Gonsalves wows NY Vincies
October 1, 2004
Gonsalves wows NY Vincies

by Nelson King

in New York

A high-ranking government delegation, headed by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, last Thursday, September 23, wowed nationals in Brooklyn in an exposé lasting over three hours that focused primarily on the performance of the incumbent Unity Labor Party (ULP) administration over the last three and a half years, and its plans for the future. {{more}}

The delegation, which included Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Louis Straker and Junior Minister in the Ministry of Housing and Transportation Senator Glen Beache, made a strong impression on most nationals at a town hall meeting at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center.

The event was broadcast live on WE FM and NBC radios – the first time that a town hall meeting by government officials in the diaspora was broadcast live to nationals at home.

The government ministers were flanked by members of the diplomatic and consular staff, which included U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth John, U.N. Ambassador Margaret Hughes-Ferrari, Deputy U.N. Ambassador Lenox Daniel, New York Consul General Cosmus Cozier, and Deputy Consul General Cyril “Scorcher” Thomas.

Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves told nationals, in a speech that spanned about an hour and a half, that his relatively young administration – elected to office in March 2001, after 17 consecutive years of New Democratic Party (NDP) reign – “by common consensus, has done extremely well”.

He, however, pointed out: “The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, at home and in the diaspora, must assess us on what we’ve promised.”

Dr. Gonsalves, a political scientist and lawyer, said that those “promises” were either accomplished or well on the way towards being accomplished.

He said that his entire administration is focused on attaining three major campaign planks: poverty alleviation, good governance, and war against corruption.

The former lecturer in government at the University of the West Indies (UWI) said that significant progress has either been made, or is expected to be made shortly, in, among other things, education, economic diversification, infrastructural development, constitutional reform, and public health.

Dr. Gonsalves identified education as his administration’s pre-eminent policy initiative, saying: “I want the people to be trained so that Ralph Gonsalves would become redundant.”

The Vincentian leader said that his goal is the realization of universal secondary education, and that, in this nexus, the World Bank has vowed to partner with his administration.

He said that since taking office, 343 more students had entered secondary schools, more in three years than in the last 10 years of NDP rule.

The Prime Minister said that two new secondary schools will be constructed, before his first term ends in March 2006, in Belair in the West St. George constituency and at Peter’s Hope in Central Leeward.

Dr. Gonsalves also said that a state-of-the-art secondary school was already being constructed in the Southern Grenadines (Union Is.), which would provide housing for teachers from mainland St. Vincent and for students from nearby Canouan and Mayreau.

He also said that his government had expanded enrollment at the community college from 900 to 2,700 students, and that 365 more students had entered nationwide multipurpose centres.

Dr. Gonsalves said that since 2001, 20 more students have been entering the nursing school annually – five times more than in the previous administration.

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“St. Vincent and the Grenadines remains the only country where we pay the nurses to go to school,” he said to applause. “We pay them $800 per month.”

The Vincentian leader said he was very pleased with the number of scholarships students have received for tertiary education under his watch.

He said that 20 more scholarships were granted last year by the administration of President Dr. Fidel Castro in Cuba; and that President Vicente Fox of Mexico has pledged 140 scholarships over five years, noting that 40 more students will be pursuing studies in Mexico in January.

“Mexico gives one country in the world undergraduate scholarships,” Dr. Gonsalves said, “and that country is St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

In addition, he said that Taiwan has promised five university scholarships for the next 5 1/2 years.

“Imagine 25 Vincentians speaking Mandarin Chinese,” he said, adding that he has been holding discussions with the leaders of Brazil and Portugal for Vincentians to study in those countries. Four Vincentians are already in Taiwan on scholarships from that country’s government.

Dr. Gonsalves said the ULP government has also made available up to EC$120,000 in loans for tertiary education for families earning less than EC $10,000 annually.

“The parent of the student does not have to sign,” he said. “Ralph Gonsalves, as Minister of Finance, signs.”

In response to a question by Sherril-Ann Mason-Haywood, an ex-executive member of the National Youth Council (NYC), about the availability of loans for students to pursue university education in the United States, Dr. Gonsalves said that such loans are available. However he did not say how much, from whom, and how they would be accessed.

The Prime Minister however, indicated that it is cheaper to study at the University of the West Indies, noting that Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments contribute to the university’s economic costs.