. He did not state what measures he would put in place to reduce the high cost of living. He did not say how the thousands of young bright Vincentians who are at home for years and are unemployed would get a job. He did not say one word about our agricultural sector and the plans to revive it. He did not mention a word on the cost of electricity and what he would do to reduce the high fuel surcharge, and how he is going to solve the crime situation in the country. His main concern is his obsession with power, while most Vincentians suffer.

The disunity in the ULP continues. The cracks are widening. Persons are leaving the ULP every day. And, Dr. Gonsalves does not have the time and the strength to govern St. Vincent and the Grenadines and settle dispute among the three warring factions in the ULP.

The NDP has a better way

We have a clear plan and the determination to build a better St. Vincent and the Grenadines for our future. For too long, a lack of economic opportunities has seen many of our people leave for opportunities in Canada, United Kingdom, USA, St. Kitts and other countries. Many are lost to our islands and never return. A strong economy and good infrastructure will bring foreign investment and increased wages for all Vincentians.

We will pay special attention to our health sector. We will also construct a new hospital in St Vincent and the Grenadines. We will ensure it is certified as a training school as well. The NDP will also oversee the roll-out of a National Health Insurance Scheme. We will also introduce a Patient Travel Subsidy to help patients get to important appointments, and upgrade or construct new community health clinics.

Also, our fisherfolk and farmers have been neglected and have not been able to make a good living. We will completely reinvigorate our fishing sector – creating a separate Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Conservation to give this vial industry the attention it deserves. We will help finance new boats and equipment for our fisherfolk through our National Development Bank. We won’t dictate to fisherfolk what they need; instead we will work with them to get them the right equipment to succeed.

Our plan also includes fixing and building new feeder roads so our farmers can be more productive. We will also finance new equipment to make their job easier, and to make them more productive so that farming is more appealing to younger people. We will ensure that there are real markets in place for their produce. So that when you put in a crop and wait months for it to bear, you will have somewhere to sell it into at a fair price. We want our farmers to be farmers, focusing on what they do best and earn a decent living so they can build a home, send their children to school and save for retirement. The NDP has the programs and policies to get St. Vincent and the Grenadines working.

Chaos in the ULP

Chaos in the ULP

The much anticipated Unity Labour Party (ULP) convention is heading for an anticlimax. Probably, the most publicized contest for deputy leader of any political party was to have taken place on July 31. The excitement that was generated by the ULP’s supporters has disappeared. Neither Camillo Gonsalves nor Saboto Caesar will be deputy leader. It was revealed by the political leader that Montgomery Daniel would be the deputy leader of the ULP.

The decision to name Montgomery Daniel deputy leader tells us that Camillo Gonsalves is incapable of being deputy leader. It tells us that Saboto Caesar is incapable of being deputy leader. So, Montgomery Daniel as deputy leader, does that mean that Mr. Daniel will be the next leader of the ULP? Searchlight Newspaper of June 14, 2022, in an extensive interview with Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves reported, “We’ll just have a deputy leader and it is recognized that that deputy leader …… would rise to leadership” he said, “adding that once the convention ends, there will be a clear indication of the party’s plan for succession.”

It is crystal clear for all to see. There is no future for Saboto Caesar in the ULP. There is no future for Saboto Caesar in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And, there is no future for Saboto Caesar in South Central Windward. Also, the party does not want Camillo Gonsalves. East St. George does not want Camillo Gonsalves. And the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines do not want him.

It was said that Mr. Eustace was too old and he must go. Mr. Eustace went and is relaxing comfortably at home. Now, we are saying that Dr. Gonsalves is old and tired. He sleeps ever where he goes, and he has no new ideas. He must go. Dr. Gonsalves is not in a position at this time to manage the three warring factions in his party and govern the country. The cracks in the ULP have begun to widen, very soon it will fall apart.

It doesn’t matter who leads the ULP in the next general elections. Let it be known that the NDP will win the next general elections.  The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines need a government with innovative and creative ideas to move the country forward. The NDP will create new jobs and grow our economy; invest in small and medium enterprises; grow our agriculture and fisheries industries and provide funding for science and technology to support our economy.

Our Way Forward for Youth Development

The recently held Youth Parliament created much discussion among some members of the Unity Labour Party (ULP).  As if it were the first time a Youth Parliament was convened. That is far from the truth. It was done regularly under the New Democratic Party (NDP) government. As reported by an online publication, “The first sitting of a youth parliament in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in over 20 years.” The NDP welcomes the return of the Youth Parliament.

The NDP is concerned about youth development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  We will ensure that our young people have the opportunities to succeed. We know that our most valuable resource is our people and we need them to prosper. Our policy for young people is to ensure that they are earning or learning. This means that they are either furthering their education or are employed.

We have stated on numerous occasions that our major priority is to create the environment to provide thousands of sustainable jobs for the youths of this country. We will implement a number of innovative programs and policies that will create an enabling environment for thousands of jobs to be created. And, has identified Information Technology as one of the important areas that will provide opportunities for our young people. We will place tremendous emphasis on Information Technology to tackle the unemployment situation which exists among our youths, in this country.

We will increase and diversify the scholarship program, more scholarships in more places. The existing scholarship program will be improved to offer a wider variety of opportunities for young people to access higher education in properly accredited universities and colleges worldwide. Diverse scholarships will be sourced to encourage persons into non-traditional education, including opportunities for young people in culture, music and sports. We will also reduce the interest rate for students’ loans.

The NDP will design and implement non-academic incentive program for youth. The NDP believes that young people in St Vincent and the Grenadines must be encouraged to believe in their own self-worth. With this in mind, the NDP will organize targeted incentive programs to encourage our youth in the many areas of non-academic achievements. And, set up a Youth Parliament. The NDP will encourage and support the formation of a youth parliament where young people with an interest in politics can develop their understanding of the practice and methods of the parliamentary system.

