Two of my father’s most used sayings were "The Lord pays debts without money" and, when referring to business, private finances and personal life, he said, "A little well managed is far better than a lot badly managed." Those two phrases, among many more that he bestowed on me, have remained with me all my life, and since have been proven by me as spot-on advice.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is so badly run it's in financial turmoil and teetering on the edge of financial failure. We have a man in charge who we do not know to which system he is heading us. Are we heading for the communist dustbin; are we gradually backing out of the system that our predecessors embraced, capitalism?
The prime minister Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves has spread himself so thinly through all the positions that he holds that I contend that he is administering far too much for one man. I also notice that he appears to be incapable of delegating some of his power or positions. I think the closest he comes is carting people abroad with him so as he has a home grown audience to play to.
Gonsalves is member of parliament for the constituency of ‘north central windward’; prime minister and minister of finance, minister of economic planning, minister of national security, minister of legal affairs, minister of Grenadines affairs and energy. He is chairman of caricom, chairman of the liat shareholders group; he is president of the ulp. he is everything to everyone. now i suppose you are wondering why i am writing in lower case, that’s because i believe this man has brought our country to such a low point, lower case is more appropriate when dealing with him and his ministries and his other positions. it's a kind of case that he cannot take our country much lower.
Can’t continue with that, it’s too time consuming. Besides being Mr Everything, he travels the world speaking at different functions at universities, the OAS, the United Nations, conferences in Cuba and Venezuela, visiting countries on every continent, Royal wedding in the UK, visits the Pope in Rome, ALBA meetings, writes books and articles whilst travelling and hiding in a Trinidad retreat.
We are a tiny country, we are not the US or the UK, we cannot afford a prime minister who believes he is the great ‘I am’, we do not have a big purse and deep pockets. Because when Gonsalves travels he takes a whole tribe of people with him. I am unsure how many the state pays for to go on some of these trips, and I will not guess because he lashes out and sues if you get it wrong. We don’t even know if he ever pays for a trip out of his own pocket. Don’t laugh, but he was awarded $250,000 against a radio station and commentator because they intimated or said that he took his mother-in-law to Rome at our expense, can you believe that. But one thing we can be sure of Gonsalves and his mode de opéras bouffes are far too expensive for a tiny island state to support.
The only reason that people at home and in the Diaspora support him is because he has promised them an international airport. Even that has brought us into the greatest fiscal mess that any island in the association of tiny minded leaders of tiny islands, has ever experienced.
We were told that other countries, described as ‘a coalition of the willing’ would pay and fund the airport project, when the airport was completed there would be no debt left and there would be no burden on the taxpayer. Free engineering and architectural work by the Cubans. That was untrue; we have paid their wages and salaries, accommodation, etc. for six years.
We were told by Gonsalves, both in and out of parliament, that Venezuela would pay the wages of the Cubans. That turned out to be untrue. We were told that the Venezuelans, besides paying the Cubans wages, would pay for all the equipment, trucks, machines, etc. That turned out to be mostly untrue.
In fact, they sent a batch of plant and machinery several months after the due start date of the airport. All second-hand, painted to look nice, it was transported and driven to Argyle from the docks. The machinery was adorned with red flags and stickers that said we are ULP. School children were given the day off school and made to stand on the route to Argyle waiving red flags, cheering and waiving.
The truth was the machinery was not new, it was not the right choice for the job, nothing was big enough for such massive earthworks, it all broke down after the first few months and now lies in two compounds on the edge of the airport, kind of graveyards for machines and trucks. We have had to buy 82% of all the plant and machinery ourselves.
All during this time the government was selling off land in Bequia, sold through a government owned statutory company called National Properties. The people who bought this land did so to build a holiday home in Bequia. At no time were they told that the land was on the direct flight approach run for the airport and the noise level would blow them out of bed, or at the very least out of their deckchairs.
We borrowed so much money from the state owned NCB bank that we had to sell it to pay off the debts. Money has been borrowed from the people’s NIS, their pension funds and such like, which should never have been touched. The government has borrowed money from everywhere including PetroCaribe, they have borrowed money when we were told others were going to pay.
We were told the Mexicans would supply the cement free, untrue, not a gram; we have had to buy it at full price from elsewhere. We were told Trinidad would supply the tar and bitumen for the black top, untrue we have had to buy it. The Kingstown traders are owed about $50 million and can’t get paid. The land owners at Argyle, about 60 in all, still haven’t been paid for their land, a constitutional and human rights crime. They have lost their livings and lost their land, some have waited six years, sheer robbery.
When Gonsalves took the reins of power in 2001, the country held a debt of $350 million and a healthy banana and agriculture industry that could fund it. Now in 2014 we are one and a half billion in debt and it is rapidly heading for two billion. This is an amount that we cannot ever repay. It will take our children’s, children’s, children’s grand children a hundred years to repay, even if it ever gets repaid. And what doesn’t help, we now have no bananas, no agriculture, no industry, falling tourism numbers and a prime minister who is travelling and spending as if there is no tomorrow. The spin that is put on these matters to attempt to hide the truth is absolutely unbelievable.
It is my opinion that the airport has been built on lies and a bundle of untruths to keep Mr Gonsalves in power. Because the people in the Diaspora just do not know and nor do they want to know the truth. I doubt that their children and grandchildren will continue to visit the homeland, because their homeland will be elsewhere. Only us and our offspring will be lumbered with the payback, just so as today’s Diasporans can have some hope to fly direct to St Vincent. Most of them only come home to make a dodgy appearance at election time.
The next hurdle is how much will it cost us to attempt to operate the airport, because it can never ever make a profit, or even break anywhere near even. Even the wind-studies required before the airport can be considered for licensing, are unfinished and unrendered. There are no commitments by any internationally recognised quality, or even crap airlines to fly into Argyle. Private wind-studies show that there are sometimes fierce side winds that would make the airport unusable to most aircraft for many days, weeks and months of the year.
Of course none of the foregoing will affect PM Gonsalves; he will simply carry on travelling and spending the money that we don’t have.
When I lived in the US, travelling salesmen used to knock on the door and try and sell you almost anything. Just like a travelling salesman, we have a prime minister that travels the world scrounging from countries on our behalf. I am not sure how successful he is, he doesn’t always tell us, but I sometimes wonder if the time he spends and money it costs to travel, are we in front or are we behind. I am sure if he stayed at home and put all that effort into running the country, just a little well managed may have seen us in a far better financial position than we are in today.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, off on a trip we go, with game foot and a walking stick, Hi Ho, Hi Ho.