The views expressed herein are solely those of the writer.
By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox (PhD)
With the ULP closing in on 22 years of managing our affairs, a generation of Vincentians has grown up having experienced only the Gonsalves administration. However, any honest broker knowing the history of SVG’s socio-economic development, must agree that the achievements of his government have been stunning in many fields. Whether it’s infrastructure, education, health, housing, sports, international air transport connections, foreign relations and raising SVG’s prestige globally; our cup all but runneth over. Numbering these successes, the impartial observer must do a lengthy list, even if tallying. This in no way infers ULP flawlessness. Indeed, Gonsalves’ team never claimed to have achieved that which eluded all administrations known to civilization; namely, delivery of perfect governance. But they have in many cases gone beyond Bismarck’s “Politics is the art of the possible,” making assumed “impossible dreams,”realities!
Unbelievable, but Gonsalves is delivering a social revolution, creating a welfare state though we suffer the absence of natural material resources, or a cash-cow service sector. The visible features of this epoch-making transformation include tremendous increases in monthly assistance given to the Poor; free secondary education and a virtually free school feeding programme, the reduction of an inherited 27.5 % extreme poverty to under 3%; home help for the elderly; increasing the threshold of taxable personal income; assistance with books, uniforms, and transport for needed students; free materials for housing construction and building no-income homes. The list goes on as he hasn’t stopped.
Early in 2020, Covid arrived in SVG followed by 32 volcanic eruptions and hurricane Lisa. Gonsalves responded with Love Boxes; evacuated, housed and fed daily 20% of the population for months; built and repaired homes; provided income support to farmers and fishers….. Now that the greed of global corporate capitalism threatens the very survival of many, Gonsalves rushes to the rescue, giving the most-challenged, free money, so to speak. SVG is de facto a welfare state, with a safety net that protects the Poor from destitution. This is truly marvellous! And, while I stoutly oppose the dependency syndrome and the dangerous entitlement attitude the parasitic now displays, I fully support Gonsalves’ actions as absolutely necessary to ensure thousands don’t suffer. Yet, I must ask: is this sustainable? Can we afford this going forward? The ULP will dismiss this genuine concern as unfounded, for truth is alien to politics. But this is all done through central government spending, and the national debt is way over a billion and swelling.
Yes, the important thing about debt in this sense is the ability to repay. And truth is, our welfare state is not financed purely by borrowing. Further, thanks to assistance from close friends Taiwan, Venezuela and Cuba in major capital works, more national funds are channelled to welfare. But with the government endorsing socialism for the rich, constantly decreasing corporate tax; with many demanding tax wavers of all sorts while being negligent as regards their tax obligations; debt repayment and the burden of financing the functioning of the state will fall heavily on the Poor. The 16% vat which dampens the positive effects of the welfare state, placing the administration in a catch 22; giving with the right hand but taking with the left, is proof enough.
Support from our close friends is tenuous for various reasons. Remember, Trinidad counted among these, but the grave claimed Manning, and with him Port of Spain’s generosity. Beijing could flex its muscles anytime, then whither Taipei’s philanthropy? Imperialists are working overtime nonstop to topple the socialist governments in Caracas and Havana. Be sure, we stand to lose should they succeed! Of great significance in all this is the fact that Gonsalves is an experienced and respected leader, skilled at using diplomacy and foreign relations in support of our economic quest. But he must declare his innings one day. Is anyone in his team near as capable? And looking to the Opposition is asking infants to do a grown man’s job.
The welfare state is a necessity but sources for its continuance are questionable at best. I have heard it said that the investments in tourism, infrastructure and the like promise to mature, becoming engines of future prosperity. The most endearing promise is still just a promise. Sustainability requires more than that; and the idiom of crossing the bridge when we meet it, is in this case a recipe for disaster. We must build the bridge now to prevent the revolution from drowning.