(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Address at the party’s 42nd Annual Convention)
We must especially speak out when we see things happening that are indefensible. Don’t defend what you know is wrong. But go beyond that; condemn what you know is wrong.
For example, how can Mr. Cornelius John be shot in his leg in his own home and no one is held to account for it? Sexual assault of a 4-year-old girl and got only 4 years incarceration as penalty.
How can the government’s account and the bank’s statement of the overdraft account at BOSVG be unreconciled for so many years, such that between 2010 and 2015, over $95m could not be accounted for, and when we include the Director of Audit’s 2016 report, the amounted unaccounted for increases to a total of over $114 million? How can this happen to our government finances— i.e. our taxpayers’ money—and we stay silent?
Can we be silent when the health care system is crumbling and the most basic things are lacking in our hospitals, and ordinary folks must contend with this deplorable situation while the high and mighty fly out for treatment elsewhere whenever they catch a cold? How can we be silent when the people in the north of the country—sandy bay, Owia etc. — who suffered so much in the volcanic eruptions, returned to their communities eager to rebuild their disrupted lives and still cannot get assistance from the government to fix their damaged homes and businesses? The government boasted in the last budget that they raised $300m to assist in Soufriere recovery. Yet, people wait for relief and, months after returning home, continue to live in damaged homes as though no one cares about them.
Well we care. So, we cannot be silent. And, Senator Shevern John will continue to speak out in this cause, because it is right and just to do so. This is not a time for discreet silence, but a time for standing up and speaking out. Don’t just come to me and say, “Friday this is what you need to talk about”. I would gladly say it for you. But it is much better if you also say it yourself.
Let us make a chorus of our voices standing against injustice, standing against the lack of accountability, standing against poor governance, standing against the rape and abuse of our resources and the environment
North Leeward Quarry Issue
We cannot stand by and be silent when the people of North Leeward are grossly disrespected by the government and by their so-called representative, who failed to consider them worthy of consultation when the government granted lease and license to an overseas company to operate a massive stone quarry in Richmond.
Imagine a project of this magnitude, anticipated to last for thirty years and to change the landscape and land use in the area drastically and the people who are from the area are not included in the discussion. They must find out when the heavy equipment starts to tear through the land they farm destroying productive fruit trees and other crops in their way. And, where is the Environmental Impact Assessment?
How are the people to benefit from this project? Can the benefits outweigh the costs to people’s way of life and the environment? Why is the lease only $12,000 a year—i.e. $1,000/month, not even a house rent for over 58 acres of productive land? This does not sound right and people will not be silenced on it.
I am glad to see that people in North Leeward are standing up and asking for answers themselves. They will persevere until the due respect and consideration is shown to them. We will persevere until full accountability is given for the project.
The Way Ahead
Now, I want to speak a bit about the way forward. I spoke about the perilous economic condition of our country. I presented data from before the pandemic and the volcanic eruptions because the easy excuse of the government for its economic mismanagement is to blame it all of Soufriere and the COVID-19 pandemic. Not so! The problems were there before. And, the recent Budget shows that we are not going anywhere.
The government continues to play games with the people. For example, they are now running full steam ahead tearing the hill apart in Richmond to find rocks to export, yet no one spoke about this project in the recent Budget debate. If it is so important to the country, how could they forget it in the budget debate? Why does it not factor into the revenue to be raised by government in 2022? Is there money to be earned by government and if so will it come through the Consolidated Fund? The budget was built on deliberate deception and empty promises. But I addressed that elsewhere, so will say no more about it here.
Our nation is at a critical juncture. We are marking time with a government that seems to be more interested in their own pet projects and comfort than with the people. I am with the people. Together we can do so much better. But to unleash our true potential would require a change of government.
If after 20 years in office the people are poorer, the national debt is higher, the taxes are higher and unemployment is higher, then we can only reasonably conclude that we have been travelling along the wrong path for all that time. We must not accept as normal, unchangeable, immutable a government that does not listen to the people but instead forces the people to listen to it.
We must not accept as good and proper a government that disrespects people by forcing them to choose between their jobs and their bodies. We must not accept that it is right for a government to disrespect the people of North Leeward and the country by proceeding with a massive quarry project without talking to the people about it, especially those directly affected.