In recognizing what he described as the very essential role that the Diaspora plays in the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace says he will expand the role of the country’s overseas missions and consulates if the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) wins the next general elections, constitutionally due next year.
Eustace, who, with NDP Vice President Sen. Major St. Clair Leacock, was on a tour of North America, said, in a town hall meeting in Brooklyn last Saturday night and in an exclusive interview with Caribbean Life that he is “interested in all the missions (and consulates being) substantially changed.
“It’s critical for the missions and consulates to play a more important role for investment in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the NDP president and leader told Caribbean Life, stating that a number of “young, bright civil servants” at home, with advanced degrees, can be more effective overseas in garnering investments.
“Young people at home can be more useful here,” he said. “Each one can bring in at least one business a year. I see a more expansive role for the missions and consulates.
“You have these young people, use them effectively,” the former prime minister urged. “We need some young people here on the ground, encourage them to come, so that they (nationals in the Diaspora) can exploit the resources at home.”
Eustace said the missions and consulates in Canada and Great Britain should be used in similar expansion efforts as those in the United States (New York and Washington, D.C.).
“It think it’s time that the government review its relations with the Diaspora – not simply to provide consular services but (to) getting the Diaspora involved in St. Vincent and the Grenadines – to provide incentives to trade with St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he told the town hall meeting at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn.
“We have loans in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that applies to you, but nobody knows about that,” he added. You can be entitled to tax concessions (for) up to 15 years.
“To the extent (that) the economy grows, you can change the incentive laws,” Eustace continued. “A new NDP administration will provide incentives for that purpose.”
Both Eustace and Leacock also used the occasion to reiterate their deep concern about the state of the economy, claiming that it is in a shambles under the incumbent administration of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
Eustace, an economist by training, noted that the economy did not grow from 2009-11 for the first time in its history, and that there was “very small growth” in 2012 and 2013.
“When you look at the performance of our economy, there’s much to be desired,” he said, adding: “Banana is in trouble.”
The Opposition Leader said “in our best year in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 1992, “EC$111 million in bananas were exported”, compared to EC$15 million in 2012.
“A lot of banana farmers are now on poor relief,” he said, asserting that “it’s a sign of failure”, when the government boosts “the amount of money in poor relief.”
In addition, Eustace told Caribbean Life that “a lot of private sector firms” has been retrenching workers, that several businesses are closing and that the private sector is “in real trouble.”
Eustace said the crime situation has spiraled out of control and is affecting the tourism industry.
“The banana industry ain’t good, and tourism (is) the same,” he said. “The roads (are) in a terrible state.”
Additionally, he said construction of the international airport at Argyle is saddling the economy, stating that while the NDP is not opposed to its construction, the party is concerned about how it is financed.
Eustace said EC$700 million have been spent to date on constructing the airport, with EC$212 million borrowed last year to finance it.
He said, contrary to official statements, the international airport will not open in 2014, stating that it will take at least two more years to be completed.
“We will do what we can to finish it,” he affirmed. “We’re not against the airport.”
In his maiden town hall meeting in New York, Leacock lamented “the problems, the hopelessness, the mess we’re in in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“We’ve lost our way,” he said. “The government needs to get its act together.
“Poverty is all around us,” added the Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, stating that the NDP will put in place an employment policy.
“We, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we’re in a race against time,” Leacock warned. “It’s the job of this party to bring us back and give us this freedom.
Both Leacock and Eustace predicted that the NDP, now holding seven of the 15 seats in Parliament, will win at least four to five more seats in the next general elections.