November 23, 2012

Land distribution benefits the entire country

Fri, Nov 23, 2012

These days in St Vincent and the Grenadines, very few actions of the government are viewed without scepticism. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for as a people with ever increasing levels of awareness, exposure and education, in a democratic society, it is our duty to question the actions of the executive, demand answers where there is doubt and hold them accountable.{{more}}

We should be careful though, in our analyses, not to immediately dismiss well-intentioned programmes as simply being partisan political, because of the direct impact they have on human lives. One example of this, is the land distribution programme which took place earlier this week in North Leeward, and which has been described by some as a means of bribing the electorate in that area into voting for the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government.

Such an outlook does no justice either to the true significance of the programme, with some 257 persons being given the opportunity to gain legal entitlement to a total of some 32 acres of land, or to the value of these possessions to the beneficiaries. It is by no means automatic that these beneficiaries will end up supporting the governing ULP, but that is besides the point.

Whatever the intentions of the governments involved, such massive land transfers are to be applauded. It was former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, the founder of the opposition New Democratic Party, who had mooted the idea of a “land-owning democracy” as being central to his philosophy of development. Monday’s handing-over ceremony, one of the largest in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, continued in that vein.

It reinforces the position of our tiny country as being in the forefront in the Caribbean where access to land ownership and housing by the poor are concerned. Though sharing the common history of colonialism, slavery and a plantation economy as most of our neighbours, SVG has taken some of the biggest steps to end these shameful legacies.

That is not to say that land ownership is still not a problem in this country. In spite of greater access to land, either for home ownership or productive purposes, thousands still lack legal possessory title to such lands, particularly women. It is an historical wrong which needs to be addressed on an ongoing basis and it is to the credit of the current administration that practical measures are being taken in this regard.

In addition to the personal significance, there is economic common sense and realism as well. Our country subscribes to the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), among them the eradication of poverty and hunger. Possession of land is an important step in this direction, contributing to the impressive record of reducing the level of indigent poor, or “dirt poor” as we say in local parlance, from 25 per cent to a miniscule 3 per cent over the last decade. In addition, it has the economic effect of turning “dead capital” into live capital, with legal possession entitling the beneficiaries to be able to put that capital to economic use.

Whatever one’s political views, such land transfers can only be of benefit, not just to those directly involved, but to the country as a whole. We heartily congratulate the Government on this latest poverty reduction step and encourage the beneficiaries to make maximum use of the opportunities thus provided.