On November 23, 2021, the founding father of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Sir James Mitchell, departed this life. One year after, his NDP family and the rest of the nation reminisce of his immense contribution to the political, social and economic development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The visionary leader founded the NDP on December 3, 1975. When Sir James Mitchell retired from elective politics, the Honourable Arnhim Eustace was elected President of the NDP. Today, the party is led by Honourable Dr. Godwin Friday. The mission of the party is to strengthen democratic values in the country in a manner that is professional, incorruptible, internally democratic and efficient.
In 1979, the NDP contested the general elections. The public awarded the NDP with two seats in the then thirteen seat parliament. Five years later, the NDP romped home with nine of the thirteen seats, making Sir James Mitchell this country’s second Prime Minister. For four consecutive terms, the NDP succeeded at the polls: winning 9-4 in 1984; 15-0 in 1989; 12-3 in 1994; and 8-7 in 1998. Through the ‘Road Block Revolution’ in 2000, the NDP was forced to call early general elections in 2001 which the party lost. So far, the NDP has been the first and only political party in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to have won all the seats in a general election.
Throughout his long political career, Sir James remained committed to regional integration and unity. The constitution of his beloved NDP has as one of its objects, the pursuit of regional unity. He collaborated with other Caribbean leaders over the decades defining what we must aim for and negotiating what was possible. His experience in regionalism and his understanding of the politics in each country made him invaluable as an advisor to political leaders in and out of government throughout the Caribbean.
Sir James Mitchell transformed St. Vincent and the Grenadines through his innovative policies. The development of the tourism industry was one of the major pillars of economic development for St. Vincent and the Grenadines spearheaded by Sir James Mitchell and the NDP. Tourism is now the main foreign exchange earner in the country. But, we have not seen the rapid expansion of the industry as envisaged by Sir James, under this government.
The land reform program was said to be the flag ship of Sir James Mitchell and the NDP. When the NDP embarked upon the land reform program which placed lands into the hands of the landless, our economy boomed. Agriculture was booming and unemployment was at its lowest. The poor and the working class were decreased significantly and a vibrant middle class was developed. Vincentians built their own homes and enjoyed a decent standard of living.
Sir James Mitchell and the NDP worked diligently to build a strong foundation for the development of education. There were innovations in all areas of the education system. As regards post-secondary level, the education policy document developed by the NDP, emphatically stated, “Government will establish an integrated, multidisciplinary, autonomous, tertiary level institution”. The signing of an agreement with the European Union Fund, for the construction of a tertiary level multidisciplinary institution produced the first fruits in 1995 with the opening of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College. This was the beginning of the integrated multidisciplinary, autonomous, tertiary level institution which the NDP government had declared would be the bringing together under one umbrella management of the post-secondary academics training, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Technical College, the Teachers’ College and the School of Nursing.
Early in the life of the NDP government, it was recognized the area of Technical Vocational Education (TEC/VOC) cried out for attention. However, the horrendous price tag of the physical requirements of machinery and equipment showed clearly that it was necessary to decentralize any such facility. It made sound practical and economic sense, and so the idea of Multi-purpose Centres was conceived. The first of these was at Georgetown.
Next, was the construction of another wing at the Technical College, Arnos Vale, to broaden its scope and range of offering; thus making it the next major centre and the Colonaire Multi-purpose Centre was developed. The windward side had been broadly catered for, and attention had to be turned to the Leeward side. A comprehensive Technical Vocational Centre was built and opened at Campden Park, with the full knowledge that it would complement the Campden Park Secondary School, as was the case at Georgetown.
Other achievements: maternity leave for female teachers; the recognition of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union and the signing of the first Collective Agreement with the SVGTU; the establishment of the School Feeding Program; the decentralizing of the Common Entrance; all students of common entrance age were allowed to write the exam; introduction of the School Radio Broadcast and the establishment of the Annual Science Fair.
Also, paying of the Economic Cost for all students studying at the University of the West Indies(UWI); increase the number of Island Scholarships; establishment of the Book Loan Scheme; the introduction of the Student Loan program; established the schools computer program and computer labs; the STATVEC project to enhance Technical and Vocational Education came on stream; seeking scholarships for students to study at universities other than the UWI; establishment of the Curriculum Development Unit; significant increase in teachers’ salaries; the introduction of Professional Development Week; the passing of the Education Act of 1992 replacing that of 1937 and the establishment of the Community College. Sir James Mitchell’s record in education is an enviable one which the NDP can be justly proud of.
As Dr. Friday said in his tribute last year, “All of us, who knew him and benefitted from his work, have a duty to proclaim his achievements and preserve his legacy.”