Further, we will work to rehabilitate and reintegrate young offenders to society. An unfortunate mistake made by a young person, should not be a life sentence that condemns him or her to hopelessness. Under a new program to be developed by the NDP, young offenders will be offered second chances through targeted programs of technical and vocational training, counselling and rehabilitation. Also, set up mentorship programs for youth. The mentorship and career guidance program will be re-established with a view to bonding university students to giving back to all secondary schools upon completion of their studies, by way of lectures, mentoring and other tangible ways of contributing to the education of young students. We see the talent and energy of the country’s youths as pivotal in the effort to move our beloved country forward.

 

Reinstate the Workers Now!

Reinstate the Workers Now!

The New Democratic Party (NDP) has reiterated its call for the government to reinstate the teachers, police officers and public servants who were fired because of the vaccine mandate. The NDP maintains that the policy to dismiss the workers was wrong, and it is time for it to be corrected. While the Prime Minister plays with words, such as ‘may’ and ‘considerations’, the workers are suffering.  They are experiencing emotional stress. And, are unable to pay their bills, pay their mortgages and maintain their families.

The message from the NDP on vaccine mandate is consistent. Reflect on this statement that was made by president of the NDP, Dr Friday, in November, 2021: While we, as a party support vaccination as a means of combatting COVID-19, we are philosophically opposed to making the COVID- 19 vaccine mandatory. Mandating vaccines—i.e. forcing people to be vaccinated against their will is not who we are as a democratic society.  It is also not who we wish to be as a people. And, firing government workers and taking away their benefits because they have not taken the COVID- 19 vaccine is cruel and counter-productive and will create more unemployment and misery in our country.

Let us acknowledge that the world was caught off-guard and unprepared by COVID-19. No country was truly prepared to tackle a public health problem on such as large scale.  A year ago, we did not have any safe and effective vaccines against coronavirus; that only became available early this year. It is therefore understandable, if concerning, that our vaccination rates are low, even though safe, effective, and free vaccines are now available. As a democratic society however, our concern and even frustration for some must not manifest into actions likened to dictatorship.

It is true that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation and even disinformation about COVID- 19 vaccines. I do not wish to engage in that debate except to reiterate that I accept that the vaccines provide very strong protection from severe illness and death from COVID-19.

Also, we now have more knowledge and better tools to combat the virus than when it first emerged. But we will succeed only if we work together, as a nation. If we protect ourselves and others through masking, sanitizing, social distancing, building body immunity, expanded testing (test vaccinated and unvaccinated) and vaccination, we can and will turn the tide on COVID-19. It will take a lot of hard work, and it’s going to take some time.  I have no doubt that we will get there.

Mandating vaccination is not the way to go. All over the world, governments that have considered such as measure as a way out of the pandemic have retreated from mandatory vaccination. But, not in SVG. It is only through collaborative endeavours, communication, and trust that we can win this battle against COVID- 19. The ULP administration has time and again has broken the trust of the people of SVG. They have also neglected to engage with civil society and the private sector in any meaningful way over the years.

Now they have resorted to draconian measures to seek to achieve their aims, while disregarding the impact those measures are having on our public sector workers and the society. They have told teachers, nurses, police officers, other public and state entity workers to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. And, now that the policy has been implemented, workers have been made the problem. Since when did nurses, teachers, other public servants, and police officers become the problem in our country?  Does COVID-19 truly require this government to treat its own workers so unfairly and so harshly? No, it does not.

When did these workers with long service and valuable work experience suddenly become disposable so that they can easily be replaced with new recruits?  Statements by government officials about replacing police officers, teachers, nurses, including those who have many years of service and experience in their jobs with new recruits disrespect those affected employees.

An NDP government would not have a mandatory vaccination policy and would not be firing public servants because of such a policy. Anyone who is fired or resigns because of the government’s vaccine mandate must be rehired or otherwise compensated without loss of benefits. An NDP government would ensure that anyone who resigns or is dismissed form his/her job because of the government’s vaccine mandate is reinstated or otherwise compensated and will receive all affected benefits as well.

No one should be forced to choose between their body and their bread. There are better and more effective ways to achieve vaccination goals that do not devalue and divide our people. The government’s approach divides families, workplaces, churches, and communities. It fosters resentment and distrust of government and engenders unnecessary fear among our people. Trust and partnership are the cornerstones that would place us well on the path to achieving recommended vaccination targets and better success against the pandemic. These factors are lacking in this administration’s current strategy and what we see here is simply the current administration lying in a bed that they made, as the old adage goes.

We must accept that there are different perspectives and be willing to listen so that we can better understand where we are and where we need to go in combatting COVID-19. In light of the high level of distrust of authority and the COVID- 19 vaccines, it is foolhardy to proceed with the approach that it is “my way or the highway”.

The ULP administration has historically done nothing more than deprecate the views of others. They have stopped listening and therefore choose to take heavy-handed approaches when their leadership failures are laid bare for the world to see.  The poor uptake reflects the failure of the ULP administration to listen and engage with our people. To re-emphasize, the NDP does not support vaccine mandates.  We believe that ethical and collaborative leadership is better and is needed here.

Crime is Out of Hand in SVG

Crime is out of hand in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The recent rapid increase of homicides and the barbaric nature of these crimes have sent shock waves throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  The New Democratic Party is deeply concerned about this upsurge and dangerous trend in our society.

The following is a statement by the New Democratic Party: 

Vincentian society was shocked at the discovery of the decomposed body of a 17 year old woman in the community of Murray’s Village on the outskirts of Kingstown on Thursday 12 May 2022.

Then on Monday 16th May 2022, local police confirmed another shooting death in the New Montrose area. The victim brings to sixteen (16) the number of homicides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) so far this year. This follows a four (4) day spate of four (4) murders. It does not go unnoticed that two (2) of the victims in this short period are women.

Should the current rate continue, St. Vincent and the Grenadines would equal its 2016 record-breaking murder count of forty (40) for the year. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) ranks 2016 in SVG as the 6th bloodiest in the world in the period 2012 to 2020.

A significant percentage of these homicides remain unsolved as the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force seems unequipped to come to grips with this crisis. This incompetence stands in stark contrast to the enthusiasm and vigour exercised in the pursuit and arrest of critics of the ULP administration and in preventing citizens from exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association.

