Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Searchlight Editorial

End of year, end of decade

December 31, 2009 not only marks the end of yet another year, it also signals the end of one of the most momentous decades in human history. For the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, it has been a ten-year period that has witnessed dramatic political events which have had a significant impact on our socio-economic as well as political development, and which will naturally contribute to reshaping our future in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

The post-20th century began with SVG in social and political turmoil. Like most regimes, the governing New Democratic Party (NDP), then in its record fourth term in office, seemed to have shot its bolt and to have run out of ideas. The country seemed to be adrift with the heavy weight of the Ottley Hall scheme weighing around the country’s collective neck. As the economic squeeze tightened, so did the disconnect between government and the people. This was most dramatically manifested in an ongoing row between public servants and their employer which more and more drew in other sectors of the public. It led to open dispute over increased pay and pension for Parliamentarians, mass demonstrations supported and/or organized by the opposition Unity Labour Party (ULP) and a national crisis. This was resolved only by the Grand Beach Accord in Grenada, the hand-over of power from Sir James Mitchell to Mr. Arnhim Eustace and premature elections in 2001. The rest is now history.

So for almost the entire decade, the Ralph Gonsalves-led ULP has held the reins of power in St Vincent and the Grenadines. There is no doubt that the country has changed much over the past nine years, economically and socially in particular. The revelations in the Poverty Assessment Report and the successes in education and housing attest to the positive strides we have made. In addition, Prime Minister Gonsalves rapidly became one of, if not the leading light, among Caribbean political leaders.

Yet, these developments were not matched in the political field as Dr. Gonsalves and his team were to find out to their chagrin right at the end of the decade. In spite of the early proclamation by P.M. Gonsalves of a “Together Now” policy; national unity has remained as elusive a goal as ever and 2010 meets the nation unable to agree on even as basic a step as a new Constitution to replace the one handed down to us at independence. Political tribalism is as rampant as it was in 2000, fuelled by irresponsible elements, who, rather than uplift and educate, do exactly the opposite.

The result was the debacle which was the November 25 Referendum on the Constitution, undoubtedly, the most important political event of 2009 if not of the entire decade, where St Vincent and the Grenadines is concerned. We now enter 2010 much as we were a decade earlier, politically divided to such an extent that we are detracted from the most critical national tasks of maintaining economic growth and development, eradicating poverty and setting the stage for sustainable economic progress in the 2010 - 2019 period.

The upcoming year is bound to see electoral considerations overshadowing all else as the ULP seeks to recoup lost political fortunes and the NDP strives to turn its successes in the “Vote-No” campaign in the referendum into a “Vote-Yes” for a new government whenever the general elections are called. Let us hope that we do not become all-consumed by the electoral flames so much so that the wider issues requiring urgent attention are neglected. We cannot afford to lose our national focus.