Good Governance – Let have an Honest Conversation
St Vincent and the Grenadines is a Sovereign State (independence 1979) and a relatively small island located in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean with a population of “102,918 “(CIA, World Fact Book, July, 2014). In addition, St Vincent and the Grenadines GDP sits at $736 million (Official Exchange Rate) on the other hand, GDP Purchasing Power Parity sits at $1.184 billion. What does this mean? Economy has always been employed as a “measuring stick” to determine a country’s strength, progress and how well they are doing. To stress the point, economy have been used since the Roman and British times to determine “Superpower” and today it is still employed as such. For instance, we hear the constant debate about China’s rise to “Global Superpower” status in regard to its “economic power” match up to the United States.
Now, St Vincent and the Grenadines is no “Superpower”, but, we’ve noticed much progress since the inception of the Unity Labor Party (ULP) Government. For instance, St Vincent and the Grenadines GDP per Capita currently sits at $10,500 an increase from $3,076.29 in 1999. What this simply means is that, the average person’s income today is Three (3x) times the amount it was prior to the ULP taking office in 2001.
Often times, any discussions regarding the state of a country’s economy almost always results in a debate about the country’s poverty/indigent poor levels and how the “average person” hasn’t felt it in his/her pockets.
Digression; According to The World Bank; extreme poverty is defined as average daily consumption of $1.25 (USD) or less and means living on the edge of subsistence. Today, extreme poverty remains a thorn that refuses to capitulate to the behest of solutions made by loquacious politicians, NGOs and other “actors” of the like to completely eradicate it once for all. Albeit, we have witnessed some accomplishments made thus far to eradicate poverty once and for all. For instance, the MDG 2015 (Millennium Development Goals) have reported that; “the global poverty rate sits at $1.25 (USD) a day fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate. Also, 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990. However, at the global level 1.2 billion people are still living in extreme poverty (UNMDG2015, 2014).
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, poverty eradication remains a top priority for the ULP government. According to reports made by Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) in collaboration with World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2012 stated that; 30.2% of the population in St Vincent and the Grenadines was poor, a decrease from 37.5% in 1996. The reports also found a marked decrease in the proportion of indigent poor which fell from 25.7% in 1996 to 2.9% in 2008.
Thus, the statistical reports as it relates to poverty/indigent, highlights that St Vincent and the Grenadines is not immune to the disease known as “poverty”. Also to point out, that in the reports there are no explicit labelling as “extreme poverty”, but, the indigent poor in St Vincent and the Grenadines were/and are living on the “edge of subsistence” (Characteristics of “extreme Poverty). Moreover, a survey done by Kairi Consultant Limited in 2007/2008, estimated that the “indigent poor” representing in dollars ($) to be EC$2446 ($905.92 USD) per adult per annum or EC$6.70 ($2.74 USD) per adult per day. Also, the dollar ($) figures establishes the minimum amount required to maintain good bodily health and affordability of basic food just for survival. Hence, during the NDP Government the indigent poor in St Vincent & the Grenadines who were living on the “edge of subsistence” sat at 25.7% (1996). Now, under the ULP Government the indigent poor sits at 2.9% as of 2008 – such a huge decrease is a “Big F**k*** Deal” in the words of the United States Vice President Joe Biden.
Nonetheless, poverty remains a social issue in St Vincent and the Grenadines like every other country in the World. For example, in the United States of America; 16% of the population live in poverty, including almost 20% of children (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). Let’s take a more relative example, St Lucia poverty rate sits at 45% coupled with the highest rate of indigent poor (St Lucia Project, 2013).
Thus, the ULP government has realized this and took several approaches to eradicate poverty and reduce indigent poor since they came into office. For instance, the “Housing Revolution”, Education Revolution act (2005) and the Basic Needs Trust Fund Programme (BNTF); just to name a few. The “Housing Resolution” is a programme that has brought untold benefits to the lives of many Vincentians who are the beneficiaries. First there was the 100% mortgage programme at the then National Commercial Bank, a programme that the leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, said was not workable. However, a number of civil servants, including teachers, police officers and nurses, took advantage of this development, and now have their own homes.
Over the years, the ULP administration has implemented the “middle income housing” policy, the “low income housing” policy, and not to be undone, the “no income housing” policy. For instance, the “No Income” housing project was designed to address the shelter needs of those Vincentians whose monthly income were $700.00 EC or less ($259.25USD) per month and are unable to access credit from financial institutions to construct or renovate their homes. However, the program was made possible by a $9 million grant from the government of Venezuela (Ministry of Housing, SVG, 2014). In addition, many people today have received keys to their new homes and especially those who have lost their homes ensued by recent events of “Climate Shocks”.
On the other hand, the “Education Revolution” was aimed at “eliminating poverty, improving living standards, helping young men and women find employment, fighting drug trafficking and abuse” (Dr Ralph Gonsalves, 2007). For instance, the 2005 universal access to secondary education in St Vincent and the Grenadines were the corollary of the “education revolution act of 2005. In addition, under the “Education Revolution” we’ve noticed a lot of students were able to attend top universities abroad amidst they were able to access funding through the “Disadvantage Student Loan program”. So in other words, prior to the said program persons could not have accessed student loans unless you had some form of “collateral” (Land, assets, House, Business etc.). Today, many people can now access student loans envisage obtaining a higher education and pursuing their dreams with their “Wings unclipped”. Especially, those of the population that don’t have the means (collateral) to be approved for funding. Today many “lower income” earners have been lifted out of poverty/indigence ensued by the ability to access funding to attained a higher education and many have been able to put their children through University ensued by the “Disadvantage Student Loan”.
Furthermore, the Basic Need Trust Fund Programme (BNTF) is a Caribbean Development Bank flagship programme aim at reducing poverty across the Caribbean, but, has operated in St Vincent and the Grenadines since 1979. However, on June, 3, 2013 the ULP Government in collaboration with Caribbean Development Bank launched a $4.7 million US dollar Project for poverty alleviation in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
In closing, today poverty (extreme, indigent) remains a “thorn” to both developed and developing countries and there are no easy fix/solutions to see its complete eradication. However, the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines (ULP) and by extension the benevolence of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves have created policies and measures that are more proactive and pragmatic in eradicating poverty in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Hence, the policies and measures put in place thus far have been successful in reducing the level of poverty/indigent from 1996 to 2008 (25.7% to 2.9%).
Important to note; Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves have even received an award of recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 for his work in several areas, but, especially in the area of helping the poor. Thus, the ULP government remains highly committed to eradicating poverty/indigent in its totality once and for all.
#ULP2015 – Emmanuel Quashie