Of greater concern is the administration’s refusal to acknowledge the depth of this crisis since 2007. It is evident that as Minister of National Security Dr. Gonsalves has failed to be “tough on crime and the causes of crime.”

In twenty (20) years the minister and successive commissioners of police (the current Commissioner of Police Colin John being included) have failed to present to the nation a credible and comprehensive plan to deal with spiralling crime. It would appear that such a plan has not even been drafted. The time has come for the administration to engage real expertise

While we offer our sympathies to families directly affected by violent crime, we recognize that expressions ring hollow without action. The New Democratic Party renews our call for a bipartisan, broad-based approach to the development and implementation of strategies for combating crime.

We call on anyone with information that might assist the police in their investigations to contact the police immediately.

The NDP’s Plan

Stop the Causes of Crime

The New Democratic Party (NDP) strongly believes that to effectively combat crime; the emphasis should be placed on identifying the likely causes of crime and developing a strategy to remove them. 

We will implement the Spiritual Social and redemption charter as an important programme in crime prevention; commission a review of existing research into the causes of crime followed by research in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to determine which of these causes are applicable here. This will inform the strategies we introduce for combating crime. 

Also, vigorously pursue community policing by increasing the visibility of police on the beat, involving police in trust-building activities in communities, and by providing specific training in community policing. And, institute measures that will encourage regular meetings with the police and certain communities about the resolution and reduction of criminal conduct in those communities.

Our Plans for the Criminal Justice System

The NDP recognizes the importance of developing and maintaining an effective criminal justice system to convict, incarcerate and importantly rehabilitate convicted offenders. An effective and well-resourced criminal justice system enhances the chances of securing convictions against those who commit criminal offences. This system involves the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, lawyers, the courts, magistrates, judges and the penal system.

It is therefore of paramount importance that those persons and institutions mentioned are appropriately equipped to deal with reported crimes in order to ensure that the guilty are convicted and the innocent are set free. But most importantly, they ensure the maintenance of law and order and the preservation of the rights and freedoms of Vincentians. The NDP takes the maintenance of those rights and freedoms very seriously, and will introduce measures that will strengthen the criminal justice system. 

This will be effected by:

    • conducting a comprehensive review of the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines;
    • introducing measures that will simplify and improve access to justice;
    • increasing the number of magistrates;
    • revising the laws to increase the sentencing options that are available to magistrates and judges;
    • expanding the High Court and improving its facilities;
    • upgrading the forensic lab in order to expedite the prosecution of offences and to reduce the number of cases that are outstanding;
    • reviewing the remuneration and method of promotion of police officers in order to ensure that promotion and remuneration are primarily based on merit, and
    • reviewing the Police Legislation to bring it up to date with the requirements for modern policing.

Furthermore, we will:

    • arrange for extensive training of police and prison officers, especially in the field of information technology;
    • establishing a Civilian Police Complaint Commission to receive complaints against police officers from both civilians and fellow police officers;
    • establish a Young Persons Rehabilitation Centre for non-violent young first time offenders and for juvenile delinquents;
    • introduce a rigorous rehabilitation programme that will be designed to improve the lives of inmates after they have left the prisons and reduce the chances of them becoming repeat offenders;
    • review the remuneration of prison officers and the promotion system to ensure that their career growth is dependent on performance and achievement;
    • identify communities in which new police stations will be constructed. And,
    • reintroducing the Police Cadet Service to provide young persons with an avenue into the Police Force. 

The NDP is committed to fighting crime. 

 

National Heroes Day 2022 Speech

Godwin Friday at podium for National Heroes Day 2022

Dr, The Hon Godwin L. Friday MP
Leader of the Opposition, President of the New Democratic Party
15 March 2022, Dorsetshire Hill

My fellow of Vincentians, good morning to you – wherever you are.

I trust you are well. By the Grace of God, those of you who are here in St Vincent and the Grenadines and those who are overseas in our diaspora, we are sharing, equally, the joy of belonging to this beautiful nation, Yurumein, St Vincent and the Grenadines.

We are also sharing in the hope of better things to come.

How beautiful it was this morning to hear, our national anthem sung in our first national language.

And I too, make the call to have this taught in our schools and become part of our heritage, but also of our day-to-day culture.

This year we celebrate under the theme “Appreciating our identity, preserving our heritage with pride“.

As we all know in the founding of any nation, there are those who make their mark and then become part of our history. They are the freedom fighters. They are builders of businesses and other institutions, the community-spirited men and women who seize every opportunity to serve their neighbors and friends – simply, to make life better for them. Leaders in other walks of life, who forge a path forward, for all of us.

We stand on their shoulders today, even as we too know that we must play our part. As a nation, we have decided to honour, as National Heroes, those who make the greatest contribution to our development.

Paramount Chief, Joseph Chatoyer, is of course, the first and thus far the only one so honored. No one else could have been first. As there is no better example of courage and sacrifice than his.

Remembering our History

Notwithstanding that we are a small nation, our history is rich and complex. It contains many acts of courage and sacrifice that hold our foundation together and inspires us to continue to build upon it. Among the many identities of our people are those who have made their indelible mark in the soil and on the soul of our people, on the character of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

We stand today as a proud and independent nation. We know all too well from our history and indeed, from current international events that national sovereignty is not guaranteed.

It is a fragile ideal that is mostly won through struggle and must be defended at every turn. Chatoyer taught us that. In his time, the early struggles and wars fought for freedom were defined by alliances of like-minded people, who knew the value of freedom and cherished it above everything else. People who would never surrender or diminish for expedience or short term gain, a nation’s right to self determination. As we celebrate National Heroes Day today, and look toward the future, it is fitting to remember our history and to invoke the indomitable spirit of Chatoyer. For as the philosopher Santayana said and cautioned so many years ago, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“.

Working Together to Fulfil our Potential

Chatoyer himself called upon us to unite as citizens and as brothers and sisters to build up and protect this land. Today, as we continue the never-ending task of nation-building, we must invoke that same spirit. In short, we must work together to build a country, our country, and to do so in the words and example of Chatoyer as a united people.

Today, we express this, of course, with the common phrase “One people. One nation. One Vincy”.

