December 10, 2004
The great devide

For a long time now it has been said of politics in St. Vincent and the Grenadines – most of the rest of the Caribbean in fact – that there are no fundamental differences between the various political parties which contend for political power. It may well be that this year’s debate on the 2005 Budget has given the lie to this perception. {{more}}We say so because, in addition to the usual disagreements and cut-and-thrust over the Budget, what appears to be emerging from the Parliament of our nation, are two distinctly different, and conflicting, approaches to national development.

On the one hand there is Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and his by-now-familiar enunciation of what he describes as a “counter cyclical fiscal policy.” For the ordinary Vincentian this fancy concept seems to mean in practical terms – “the state taking bold initiatives to inject growth in the economy and facilitate investment, production and productivity; (ii) attempts to cushion the shock of external factors particularly those arising from a less friendly, liberalised international environment by easing the burden on the working people (a “gentler, caring society?”); (iii) forging a national consensus with non state actors to arrive at a common platform for action on poverty reduction and economic and social development.

On the other hand, there is the voice of what may best be described as “economy orthodoxy” as personified by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace. Taking fiscal responsibility as his cue, Mr. Eustace carries the message of caution, accusing the Prime Minister of fiscal recklessness and charging that the government’s policies may very well jeopardize the fiscal and economic future of our country. For him clearly, the “counter-cyclical policy,” at least as practised by the Gonsalves government, spells danger and courts disaster.

The Opposition Leader’s words of caution and need for fiscal discipline cannot be taken lightly to be fair. Whatever the texture or shade of a government it is a core principle. Ironically it is a principle emphasized over and again by the Prime Minister himself, many times in the Budget address itself, so the argument is not so much around the principle but what are the policies that best ensure such sound management of our country’s affairs.

In the process what is emerging more loudly is a philosophical and ideological polarisation in the House of Assembly. Nominally where international affiliation is concerned the ULP and the NDP are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The ULP has chosen to ally itself with the Socialist International, though many might question the “socialist” credentials of many leading members in that grouping.

The NDP is on the bandwagon of the right-wing International Democratic Union headed by the American Republican Party.

The debate and conflict over economic policies, social configuration and political strategies are at last providing the basis for deep, thorough public debate, shed of the frivolities and pettiness and may be the demarcation line giving us all a genuine choice, and we must insist, real involvement and participation in choosing our path of development. We must seize the opportunity and deepen the debate.