May 4, 2007
Any port for a storm?


THE ONGOING BITTER political rivalry between the nation’s two parliamentary forces, the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) and the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), is being played out on yet another front. For almost a decade now these parties have confronted each other, exchanging parliamentary sides in the process, but using issues of national importance to press home their claims.{{more}}

The latest confrontation is over the implementation of a $1.00 user fee for persons traveling to the Grenadines from the Grenadines Wharf. There has been much public comment on this and indeed there would seem to be some issues worthy of concern, seized upon by the Opposition in a demonstration at the wharf last week. It is important however to be able to separate the chaff from the wheat, to use a proverbial term.

First, no one in sound mind would say that a $1.00 user fee for the use of the facilities provided is an unreasonable or unburdenable one. To therefore reduce this to the ridiculous with cries of “people can’t afford” may be politically attractive but it frankly holds no water. Worse it goes down the road of continuing to encourage persons into the false belief that every service government provides should be free, a trend encouraged over the years by both political parties. It is to resort to playing on what former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell called the “breadfruit mentally” and for which he was so roundly condemned. The irony of the situation is that the critics are now in government while it is Sir James’ party which has taken on the opposition mantle.

Having said that though, it is clear that there are many problems surrounding the implementation of the fee. In the first place, the manner of implementation has resulted in a principle being raised, that of whether citizens should be forced to pay such a fee if they do not wish to use the facilities offered. Since it involves travel to the Grenadines, and hence relations between the government and residents of those islands, the issue is indeed a delicate one. We cannot blind our eyes to historical facts or the fact that the Grenadines is the Achilles heel of national unity.

Has there been sufficient consultation with the people of those islands? Was their participation and involvement sought in a way which would cause the islanders to take ownership and hence feel a sense that “this is for us”? To make matters worse there are complaints about the handling of the issue by the port authority. This is a body which has come under much criticism without seeming to respond to public concerns.

It is as major an error to ignore those concerns about the implementation strategy as to simplify and denigrate the $1.00 user fee. Common sense, not bureaucratic high-handedness nor political opportunism should prevail.