There is perhaps no better time than Heroes Day to call upon our better angels and together pledge to lift our game for the common good. To transcend mediocrity and limited thinking and aim higher, to consider how we are now and might become, heroes in our own right.

Every day offers us opportunity. It is for us to recognise them, to embrace them and to make them count, to make the most of them.

I believe in the virtue of work and the power of opportunity and strength and noble character of our people. But we must all be passionate about fulfilling our potential and working for a better future. One in which we
are safe, prosperous, and free.

We work together so that everyone can succeed, no matter his or her background or beliefs. And where we never surrender our patrimony or birth right. For to surrender, it would mean that Chatoyer struggled and died in vain. And we know that is not so. That is why we are here today, commemorating his life and sacrifice, and honouring him.

A Time of War

Chatoyer’s proclamation was a call to arms in a time of war.

The sovereignty of the Garifuna people was threatened. It rejected colonialism and its merciless march of conquest and subjugation of free, resilient people.

His struggle has continued in different ways by all forebears, over the centuries since, through the attainment of our Independence in 1979, and in the years that followed. It was a struggle, we know, for freedom and sovereignty. A yearning of people from time immemorial, all over the world.

The lessons from Chatoyer’s time are crucially important today.

Our world is challenged once again with large-scale conflict, this time in Ukraine. The aggression and expansionism this time, is coming from Russia. The conflict is an invasion of a sovereign nation by a powerful aggressor, the largest war in Europe since World War II.

The tragedy unfolds daily inexorably. Many young soldiers on both sides are killed and innocent civilians: women, children, the elderly, and infirm, die in bombed Ukrainian cities or while trying to flee military operation.

But not only those, hospitals, schools, and residences have been shelled and bombed. Every day, the emerging video images show massive devastation and we are told that the worst is yet to come. Because we are more interconnected now than ever before in human history, the tremors of that war are already being felt here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Our nationals serve in the armed forces of NATO countries, the USA and the UK, and will no doubt be called up and positioned in Europe to reassure NATO allies who fear the spreading conflict. The economic fallout also affects us, with higher oil and other commodity prices. We must prepare for it, to help cushion the effects on our people who have already been through what we have heard from previous speakers, so much hardship over the past year.

A war of aggression is a grotesque absurdity, especially in this modern era.

With every moral fibre in our body, both individual and collective, we must denounce it and oppose it. In doing so, we will be upholding our proud legacy and the values we have defended throughout our own history. We will, with freedom-loving people the world over, proclaim and defend the inalienable rights of men and women to be free, wherever they are.

Let us pray for peace in Ukraine and in every part of this world where there is conflict.

Covid-19

As I noted, we have been confronted by many challenges. Over the past year, we have continued to endure the devastation and the effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic. One hundred and six persons have died here in St Vincent and the Grenadines and other nationals have died abroad in the USA, in Canada and the UK. I believe all of us know someone who has died of Covid-19.

My sympathy goes out to the families of those who have died. From the outset, I urged that this scourge, unprecedented in our lifetime, will
require us to work together as a united front, against it.

If we are to limit the damage and recover as quickly as possible, that remains the approach we must pursue, all of us. We here commit ourselves to do so in the spirit of Chatoyer. For we are not out of it yet, so we must continue to protect ourselves and others around us. We cannot let it divide us and cause more pain for some, who are made to carry a heavier burden, than the rest of us.

I also cannot stress enough that vaccines are the most powerful tool still in our fight against the virus. They have saved Vincentian lives. But following our brotherhood of free nations and our values, we believe that that is an individual choice.

Living with Covid

As we learn to live with Covid, we must recover from its other devastating impact: the costly loss of livelihoods across our land.

We must build the pillars of our economy by supporting our tourism sector to recover, and by backing our fisherfolk and our farmers, among
others.

As we move towards economic recovery, we must begin to invest in infrastructure that will support growth, long into the future. And we
must attract sustainable investments that are aligned with our goals of creating jobs and growing our economy, of bringing prosperity to our people.

How we recover will determine our trajectory for years come.

It will determine the job opportunities for our nation, especially for our young people, who we cannot afford to lose to other countries with greener pastures. Our brighter future here depends on keeping them here, contributing to development, giving them real opportunities to be heroes in their own way.

La Soufrière

We are also recovering, as we have heard, from the eruption of La Soufrière. When the volcano erupted last April, overnight, our lives were turned upside down. Particularly those the communities up North where the traditional communities of the Garifuna people are. Thousands fled their homes seeking refuge in safer zones. As a people, we showed our true, kind, spirit and provided shelter, food and comfort to those who were severely affected.

Our brothers and sisters in the region and in our diaspora, especially in the USA, Canada and the UK, also gave generously. They supported and helped our people to cope with the physical and economic disruption caused in their lives. But the trial is not yet over. The rebuilding of lives, economy
and communities will continue for a long time to come.

But rebuild we must, and with a bigger vision to making those communities more resilient and strong and giving them the pride of place
in our present day as they have been in our history.

And the pace of rebuilding must accelerate so that the life for those persons who were directly affected or most affected can return to normal as soon as possible. That is a commitment we must give to the people of Sandy Bay, Owia, of Chateau, Fitzhughs, and all other communities that were
directly affected.

Our Other Heroes

The purpose of designating national heroes is not only to recognize the outstanding contribution of individuals who are so named. It is also done, I believe, so that we can hold those persons up as outstanding examples for others to follow. They must serve as inspiration for our citizens.

As we were tested by the two disasters recounted earlier, the Covid-19 Pandemic and the volcanic eruption – many people performed heroically. Throughout the pandemic, teachers, nurses, police officers, private sector workers continued to provide service and to do so safely and effectively. They deserve praise and our gratitude. The need for their quiet heroism continues, and we expect them to deliver as they have done.

The same goes for those who were called upon to respond and did respond in a mighty way, when the volcano erupted. They too are in our debt. But, not everyone who has made their mark on this nation gains due recognition for their efforts.

I want to celebrate them here today as well.

There are also many everyday heroes, persons who perform random acts of kindness, expecting nothing in return.

Those who reject cynicism and see value in community service and volunteerism. How much poorer our lives would be without them.

