St. Vincent and the Grenadines celebrated its 42nd year of Independence on Wednesday 27th October. Over the past twenty years, we have experienced a significant decline in the socio-economic development of the country. We have not had a strong economy in all the years the Unity Labour Party (ULP) has been in power. In terms of economic performance, we have been at the bottom when compared to the other OECS countries.
The New Democratic Party (NDP) performed better in government. For the 17 years, the NDP administration carried a recurrent surplus of 5.28% of GDP which allowed for a counterpart contribution for all capital projects. This in turn reduced the amount of borrowing this nation had to undertake. The ULP government has applied a decidedly different approach which at times affects the implementation of projects.
Our productive sectors have declined drastically under the ULP government. For example, we have witnessed the demise of the agricultural sector. Our food imports skyrocketed, thus worsening our balance of trade payments. Our trade balance is the worst it has ever been.
Moreover, many farms that once produced agricultural products are unproductive. There has not been an agricultural census for the 20 years the ULP has been in power. So, they do not know where our farmers are, what they are growing, how they can help them improve their yields or even what land is available.
The fishing industry also suffered under this ULP government. Its complacency after 20 years in power has stopped our fishing industry from growing and creating jobs for our people. They have failed to remove the blacklisting of St. Vincent and the Grenadines from selling fish into the European Union.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been performing poorly in the fisheries sector. This can easily be seen with a comparison to our closest neighbor, Grenada. With an Exclusive Economic Zone (fishing area) that is 32 percent smaller than ours, Grenada exports 69 percent more seafood that St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This demonstrates that there is room for sustainable growth of our fisheries sector; to put more money in the pockets of our fisherfolk and create new long-term jobs.
We need to persevere and rebuild; as proposed in Dr. Friday’s Independence Message. He said, “In the face of a global pandemic, a volcanic eruption, economic decline and poor governance, we are resilient and more determined than ever to overcome. In our crisis, we must persevere and rebuild. This will require a renewal in many aspects of life, including, first and foremost, a renewal of our faith in our Creator. It will also mean a renewed commitment to build a new SVG, with hope for a better future. It will include restoration in our nation, as we strive to restore broken relationships, our broken economy and our damaged businesses and shattered dreams.
We must also seek to restore the less visible but equally important things in our lives: restore justice and equality, restore our humanity, and restore good governance in our country. Further, we must insist that the needs of our people remain front and centre not just at election time as some would have it, but at all times. Political leadership led astray by selfishness and arrogance must give way to the politics of humility and service. It is not too much to expect political leaders to submit themselves to the will and interests of the people, for to do so is the very essence of democracy.”
Rebuilding the Fisheries Sector
We need novel ideas and creative thinking to rebuild. This new approach can only be had from the NDP. The NDP will revitalize the productive sectors and create opportunities for Vincentians to succeed. We will pay special attention to the development of the fisheries sector. We will re-engineer our fishing industry to make it more profitable and more sustainable, by getting a greater share of the fast growing, lucrative global market.
Because of the importance of the fishing industry to the economy to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we stated in our 2020 manifesto that we will create a new Ministry to manage the all-important fisheries sector. In recognition of the fishing industry to our plan to grow the economy, we will create a separate Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Conservation to manage the transformation of the sector in a sustainable way. Our goal is to move rapidly form subsistence fishing to thriving businesses for our fisherfolk.
The NDP will partner with existing local and international experts and stakeholders to develop our fishing sector to produce a sustainable, high quality supply of seafood for both local and external markets.
This will create economic opportunities and well-paying jobs. We will use technology such as fish finders, and online markets to assist fisherfolk in their jobs. The NDP will help to find and keep markets for our seafood and benefit our fisher-folk.
We will revamp the fisheries complex in Owia, which has been neglected by the ULP administration and is not at its full potential. We will look at the European regulatory bodies to lift the ban on our fish products. This will create more opportunity for our fisher-folk through legitimate trade in fish, conch and lobster, and gain access to markets in Martinique, Guadeloupe and other European markets.
Our Development Bank will provide low interest rate financing for fisherfolk. This will help them to get the equipment they need for their businesses.
As part of this, we will create a special regime of incentives for fishing boats and equipment and promote the use of larger boats that can stay at sea longer and be more productive. And, spearhead an overall program to lift the status of the fisheries sector in national development by introducing education awareness in schools and communities.
We must rebuild and re-engineer this vial fishing industry.