(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s National Address Pt. 3)
Reinstate Unvaccinated Teachers, Public Servants
What of the teachers, public servants and police officers who were fired because of the government’s misguided vaccine mandate?
I have called for their reinstatement. Prime Minister Gonsalves recently announced that teachers would have to re-apply to get their jobs back. So, there is no guarantee of them getting their jobs back. The government might pick and choose who to ‘rehire’. Further, rehired workers would have to start over, with no guarantee of getting their benefits or long service awards. To tell teachers that they must reapply for their jobs back is disrespectful to them, for they have served long and selflessly and will continue to devote their lives to helping our children.
The punitive measures against unvaccinated teachers and health care workers must stop. All over the world, governments, businesses, and other organizations have rejected covid-19 vaccine mandates, and have earnestly begun the process of learning to live with the disease, which will be with us for a very long time, perhaps forever.
The Gonsalves government mishandled the COVID crisis from the beginning and continue to do so. They are out of touch with the concerns of the people because they have been isolated in a bubble for far too long, shielded from the everyday concerns of the people.
Note, the recent embarrassing episode in which a memo from the Ministry of Health, signed by the Permanent Secretary, indicated that health workers would have to take a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot every five months only for the Minister to deny it the following day saying that there was a transcription error and no such decision had been taken by the government. How could this be the result of a transcription error? Was the Cabinet meeting conducted in French or another foreign language? Do you believe that explanation? I don’t! This is more bungling by the government and a clear failure of governance in this important public health matter.
Fix Homes in the North
Further, too many people in the North of the country whose homes were damaged by the volcano still don’t have a roof over their heads. Their homes have not been repaired though the government got money to do it. It is long overdue. They must not be kept waiting any longer. NEMO and BRAGSA please fix the people’s homes and help the people, who have suffered so much for so long, to return to their normal lives. Forget about political partisanship. We are One People! Give help according to need. That is the only valid basis for distributing governmental resources.
The surest way to improve our standard of living is to grow our economy and provide employment for our people. That is why we support efforts to revive the troubled Buccament Bay hotel project. However, despite extravagant promises from the government about jobs for us, it appears that foreign workers, mainly from the Dominican Republic—hold most of the jobs.
So, what happen to Vincentians; we don’t need jobs? We have a serious unemployment problem in the country. Does the government not know this? Instead of talking about who will succeed him, Prime Minister Gonsalves should address this situation and give the assurance that our people have priority for available jobs at the project.
Plan for Affordable Cost of Living
Across the OECS and the wider Caribbean, governments have cut fuel taxes, reduced import charges, controlled the prices of basic goods, increased direct supports to those most in need and helped with utility bills. Wherever I go in the country, I hear the cry from ordinary people that they need help. “Why is the government not helping me with the high cost of living?” “Do they even have a plan to deal with this problem?”
Day after day, it becomes more difficult to make ends meet. I know of your struggle to pay light bills, to put food on the table, and to buy shoes, clothes, books to send your children back to school in September. A few days of road work might help a bit but can’t cover most of the bills. More relief is needed.
We in the NDP have a plan to immediately help to ease the effects of rising cost of living and ensure that we protect families. We urge the following:
Reduce VAT from 16% to 13% and ensure that the savings are passed on to ordinary consumers. This will help everyone across the board;
Increase the number of zero-rated VAT items. This will reduce grocery bills for everyone
Immediately repeal the Customs Service Charge increase to reduce import costs;
Increase support for lower income families by expanding existing support programs and ensure that the support is distributed based on need and not by political favour;
Provide import duty concessions for the transportation industry, which is to say minivans, buses, and taxis, and
End the unlimited increase in the VINLEC bill by putting a cap on the fuel surcharge and improve efficiency.
My dear people, we can have a bright future. I want our young people to be able to remain here and have a good life, with employment, decent health care, safe communities and with optimism about our country’s future.
How we get there is a conversation truly worth having. So, we will talk again over the coming weeks as I continue to show how we intend to reach our goal of improving the political and economic conditions in our country.
I believe in our country. And, I know we can do better. Working together we will meet the present challenges and we will embark on the path to a bright future.