So we must encourage them, and even if only on this day, say thanks and urge them on. For those who value public service and give their lives to it, whatever the cost. They who do so because they know it is noble to serve their people and that service, is its own reward.

In that spirit, I must recall the service and the passing of our great nation-builder, Sir James F. Mitchell, who died during the year past.

He always believed that as a nation we could do great things. That we can punch, so to speak, above our weight. That we had untapped potential. He devoted his life to seeing that realised. May his example of service inspire us to give our best, during our time.

These are all people who are helping to forge our nation in the true Vincy spirit. Today, I salute you all.

We Must Never Sacrifice our Patrimony, our Birthrights

We must recall, however, that in our pursuits and as we push forward as a nation, we must never give up the invaluable birth right that God has given to us.

Decisions on development should always balance benefits with costs to our community and must always involve the people in a meaningful way, in that undertaking.

We are a small nation. Unlike vast nations like the United States and Canada. Every bit of our land is precious. Chatoyer taught us that too. Every bit of our land as precious as it is, as it must not just support us, or our children, but our children’s children and generations well into our future.

We must guard against so called developers and others, who would sellout the future generations of our country, by digging up our
birthright and shipping it overseas for pennies.

In that spirit, we must always guard our patrimony and ensure that it is never squandered for short-term gain. In this, too, our nation requires us to use our voice, our actions, to seek answers where they are needed and to be steadfast in doing so. That is our duty, as heirs of Chatoyer.

Let us Celebrate National Heroes Day Together

In conclusion, we must put in place our plans to recover from the twin disasters and sow the seeds of a better tomorrow.

If we neglect the field today, we will fail to reap the harvest.

As will our young people and generations to come.

It is simply not good enough to sit by and hope that things will improve. We must be the agents of that recovery, and only through a leadership that is truly focused on the development of our people will we see that plan executed and our potential realised.

I know that we are capable of great things. We have seen the promise of this over the past year, in how people responded to disaster.

So let us celebrate National Heroes Day and think about how we can make those great things, of which we are capable, come true.

Don’t leave it up to anyone else to do. And don’t measure what you will do, by watching what little others do. Instead, as the slogan
goes, you “just do it” and give it your all.

May God bless us all, and may He grant us peace.

Have a great and productive National Heroes Day.

Celebration of International Women’s Day 2022

Release from the NDP Women’s President in Celebration of International Women’s Day 2022

It is indeed an honour to join with women around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day 2022. The theme, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” #BreakTheBias, is most fitting given the global impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on everyone, particularly women. It is also timely as our world is currently facing many challenges including climate change, high rates of unemployment, inequity, armed conflicts, and the erosion of women’s rights. Indeed, many more of our women are struggling to survive having lost their sources of subsistence.

Gender equality is a critical human right. All humans, regardless of gender, are equal in the sight of God. Why then, should we treat each other differently? Women and men must enjoy the same benefits based on their roles in society. This can yield many positives including the promotion of respect for basic rights and social justice for all. Furthermore, the eradication of job discrimination and closing gender gaps in employment can maximize the use of talents and skills from a larger pool of more diverse and innovative ideas.

It is true that in the past women may have shied away from such fields as politics, private sector leadership, science, medicine, law, technology, engineering, and mathematics. However, today’s women have made tremendous strides in these areas. They have proven themselves as equally intelligent, functional, innovative, and competent co-workers alongside their male counterparts. Nevertheless, despite these gains, research shows that political representation by women in parliaments around the world stands at less than 25%. This must change.

Research has also shown that bias contributes to women’s sufferings as they are often bypassed for jobs and promotions. Three out of four women experience bias at the workplace. Black women, especially those who are physically challenged, are at an even greater disadvantage. Unfortunately, some of our men continue to sit in silence when women speak out and make valuable contributions on issues like gender inequality. We need men to help us change the negative mindsets that enable physical abuse, sexual harassment, and facilitate other unfair practices perpetrated against our women.

The world is rapidly changing and expects diversity, equity, and inclusion. Therefore, women must ensure that they equip themselves with the necessary knowledge and skills to confront these challenges. Government also has a role to play in helping to promote gender equality among the people. Appropriate laws must be passed and implemented to facilitate gender equality and empowerment. National plans and policies must pave the way for all to participate in national development. Collectively, everyone everywhere can strive to achieve “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.”

Government asleep at the wheel while dengue runs rampant

Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 20 September 2020: The New Democratic Party has called on the ULP Government urgently act to control Dengue Fever. Cases have increased dramatically over the past two months, while two children have tragically lost their lives.

NDP Spokesman on Health and Member for West Kingstown, the Honourable Daniel Cummings MP called on the ULP Government to act now to control what is a growing national medical emergency.

“The ULP and Minister Luke Browne are asleep at the wheel while dengue cases skyrocket, almost doubling from July to August,” he said.

“We have lost too many to this virus, including the tragic death of two young children. The entire NDP express our condolences to their families at this difficult time.

“Dengue is a preventable disease by controlling the mosquitos that spread it. But the ULP is mismanaging the fogging program. It must be done regularly, at specific times to disrupt the mosquito breeding cycle, and the community needs to be kept informed.

“While thousands of Vincentians are unemployed and struggling financially, Luke Browne is also charging families for dengue testing and has not released updated statistics in nearly a month.

“It shows the ULP have become complacent after 19 years in office and have neglected the basics while they are busy campaigning.”

“Dengue is a medical emergency that must be acted on now. I say to Luke Browne: wake up and do your job before it is too late!”

NDP Representative for Central Leeward, Ben Exeter expressed condolences on behalf of the nation to the family of Jeremiah Charles who died as a result of dengue.

“Jeremiah’s family is in my prayers and those of NDP and the nation. All of Barrouallie will mourn with his family at this devastating moment.” Mr. Exeter said.

“No parent should have to face this alone, and the community with come together to support them at this heart-breaking time.”

Symptoms of dengue usually commence four to 10 days after infection and include high fever, headache, vomiting, muscle and joint pains, and a skin rash.

Persistent fever, abdominal pain or tenderness, and vomiting, or bleeding are signs of a possible severe case and people should visit a doctor immediately.

