Thu 10th Aug 2006

The shirt on our backs

Almost a year in to its second term of government, the ULP regime has still failed to layout a clear and coherent economic plan for the SVG economy. The people of SVG are still in the dark about where the country will be in 2 years' time, 5 years' time and beyond and hence hampered from planning a clear path for the future of their children. The economy at the moment seems to be based on two sectors: tourism and agriculture. In a recent report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) it was stated that:

(a) The sharp arrivals in cruise ship passengers that occurred in the aftermath of hurricane Ivan was reversed during 2005 and the number of visitors in this category reached 34,065, some 40.2% below the 57,038 recorded in the corresponding period in 2004.

(b) Banana production contracted sharply during 2005 (by 23.3%), to 17,363 tns from 22,631 tns in 2004. At the same time earnings declined to $8.8 mn in 2005 from $10.7 mn in the previous year.

(c) Total disbursed outstanding public debt grew at an average annual rate of 8.6% between 1999 and 2005 and at the end of December had almost reached the XCD1 bn mark ($365.1 mn). Of greater concern, however, has been the rapid rate of increase over the last two years (16.1% in 2004 and 11.5% in 2005).

This is very worrying for SVG citizens. Both the two sectors the economy is based on are shrinking and government debt is increasing at a 'rapid rate' as stated by the IMF. Furthermore, another IMF report states that 'public sector debt increased substantially to 79 percent of GDP at end-2004' and 'the approved budget for 2005 is likely to lead to a significant deterioration in the fiscal accounts if fully implemented. The budget envisages a large increase in discretionary spending, especially in current expenditure, without a commensurate increase in revenues'. You may feel that you cannot trust the IMF, but the source of their information was the SVG Ministry of Finance and Planning - that's right, the ULP government itself. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

So how does the ULP intend to bring in revenue? It seems that the ULP government's economic plan is to sell off crown lands to gain an income. This is madness for any government. The people of Bequia are right to protest against the sale of lands. They have seen the future and they know that if things continue like this, it will be bleak. The farmers from Buccament were right to protest too. They should not have been moved on so that their lands can be sold to foreigners. The only thing in the world that Vincentians have a right to, is to live and walk freely in SVG. If the ULP regime sells more and more of SVG, then Vincentians really will have nothing. Future generations of Vincentians will be born as foreigners in their own country. Public land once sold is land lost to the people forever. No government 'owns' public lands - they are held in trust for the people. When Governments sell land that is of significance to the people, they are also selling our children's future.

The question Vincentians need to think about is where will it end under a ULP government? Once the land is gone what will be sold next? Are Gonsalves and this ULP government intent on selling off our rights, heritage, culture, people and 'the shirt on our backs' before it steps down and confesses it does not know what it is doing?

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