January 21, 2014

Christmas Eve disaster setting the agenda

Tue Jan 21, 2013

Robert Burns, in his classic 18th century poem “To a Mouse” penned the well-known expression “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men oft go awry…” – the most carefully prepared plans may go wrong.

There can hardly be a more graphic manifestation of this than what transpired here in St Vincent and the Grenadines over the past few weeks.{{more}}

The Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, which were laid in the House of Assembly on December 10, 2013, detailed the programmes on which the government intended to spend an estimated EC$911.6 million.

While presenting the Estimates last month, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr Ralph Gonsalves announced new programmes geared mainly at employment generation, education, support for farmers, export promotion, juvenile justice reform, and road and building reconstruction.

However, with damage from the floods last Christmas estimated at 17 per cent of the country’s GDP or EC$330 million, the Estimates which were approved in December will have to be supplemented.

In his budget address yesterday, Gonsalves said the supplementary estimates, to be presented in a few weeks time, will contain altered and additional provisioning to reflect the very different reality, which is St Vincent and the Grenadines today, compared with less than one month ago.

The Prime Minister reassured that it is unlikely that capital projects for which funding has been specifically sourced and which are about to be implemented will be shelved. However, there will obviously be a reassessment of budgetary priorities, and resources will be diverted from previously approved programmes towards rebuilding essential infrastructure and assisting those who were directly affected to get back on their feet.

So, even as the country rebuilds and residents who were affected by the floods slowly work their way back to normalcy, the effects of the Christmas floods will, immediately, and for a long time, be felt by all residents of our tiny multi-island state.

The very generous assistance we have received, and continue to receive from foreign governments, international agencies and businesses and individuals, both here at home and overseas, are a tremendous help, but will never be enough to meet all the needs which have arisen as a consequence of the floods.

Even after the attention of the world has shifted to the next natural disaster and the relief supplies and funds stop arriving, our existence here, for the foreseeable future, will in many ways be shaped by the agenda set by the Christmas floods. Let’s brace ourselves for the changes and sacrifices we will be called upon to make, and do what we can to lighten each another’s burden in these trying times.