The NDP urges people to clear any areas to prevent standing water where mosquitos can breed. This includes cover rainwater storage tanks, rid yards of debris such as tyres, cover trash containers, and empty any standing water into gutters away from the house.

END

Statement: Union Island Gas Station Explosion

Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines: We in the New Democratic Party (NDP) are deeply saddened by the news of the passing of the three burn victims in the Union Island gas station fire.

The fire occurred at the gas station in Clifton, Union Island on Tuesday evening May 19, 2020. The owner of the gas station 72-year old Freddy Naert, and teenagers 14-year old Lindani Neverson and 17-year old Gra-niqua Azaria Alexander, were seriously injured in the fire and were transported to Milton Cato Memorial Hospital in Kingstown for emergency medical treatment. Last Sunday, May 24th, both Freddy Naert and Lindani Neverson died at MCMH. Later that day, Azaria Alexander was flown to Trinidad for further treatment. Last evening, Wednesday May 27th, she too succumbed to her injuries.

Our deepest condolences go out to the families of the victims. This tragedy is a hard blow for the family members. They need our prayers and support in this extremely difficult time. We mourn with them. No doubt, their community of Union Island and the entire nation share their loss. The Honourable Terrance Ollivierre, Member for Southern Grenadines, who has been in regular and close contact with the families of the teenaged victims, commented:

“I am truly at a loss for words. My heart hurts for all the families. This is such a tragedy and I know that all the people of Union Island are hurting right now. We must pray for everyone”.

President of the NDP, Dr. Hon. Godwin Friday stated:

“I am heartbroken! I pray for the families and for the community. They need our love and support.”

The NDP urges that there be a full investigation into the cause of the fire, the efforts to combat it, and of the transportation and treatment of the burn victims. As Dr. Friday has stated:

“We need to find answers and to learn from this tragedy. A full investigation is a necessary part of that process.”

 

Literacy and Numeracy Continue to Affect Students

(Excerpts of the Hon. Terrance Ollivierre’s Budget presentation)

 

Education is often a person’s most valuable asset. Undoubtedly, the education a person receives should adequately prepare him or her to reach full potential. That is an education that caters to the holistic needs of all individuals. In order for each person to perform at his or her best, emphasis must not only be placed on access but also on equity, quality and relevance. The real measure of our education system is how well it prepares and develops our people and the opportunities it affords to become active lifelong learners.

The Minister of Finance in his budgetary address stated, “The government has committed forcefully and unambiguously to investing in the full development of our untapped human potential in an unassailable historical reality that is known to all Vincentians.” However, has the ULP government adequately tackled the barriers to learning that many of the nation’s children face? The New Democratic Party has laid the foundation in the quest for spiritual, economic, moral, social, cultural and environmental development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Indeed, we continue to make education of our citizens the highest priority. Accordingly, we must rid the education system of the inefficiencies which plague the teaching and learning process and make education and learning a lifelong process.

Literacy and numeracy are the gateway to future learning and it is inextricably linked to better employability and upward mobility. There is no doubt that literacy and numeracy continue to affect many students. It is of concern that many students moving from primary to secondary level have not sufficiently mastered the 3 R’s (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic).  Poor Literacy and numeracy skills at the primary level are inextricably linked to the worsening of these problems at the secondary level and beyond. However, in the estimates for 2019, only a miserly amount of $40,000 allocated to improving reading from Kindergarten to Grade 3. It is important that we recognize, that for the notion of, ‘no child will be left behind’ to be reality, that attendance is not enough but that each individual learning to read, write and calculate is required for success. This is absolutely necessary throughout the education system.

There is the need to make serious provisions to embark on a national literacy and numeracy campaign to tackle the problem; thus providing our youths with opportunities for positive outcomes. We must recognize that the various stages of education operate as an eco-system. Weaknesses and deficiencies at one level if not properly handled or resolved only worsen the problem at the next level. Dr. Didacus Jules laid it out plainly when he stated, “Put simplistically, poor childhood development leads to weak primary performance which in turn translates into stunted secondary achievement which leads to mediocrity in tertiary education.” Thus, we must have the political will and creativity to formulate innovative and bold strategies to strengthen our efforts at all stages of the education system to achieve positive outcomes.

A study commissioned by the World Bank of twelve (12) secondary schools in 2011, showed that a high percentage of students entering the secondary system were reading below the required standard. Indeed, the problem is still evident today.  Since the problem was not effectively treated; and the corrective remedial curriculum program delivered, optimized and assessed, we are faced with the series of interconnected deficiencies and weaknesses to overcome at the higher levels.

Meanwhile, an examination of the results of the national diagnostic tests offered to students at Grades 2 and 4 in English and Mathematics over the years highlight the problems faced. It shows the higher the grade level, the lesser successes students attain in the areas of Mathematics and English. Undeniably, in many of our primary schools, many students are struggling to achieve success in Mathematics and English language. The truth is that literacy and numeracy levels in our primary schools are unsatisfactory.  This can contribute to further problems, mediocrity or failure throughout the education system.

The Caribbean Examiner, a publication of CXC, highlighted the struggles some of the youths in the region face to achieve success. In the recent edition, we become acutely aware of the consequences faced as a result of weak literacy skills. One youth acknowledged, “I was not a very good reader and it caused a lot of difficulties in class, because I didn’t want to be teased and judged by my peers. Many days I would skip classes by faking an asthma attack. I would then go and hang out with friends because they would not make fun of me because of my reading problems.” Eventually, he dropped out of school at age 14. We must be cognizant, that as a small developing country, helping our young people to stay in and complete their formal education is a worthwhile objective.

Many students at the secondary level find it difficult to achieve success at Mathematics and English at the regional examination (CSEC). In fact, many students do not get the opportunity to write Mathematics or English being barred by the school they attend. This is mainly due to difficulties faced with numeracy and literacy.  Yet the pass percentage attained in these subject areas in some schools are below par. Of the 1647 entrance for the CSEC examination by St. Vincent and the Grenadines for 2018, 1461 were entered for English and 1305 for Mathematics. Hence 186 and 342 students did not get the opportunity to write English and mathematics respectively.

