R. Rose
July 26, 2011

In dis round?

Much has been said about the enormous challenges to economic and social development facing tiny developing countries like ours in the face of the global crisis of capitalism, which simply refuses to go away. The problems in the world’s largest economy, that of the United States of America and in the Eurozone in Europe, further underline the gravity of the situation; for, if such countries are flirting with the idea of defaulting on their debts, what of poor, debt-ridden countries like ours?{{more}}

The saddest aspect of the situation is that, generally, as a people, we do not seem to understand our plight or the gravity of it. That goes right across the board in the Caribbean to include regional governments as well, and is reflected in the lack of urgency and focus in our responses. One only has to look at the pronouncements of regional leaders when they meet and compare them with their day-to-day actions in order to get the picture.

Among the latest set of challenges to Caribbean development are those currently confronting the tourism industry, considered the flagship of economic development in the region. As we have experienced time and again with other sectors, every time we pin our hopes on any single motor to power our thrust forward, fresh obstacles are put in our way. That is now the experience of the cruise ship industry in the southern Caribbean, just as air transport costs have been damaging our prospects in Britain and Europe. It is crystal clear that we need to act as a region to find solutions to these problems but, as the needless row over Red Jet demonstrated, we seem incapable of doing so in a mature manner. The LIAT situation is another example, so I was faintly amused when the CEO of our Tourism Authority recently spoke of the need for cheaper air services in the region in order to boost travel between the islands.

In all of this, one cannot but admire the courage of the Gonsalves administration, in pursuing what is not just a dream, but a modern necessity, that of constructing an international airport at Argyle. If anything, this project is another testimony to the fundamental weaknesses of the regional integration effort. All of our best entreaties have not borne fruit in the throughway via Barbados, and the much-heralded ‘hub’, via Hewanorra in St. Lucia, was scuppered by airline schedules. Do we remember that we had succeeded in obtaining a point of entry there for SVG, but couldn’t get connections unless we travelled to Vigie?

That Argyle project, whatever the initial reservations, or inherent weaknesses, is now a reality. Too much has been invested for us not to succeed, but in order to do so, there must be maximum focus on it. Argyle demands huge resource mobilisation and even diversion of resources away from other national needs as well. In so doing, the nation is called upon to make significant sacrifices. This, however, is not always fully appreciated by our people, for perfectly understandable reasons.

Commendable as the effort is, there has not been, at least in my opinion, enough effort to marshal as broad a range of local support as such a national undertaking requires. Suggestions for some mechanisms to garner tangible people’s participation, either in the form of shares or bonds or any other creative measure, have yet to be implemented and the nastiness and short-sightedness of our local politics have

created a divide around the airport project. In such a climate, where success is measured in party political terms, it is difficult for people to accept sacrifices.

The Government has a major responsibility to try and rectify mistakes of the past. But for many, and not just Opposition supporters, it is difficult to reconcile why, when resources are so scarce and the Argyle airport is National Priority No. 1, the Government persisted in trying to build a cross-country road at the same time, surely diverting scarce resources down the road of over-ambition. It is also hard to fathom why the Government has demonstrated such leniency towards rehiring and recycling of those associated with the ruling party, at the public expense. Similarly, the lack of firmness in dealing with manifestations of petty corruption among senior public officials can only undermine the national effort.

It would be more than useful for the Government to draw on the lessons of history. The ULP’s two predecessor governments (the NDP and SVLP), both lost support rapidly in their last term because they seemed to tolerate and turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of both leadership and supporters. The ULP will have to watch a similar perception growing among the population. If we believe that the Argyle airport is so critical to our development thrust, we cannot afford to be diverted by all kinds of harum-scarum. Our focus must be absolutely clear. We cannot have our Prime Minister taking up more time in a national press conference on some personal problem of his daughter than in explanations on the outcome of the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference, nor can we devote more time to such issues than the critical ones of national development. If Glen Beache displays errors of judgement, and the Government shows insensitivity in his appointment in the first place, we must not be too big to be contrite, and to act accordingly.

Our country is at a critical stage. We can afford no such luxuries as condoning wrong-doing nor taking our eyes ‘off the ball’. Otherwise, as calypsonian Abijah has warned us all, “In dis round… all fall down”.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.