The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) took its case to New York Sunday night to form the next government in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, urging nationals to join hands in making the country a better place for all.
In a well-attended town hall meeting at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn, four leading NDP members and candidates for the next general elections — Opposition Leader and NDP President Dr. Goodwin Friday, Vice President, St. Clair “Major” Leacock, and Senator Kay Bacchus-Baptiste and Israel Bruce — appealed to their compatriots to join in their bid to replace the government of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves.
They charged in speeches — punctuated with performances by Vincentian calypsonians, such as Bob MC, Patches Knight, I-Mad, Fabulous T and De Man Age — that the country has gone astray under Gonsalves-led incumbent Unity Labor Party (ULP), accusing it of widespread corruption, lack of economic ideas and unable to address the spiraling crime wave, among other things.
“We are joining hands together for our country, in common cause against crime, poverty and economic hardship, political division and social strife in our homeland, St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Friday in his address, speaking on the theme “One Nation, One People, One SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines).”
“Most of you are my supporters — supporters of the NDP,” he added. “Thanks again for being here. But, I hope as well that we have been able to bring out others, who may not yet be NDP supporters, but are ready to listen and share ideas in a genuine effort to learn from one another, so that we can work effectively together to build a better SVG.
“We can only succeed as a people by believing together, and, even when we have differences, by genuinely working together,” continued Friday, parliamentary representative for the Northern Grenadines. “For too long, Vincentians at home and abroad have been pulled apart by the politics of pull-down and hate. The divide-and-conquer politics practiced by those now in power in SVG can only lead to chaos and hardship.
“Today, to get ahead in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it matters which party card you hold and the color of the shirt you wear — specifically that they are ULP and red. It should not be that way; it does not have to be that way. Truly, that is not our way — not the Vincentian way.”
Friday, therefore, urged nationals to “embrace a better way.”
“We must look out for one another, even when we have political differences,” he said.
Regarding the general economic situation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Friday pointed an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report last December that said that the economic growth in the country has been stagnant since 2009 — at an annual average of 0.2 percent up to 2016, “and the future does not look much brighter.”
He said, according to the IMF figures, that the unemployment rate stands at 25 percent.
“This is worse than it was in 2001, when the ULP came to power,” the opposition leader said. “At that time, it stood at 20.9 percent. Today, the youth (15-24 years) unemployment rate is estimated to be a staggering 46 percent.”
He said the national debt has “gotten much worse.”
In 2001, Friday said the debt-service ratio was below the Eastern Caribbean average.
“Today, it is higher than higher than that average,” he said. “In fact, it is the highest in the Windward Islands and the highest in our country’s history.”
Friday charged that the “massive public spending by this government — without accountability — has imposed an oppressive debt burden on taxpayers, with little benefit to them.
“Our people are paying more taxes every year to pay the growing government debt and are getting less for their sacrifice,” he said. “We have the highest taxes and the lowest wages in the OECS (sub-regional Organization of Eastern Caribbean States).
He said agriculture is “in the worst state it has even been in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” adding that “we do not export any banana to the UK.”
Friday claimed that tourism is struggling, too. In 2006, he said while there were 97,432 stayover visitors, by 2016, the number had declined to 75,395.
“In other words, we had lost over 22,000 of such visitors,” he said. “Instead of increasing the number of people in our hotels and guest houses, we lost over 22,000.”
Even in 2018, after a year of operation of new Argyle International Airport, Friday said the number of stayover visitors is down.
“Despite this poor performance, the ULP government has imposed an $8/room per night tax on all hotels and guesthouses,” he said. “And hear this: the longer you stay the more you pay!”
On top of what he described as the dire economic situation, Friday said crime and violence are rampant in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“It is a crisis in our country,” he said. “Year after year, we break records for the number of homicides taking place in our country – 37 in 2016 and 40 in 2018.
“As at today in 2018, the number is 25,” he added. “It could have been more, as we consider the circumstances of the latest shooting death.”
Friday referred to a shoot-out in Paul Avenue, Kingstown Saturday night in which four people were reportedly shot, with one being fatal.
“Such events are far too common in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said. “Every weekend, we wait to hear news of the latest shooting or other form of killing.
“Weekends have become dangerous times in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said. “Ordinary People are scared. The fear is real.”
“For too long, and far too often, we accept that St. Vincent and the Grenadines cannot lead in the right areas,” Friday said. “We seem to accept that we will not measure up to our Caribbean neighbors in economic growth. We lead in homicides, rape, economic decline.
“Let us turn that around, so that St. Vincent and the Grenadines can be a shining light in the Caribbean and the world – an example not to be ridiculed but to be emulated,” he urged. “I believe we can do it. I want you and the rest of our people to believe it, too; and, as I said at the outset, to work together to get it done.”