Of the 26 secondary schools, 17 obtained a pass percentage of less than 50 % in Mathematics, with only 9 schools recording pass percentage above 50 %. Although, it was the reversed for English A; nine schools received pass percentage below 50 % and 17 schools recording pass percentage above 50 %, the percentage pass rate at too many of our secondary schools are at 20 % range and below. Indeed, we must do better by implementing (i) targeted intervention for students who have weak literacy and numeracy skills and (ii) school wide reforms that are designed to enhance the teaching and learning environment.

The Petitions Still Alive

The petitions filed by Benjamin Exeter and Lauron Baptiste challenging the election returns in
the constituencies of Central Leeward and North Windward, respectively, are set for trial on
February 11, 2019. Despite the change of judge in the matter, we expect that the new date
February 11, 2019 will finally be the start date for the trial.
This matter concerns all of us. It is not just a Ben Exeter matter or a Lauron Baptise matter. It is
not just a Dr. Friday matter or an NDP matter. It is a Vincentian matter, perhaps even a
Caribbean matter! With all the delay we have had, and the apparent winding down of the clock to
the constitutional date for fresh election, many people have been disappointed about the way the
matters have gone. However, we cannot allow the cases to go on without the public knowing
what is happening and taking an interest in seeing them to their proper conclusion
Our electoral process must be free and fair and must be seen to be so by the people who rely on it
to elect their government. The petition is necessary part of maintaining that system for all of us.

On the legalisation and decriminalisation of Marijuana

On the legalisation and decriminalisation of Marijuana: The General Position of the NDP

The discussion on marijuana has heightened within the last several months and is getting much
needed national attention. The government in its effort to set conditions to enable the
establishment of medical cannabis/marijuana industry has brought three bills before the
parliament to set the legal basis for this industry. The bills before the parliament are: (1) Medical
Cannabis Industry Bill; (2) The Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purposes Bill and (3)
Cannabis Cultivation Amnesty Bill. The advancement in science and technology has exposed
many myths and falsehoods surrounding cannabis/marijuana. The discussion on the way forward
is hindered by varying views rooted in baseless and unfounded statements regarding marijuana
and its usage. Every day the world is rapidly opening up to the understanding that marijuana, a
herb, it is not a narcotic but a plant with many benefits for mankind.

The NDP is fully in tune with the developments taking place worldwide and is cognisant of the
history of the region and here at home with regards to the usage of marijuana as medicine and for
recreation. The compelling arguments in support of marijuana as a major source of much needed
income has motivated the government to set up a full scale marijuana industry with the intention
of making tons of money. As a party, we believe that any attempt to create a full scale marijuana
industry must bring major benefits to local farmers, especially the traditional marijuana farmers
who for decades have sacrificed a lot to keep “vincy weed” a viable commodity. However, we in
the New Democratic Party (NDP) have come to the conclusion that the approach by the ULP
administration to bring these bills in their present form does very little to change the status of the
present marijuana growers and users in St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

The cultivation of marijuana is one aspect of the cannabis industry with which Vincentians have
long and valuable experience. Most cultivation of marijuana/cannabis takes place in the North
Western portion of the country on Crown lands. Almost everyone who plants marijuana is
squatting on Crown lands. The crop is grown miles away in the foothills of La Soufriere
mountain range away from police attention and possible thieves who usually target marijuana as
easy picking if left unattended. The climatic conditions are also ideal for the growing process.
In the proposed cannabis industry bill, in order to be considered for a license to cultivate
marijuana an applicant must show some form of control of the land where the marijuana will be
planted. A marijuana famer has to show ownership or leasehold or a document of some sort that
will indicate that he has land legal access to the land. The bills also make provision to prohibit
planting of marijuana above certain contours so as to protect the forest reserve. In essence, after
the bills are passed marijuana farmers will not be permitted to plant where most of the marijuana
is being planted now. The NDP is of the view that this is a serious issue that needs urgent
attention. The land on which medical marijuana is to be planted is a matter of major concern that
must be addressed.

The empowerment of the local farmers, especially the ‘traditional farmers’ is not promoted by
the Bills. This is undermined by the draft bills. There are no provisions being made for them to
be given any financial resources in this new medical marijuana regime. Notably, the proposed
law does not provide for a co-operative or similar entity that will cater for the hundreds of small
“traditional’ farmers involved in marijuana cultivation. The traditional farmers are left on their own to face

investors in terms of pricing and marketing. Each of them must negotiate price,
quality and other terms of contracts essentially on his own. The pending bills have set out the
way the industry will be set up and managed. It is evident that a lot of financial resources will be
needed for farmers to be involved in the new industry. The present marijuana farmers do not
have the means to compete, especially if left on their own without government making resources
available to them to get started. It is, therefore, correct to suggest that the present bill will not
benefit traditional farmers and will in fact marginalised the pioneers who have been the vanguard
of the marijuana industry for many years. Partnerships between traditional farmers and
investors, local or foreign, should be encouraged and every effort should be made by
Government to ensure that traditional farmers are not put at a disadvantage or short changed.
The bills in their present form speak very little in terms of law reform. At the end of the day a
person smoking a “spliff” can be locked up. The farmer caught growing marijuana without a
license will still be committing a crime. Also, anyone caught transporting marijuana will still be
a crime. The bills do not in any way address these concerns. Every effort must be made to
introduce law reform that will allow marijuana related arrests, convictions and imprisonment to
be removed. These are some of the major concerns that the New Democratic Party has with these
bills and as a result the party sees the need to seriously address the marijuana issue in this
context.

