May 7, 2004
Selling ourselves back into slavery

Yes, sorry but I once again begin at Foreign Affairs as the following occurrence demonstrates in a real sense the importance of the need for us to pay attention to the issue I seek to address herein. {{more}}
Once while employed there, my permanent secretary, Hugh Phillips, requested that I see, on his behalf, a person who had come with a proposal to the Ministry. Interestingly, Phillips advised that this was a proposal that had some relation to tourism (which I had nothing to do with), but that he felt I should handle the matter as it had to do with foreign relations as well.
It turned out that this was a white foreigner who had a hotel on a Grenadine island and had a proposal for the country to take part in an international expo being held in a European country. Based on his proposal, this expo was to cost the people two million dollars (note I said the people as distinct from the government).
Seeing no tangible returns, I asked my visitor what gains he saw for SVG. He explained that we would get more tourists from the host country. In truth and in fact, the host of the expo was this foreigner’s homeland and the only real aim of the proposal was promotion of my visitor’s hotel through abuse of the public purse. It so inflamed me that this foreigner felt that our treasury was his piggy bank that I forgot all diplomacy and told him flat, that there was no way I could advise the permanent secretary that the government should sponsor this Don Quixote venture. My visitor persisted.
I pointed out that were I to endorse this proposal it would be abdication of my responsibility and betrayal of my PS’s trust. After trying to coerce me into thinking otherwise and failing, my visitor explained that he had discussed this project with the Prime Minister and was advised to bring it to this ministry; he was therefore expecting a positive response.
I then made it clear that even if that were the case, I had no obligation towards him. He reminded me that the PM is boss and I was just a servant. I then said, “But not your servant.” He then retorted that I was speaking like Renwick Rose, a communist who wants to run foreigners out of the country, and whether we liked it or not we were all servants of foreigners and there was nothing we could do to change that. Upon that I announced that the meeting was over and that he should leave immediately. In response he assured me that I was making a big mistake and would be disciplined by the PM. I then got up and said “Go and tell the Prime Minister whatever you will, but I will not be forced by anyone, least of all a foreigner, to endorse this abuse of the people’s treasury.”
He left and I went straight to Mr. Phillips and informed him of what had happened. He was more amused than disturbed or surprised. I further told him it was only a matter of time but my fate was sealed as regards the Public Service. He immediately assured me that I had nothing to worry about, for even if I had to face negative consequences he would stand by me.
It is only fair that I explain here that although I did see this foreigner in the company of various politicians from time to time after our encounter, I was never reproached or even asked about this by the Prime Minister or any other politician in government. I never observed a change in the PM’s behaviour towards me. This is to say that to the best of my knowledge, there was never even the slightest semblance of political victimisation from the then administration as a result of my non-endorsement of the proposal.
I share the above story because there are many lessons there as regards ownership and or control of our resources by foreigners. But more importantly, it indicates how dangerous it is for us to continue to permit this exclusive private management of our very limited public resources by the politically privileged few to the detriment of the mass of Vincentian people. As most are aware, we have sold out practically everything to foreigners; from Mustique to Middle Street – for all intents and purposes these are foreign enclaves where our only roles are to provide dirt cheap labour or spend our hard earned money. Yes, here comes the choir singing, “This is the result of globalisation; we can do nothing but surrender; beggars cannot be choosers.” Interestingly, however, we bought back the Tobago Cays and we bought back the Orange Hill estate.
But these foreign vultures will not rest until we are returned to slavery. So millions disappeared at Ottley Hall and, according to evidence given at the enquiry, Rolla came back for more and could have gotten it too.
The history of our country shows that all national assets that have been sold off or leased out, sometimes practically given away (as the returns we receive are valued at little or nothing, relatively speaking), were disposed of without our people’s consent. In some cases these sales and give-aways have brought many heartaches to our people; Canouan is living testimony. It is not incorrect to say that many times governments have been guilty of prostituting our country, their justification being the misconceived notion that this is for our development. This government promoted and encouraged economic robbery and the disguised modern day slavery of our people must stop. But how do we stop this? What is the role of the new constitution in protecting our patrimony? This we will look at next week.