After losing all his earthly wealth, his children, and his own health, while enduring false accusations and disdain from his community, Job continued to hope and trust in the Lord. (Job 27:2–4)
The consensus among many Vincentians, including those who support the opposition New Democratic Party, is that we are in one of the most challenging years in the history of the development of the country.
Never in our history have we experienced both a pandemic and thirty-two explosive volcanic eruptions simultaneously, events that only happen once every century. These two events disrupted the socio-economic fabric of our society since we experienced 20,000 of our family and friends evacuating to evade the devastation wrought by volcanic eruptions and the loss of loved ones to COVID19 and now, because of disruptions in the supply chain and the war in Ukraine, we are experiencing, as all over the world, skyrocketing inflation rate.
The explosive eruptions had a crippling impact across Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, having ejected over 500,000 tonnes of ash, lahars and pyroclastic flow destroying buildings and farms across the northern third of Saint Vincent. Over 770 homes were damaged or destroyed. Preliminary analysis from the United Nations Development Programme estimates loss and damage of $635 million, an astronomical sum.
Meanwhile, the COVID19 pandemic has resulted in the loss of one hundred and fifteen lives of our loved ones and resulted in severe economic slowdown activities across all sectors while affecting the way we socialize with one another. However, while we experience “Job-like” afflictions of the volcanic eruptions and the pandemic, we are currently experiencing the onslaught of heightened inflation. How can a small country like St. Vincent and the Grenadines survive these massive blows to its socio-economy? How has the ULP administration respond to these challenges?
Despite all these “Job-like” afflictions, despite supply chain disruptions, despite the devastation and disruption wrought by the volcanic eruptions and rising inflation, the ULP administration has governed the country through a state of normalcy. This is a combination of the resilience and productivity of our people, and the active policies and strategic interventions by the government.
During the height of the pandemic, the ULP administration implemented a wide range of measures contained in the Recovery & Stimulus Package has directly touched well over 33,000 Vincentians. These include but are not limited to the free distribution of 40,443 “Love Box” food packages, income support to 5000 farmers, 2302 vendors, 340 taxi and tour operators,441 omnibus drivers, 107 cartmen,425 creative professionals, 500 vulnerable persons, duty-free concession on 25,000 barrels, unemployment benefit for 3642 persons through the NIS, and loan moratorium from the banks benefitting 2423 Vincentians.
Additionally, with the explosive eruptions of la Soufriere further disrupting lives and livelihood, the ULP administration stepped in and assisted through a plethora of initiatives geared towards providing shelter, food, and income support. Thankfully, with the assistance of international, local and regional agencies given the influence of “Comrade Ralph” and his government along with the central government’s intervention, the ULP administration has provided a significant amount of support through the delivery of over 100,000 meals, direct one-off income support for all 10,000 farmers and continued income support for farmers and fishers in red and orange zones, accommodating 402 persons with vulnerabilities in hotels and guest homes, payment of cash grants through World Food Programme, cash transfers to 490 school vendors, 91 tourism site vendors and 221 small business owners in the red and orange zones.
Already, persons who moved into their new homes at Orange Hill are joyous with the homes built by the government, while many persons continue to receive income support and this initiative will be expanded to yellow and green zones for vulnerable families. With increasing inflation around us, the ULP government continues to monitor the situation and approach this issue with prudence and enterprise. In this regard, the ULP administration responded swiftly to this challenge by using levers available to the state to help cushion the negative impact on all citizens. In this regard, we have seen the reduction of excise tax on fuel from 18 % to 9%, provision of fuel subsidy for motorists, and zero-rated VAT on VINLEC domestic consumers’ bills once using less than 250-kilowatt units per hour, benefitting over 50% of domestic customers, the distribution of love boxes, the removal of Customs Service Charge on fuel for VINLEC, and LPG gas, the subsidization of fertilizers and flour, payment of 900,000 to arrowroot farmers, provision of bank cards to over 5000 persons under VEEP initiative and the negotiations with Venezuela for cheaper fuel along with the many essential items that are VAT exempted and zero-rated. What Ah Government!
The ULP administration continues to manage the country well despite the many challenges. We have seen over $55 million in direct humanitarian and social protection support to those most impacted by the Pandemic and the volcano and an additional $20 million in volcano-related support, that was delivered directly from NGOs to vulnerable persons. The ULP remains the party for the poor and working class, doing all that it can to cushion the many negative effects caused not by the ULP administration but continues to be creative in providing many forms of support while the Opposition seeks to create confusion and mayhem and has no idea how to deal with these challenges much less in managing a country. As Former Attorney General Mr.Parnel Campbell of blessed memory once said, he slept comfortably at night knowing “Comrade Ralph” and the ULP managing the country in these challenging uncertain times.