Over the last 18 months between the pandemic and the explosive eruption of the La Soufriere Volcano, our government has ensured that those impacted are given the necessary support financially and otherwise to assist in their time of need and great challenge. In the passage that follows, Comrade Ralph takes the time to detail to this country some of the measures of our ULP government and outlines plans to continue the work needed to ensure that those Vincentians most impacted can have their lives restored.
Excerpt from the PM’s Independence Day Address
Fellow-Vincentians, our government has ensured that the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalised have been accorded protection and support at the time of COVID and the volcanic eruptions. Last year, multiple millions of dollars were expended in providing income support to farmers, fisherfolk, vendors, mini-bus and taxi operators, workers in the tourism sector, returning sailors from the cruise ships and oil rigs, and other workers, generally, who suffered a loss of income. Much of this has continued this year before the volcanic eruptions. During and after the eruptions, our government has not only taken care of 7,000 persons in 87 volcano shelters; it has fed 15,000 more, has distributed over 60,000 food packages, has supported with cash payouts through the World Food Programme and UNICEF in excess of 4,000 families (some 16,000 persons), and has provided psycho-social support for over 500 especially vulnerable families. These initiatives, in one way or another, are continuing. Less than ten days ago, the government paid out $2.5 million for nearly 6,000 persons engaged in road-cleaning; and last Friday and Monday of this week, $5 million was paid out in income support to approximately 4,000 farmers. These monies are in addition to production-support resources for farmers and fishers. The farmers will be paid another $1,000 each just before Christmas 2021 as income support for the months of November and December. Vendors at tourism sites are also to be paid $300.00 per month for the ensuing 3-month period, October to December 2021. All this is in addition to the usual welfare payments monthly to some 5,000 recipients, including students. Never in this country’s history has there been such extensive and protective social safety nets.
Meanwhile, our government distributed 30,000 tablets to students and teachers at primary and secondary schools and also at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College. This year, 540 tuition scholarships were awarded for students enrolled at universities; economically-disadvantaged student loans for 50-newly-enrolled university students were approved, in addition to the sums granted to the existing numbers of students already at various universities. Forty full-time scholarships were recently awarded to students to pursue undergraduate studies at University of Wales Trinity St. David and 15-post-graduate, on-line scholarships at the same university; this scholarship package at the University of Wales has a value in excess of £4 million, a gift through the instrumentality of His Royal Highness Prince Charles and the University. And when the CAPE and Associate Degree results for 2021 are released, a number no less than the 60 national scholarships, national exhibitions, and grants awarded last year, would be granted this year, provided that the students’ results so command. And so, the initiatives in all areas continue to roll out.
The housing reconstruction and relocation programme in the post-eruption period is already under way. In all, the government will repair over 550 houses in the Red and Orange Zones and relocate 170 homes at sites in Georgetown, Orange Hill, Sandy Bay, and North Leeward. Already the process has commenced on the housing front. And by Christmas 2021, I expect to hand over 49 houses to families relocated from the Bottom Town area to Lowmans Leeward; this latter project costs in excess of $4 million.
Additionally, small entrepreneurs, young and old, through the PRYME programme have been massively assisted in 2020 and 2021. This will continue into 2022; PRYME has made a difference for the better to hundreds of persons. Relief has also been given for electricity, water, and home mortgages to a sizable number of persons. And since May 2020 to October 2021, the relief on over 50,000 barrels has been granted; on November 8, 2021, the usual Christmas barrel concession begins and will end on December 31, 2021. There is no government in the Caribbean which has more protected its people as we have done from the ravages of the pandemic and the blasts of nature. It has all been absolutely remarkable at a time of a resource-squeeze. Even at a time of resource scarcity, my government, with God’s grace, has stretched forth its helping hands, in solidarity.
But, we must take the vaccine in order to get back to a semblance of normalcy in life, living, and production. On October 19, 2021, the Public Health (Public Bodies Special Measures) Rules, No. 28 of 2021, were published in the Official Gazette. By November 19, 2021, a scheduled list of central government employees and some in state entities will be required to take the vaccine as a standard or qualification to work. Let us not have a fight among ourselves on this reasonable and justifiable initiative during the pendency of the raging COVID pandemic.