The idea of putting measures in place to enable the setting up of a Medical Marijuana Industry
is not an original one in the Caribbean content and therefore it would be sensible to learn from
the Jamaican experience. Jamaica, in drafting its legislation took note of the country’s history
with cannabis. In Jamaica, the parliament was very much aware that it may not have been a
good idea to pursue a strict medical industry and ignore recreational use, which had deep roots
among the people. In this respect, the Government of Jamaica allowed persons to have up to two
ounces of marijuana for personal /recreational use. (to be Cont’d)

NDP Speaks on LIAT

What does Keith Mitchell “…just doesn’t get”?
NDP responds to Gonsalves’ statement to Dr Keith Mitchell on LIAT
We feel compelled to comment on the division in CARICOM that has once more resurfaced over LIAT. The differences emerged over statements made by Dr Keith Mitchell, host of the 38th Summit of Caribbean Community leaders, about the regional airline LIAT and Prime Minister of SVG, Dr Gonsalves, who is chairman of the shareholder’s governments. Dr Gonsalves was critical of Mitchell’s statement on LIAT, which he regarded as unfortunate and claims that Dr Mitchell “just doesn’t get it.”
But what really does Dr Mitchell “just doesn’t get”?
Dr Mitchell asked “how could LIAT thrive when, for example, a few months ago, literally overnight, LIAT cancelled one of its most lucrative routes to and from Grenada, without any consultation with the citizens or leadership of Grenada?…And it was based on politics. Colleagues, we have to do better as a region”. Prime Minister Mitchell might have been taking the opportunity to express his dissatisfaction with the cancellation of what is considered one of the more lucrative routes in and out of Grenada but what he has done is to give voice to the public’s concerns about LIAT being politically driven and about high cost of travel, with government taxes being to a large extent responsible for this.
Is Dr Mitchell the first person to speak out against “POLITICAL INTERFERENCE” in LIAT. James “Jim” Lynch, a Civil Aviation Consultant, said that the problems with the carrier emanate almost solely from politics and the long-term solution is to remove the politics.
Just last year Prime Minister Allan Chastanet of St Lucia said the same thing. So, what really does Prime Minister Dr Mitchell “just doesn’t get”? Chastanet went as far as saying that “there is too much political meddling in the regional airline,” and that “it was time that the shareholder governments took their hands off the carrier and allow it to operate on a strictly commercial basis.” Does Gonsalves get it?
Former president of the Barbados Bankers Association Horace Cobham (who himself had raised money to save LIAT from death) spoke of the POLITICAL MEDDLING. SO WHAT REALLY DOES Dr Mitchell “just doesn’t get?”
If not for political reasons, why would one cancel flights to what was considered one of its most lucrative routes?
If not politics, what could be the driving force behind the high cost of LIAT airfares?
If not political meddling what caused the taking away from a scheduled route to land LIAT and ULP acolytes at the then unfinished Argyle airport during the last election campaign of 2015? We all heard Gonsalves boast that if the opposition “humbug me, I will land a LIAT?” If such an act wasn’t a political decision, what was it?
If not POLITICS what could have given rise to the call to make LIAT an essential service?
The real question is, does Gonsalves “get it.” Does he get that it is not only Grenada that has said that it is not going to pump more money into LIAT until things changed? Does he “get” that he made those very statements last year when he said that he isn’t going to put one more red cent in LIAT if things don’t improve? Has Gonsalves gotten it that St Kitts also said that they aren’t going to invest in LIAT?
But what is it that Dr Mitchell “just doesn’t get” really? Is Gonsalves the only person endowed with a brain thus enabling him and him alone to “get it”? One remembers too well when he was asked by a seasoned Journalist about LIAT being a business, he on more than one occasion told the Journalist that she doesn’t know or that she doesn’t understand. Is LIAT a business?. So I guess she doesn’t get it either.
What does all of this really say about Gonsalves – The fact that he “doesn’t get” that LIAT needs to be privatised. The fact that he cannot recognize that LIAT is failing under his leadership. Gonsalves in responding to Dr Mitchell, claimed that in 2001 SVG was the only government to respond to LIAT 40 million rights issue to get capital. His own statement is a clear demonstration that he “just doesn’t get it.” It was a drain on our country’s poor economy to preserve a LIAT monopoly beset by many problems that money just can’t solve. LIAT needs to look at privatisation.
This has become more evident since the start of operations by CAL and more recently the introduction of Trans Island Airways. These moves will bring more pressure on LIAT and the road ahead with the present arrangements point to more trouble for the company, especially since in our case it means breaking a monopoly enjoyed by LIAT.
We had, in a statement made on LIAT’s sixtieth anniversary pointed also to mismanagement as can be seen in the manner of the change over from the Dash 8 to the ATR and the failure to implement decisions, like that of relocating the headquarters of LIAT from Antigua to Barbados. The NDP said in 2016 that an NDP government would look carefully at implementing an open sky policy, forcing LIAT to compete and to lift its game if it is to continue to operate and serve the Caribbean public.
It has for long been clear to us that LIAT’s problems are more than monetary. As Dr Gonsalves himself said, LIAT has a lot of flaws and a lot of limitations. So, putting more money by calling on other governments to invest in LIAT which seems to be his approach does not appear to be the way to go. There will, of course, always be differences among CARICOM leaders, but the issue of regional travel and LIAT in particular, has been with us for some time and we need to put our houses in order on this matter. At a time when we strive to reach our goal of full implementation of the CSME and pledge to encourage more regional travel, cost is prohibitive and what is ironic is that it is cheaper and easier to fly out of the region. A 15 minute flight from SVG to St. Lucia, for instance, costs approximately US$ 300.
It is a clear indication that Gonsalves just don’t “get it.” Given the reluctance of other CARICOM leaders to pour money into the airline, it is clear that we can no longer continue the way we are going and need to look at alternatives, one of them being for him to answer the call by many that he relinquish the chairmanship of the Board.
This does not mean that overnight the problems of regional travel will disappear, but we are of the view that this is the best way to go. And perhaps there is some point to Dr Mitchell’s suggestion that governments can then subsidise flights to specific routes or destinations if a decision about privatisation is made.
The energy spent on trying to bring on board other governments to be part of the share-holding group should be spent trying to find other creative ways of addressing the LIAT issue. The preservation of the existing arrangement is doomed to continued failure and will remain a strain on our economies.
The issue of LIAT deserves to be in the public arena and politicians in the countries that are shareholders of LIAT need to pay more attention to public views on this matter. By voicing his disagreement publicly, Dr Mitchell might have done a good to the Caribbean public by, making it a talking point.

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© 2020, New Democratic Party, St. Vincent
Public Relations Officer Lavern King