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Gonsalves outlines new economic policies

CAROL MARTINDALE, [email protected]

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Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has outlined new policies aimed at improving the socio-economic well-being of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines as the island Wednesday observes its 31st anniversary of political independence from Britain.
 “Although our economic circumstances are challenging as a consequence of the global economic meltdown, surely we can afford these modest but vital measures to assist in the further upliftment of the economically disadvantaged, the working people, children, young persons, the elderly and sportsmen and sports women,” Gonsalves said in a 22-minute address to the nation.
Gonsalves said this year’s duty-free concessions on “Christmas barrels and packages” from overseas will be available from November 7 until January 14 next year, telling listeners that over 15,000 barrels and packages were cleared under “this worthy concession” in 2009.
As of January 2011, the monthly public assistance payment given to disadvantaged Vincentians will be increased by 25 per cent, said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance and Economic Development.
Gonsalves said his Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration would continue with the distribution of hundreds of housing lots at preferential prices to economically disadvantaged citizens.
“Moreover, the interest rate on outstanding balances on purchases of these lands have been reduced from eight per cent to three per cent and a cap of five years has been placed on the number of years for which interest is payable,” Gonsalves said.
He further announced that the special allocation of university education for nurses, police officers, teachers, and public servants will continue for the current and upcoming academic year.
Additionally, construction work on two sporting and recreational facilities in Kingstown will commence shortly.
These are a recreational facility in Roseau, East Kingstown, where Luke Browne, 24, is running against Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, in general elections constitutionally due by next March.
The National Lotteries Authority has been mandated to develop the Anglican School Annex building in Kingstown into an indoor sports facility.
It will include an indoor gymnasium, and basketball and netball courts, for youth in Kingstown, its environs, and nationally, as requested by sporting organisations, Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves further said the annually Christmas works programme, managed by the Public Works Division and the Bridges Roads and General Services Authority (BRAGSA), will commence soon.
“Look out for it,” he said.
Gonsalves announced the measure even as he said the nation was celebrating its 31st anniversary  “ at a most challenging time, occasioned by economic, financial and climatic events internationally not of out making”
He however said that the small nation of limited natural resources “has not only been weathering the ill winds from abroad, but we have been making admirable progress on several fronts…
“Still, we are not yet out of the woods and the road to be travelled holds many perils,” he said.
Gonsalves further announced that more focused development priorities will be implemented early next year.
These include an agricultural diversification programme to uplift farmers to be financed by an EC$30 million (US$11.11 million) soft-loan from the Export-Import Bank of Taiwan.
An EC$35 million (US$12.96 million) health sector development programme, financed by the European Union (EU), will be implemented, along with an EC$45 million (US$16.66 million) project for the further development of post-secondary education.
“Indeed, it is expected that three contracts under this programme, amounting to $22 million (US$8.14 million), will commence in November this year,” he said.
Gonsalves also spoke of the implementation of an integrated agricultural development programme expected to be financed by EC$37 million (US$13.7 million) from the EU.
The “Lives to Live” project, which will cater to the specific needs of physically and mentally challenged Vincentians through ALBA and managed by Cuba, Venezuela and SVG, would also be implemented in Jan. 2011.
Gonsalves also said that the one-laptop per student project, through collaboration between the governments of Portugal and SVG, would also be implemented in Jan.
“Indeed, two days ago, the government of Portugal confirmed to me after a face-to-face meeting between its prime minister and President [Hugo] Chavez of Venezuela that 30, 000 laptops will be delivered from January 2011 for our primary, secondary and post-secondary students,” Gonsalves said to cheers.
“This laptop per student initiative will make St. Vincent and the Grenadines the only country in the Caribbean and one of the few in the world to provide one laptop for every primary, secondary and post-secondary student. Remarkable indeed,” Gonsalves said.
He said these developmental initiatives are part and parcel of a bundle of other ongoing projects, including the construction of the Argyle International Airport, intended to make tourism a truly transformational sector of the economy.
“In the meantime, the private and cooperative economic sectors are performing admirably in challenges circumstances globally,” Gonsalves said, noting tourism and other direct foreign investments in SVG.
The Prime Minister spoke of the nation’s history, including its experience with “colonialism, genocide, slavery and indentureship.
“The challenges that confront us now pale into insignificance comparatively. As always, we shall dig deeply into our individual and collective selves to survive and thrive. We have been doing so to our families’ and nation’s credit. It is true that we are not better than anyone else. But no one is better than us. We can be and do what we want to be and do in accordance with out goodness, wisdom, potential and God-given talents,” Gonsalves said.
He said Vincentians, especially the youth, have more opportunities now more than ever before.
“They are the future of our land, which we all love and cherish. We must uplift them as eagles and let them soar with their wings unclipped. In turn, they must be cognisant of their obligations and treasure their parents, families, teacher, elders and communities.
“Our future is bright. We must be confident about that and work towards it true fulfilment. It is a great cause and great causes have never been won by doubtful men and women,” said Gonsalves who has been prime minister since March 2001.