February 7, 1974 was a high point in our long march to self-determination. We were the first Eastern Caribbean island to achieve independence.
In the succeeding years we had to weather many political storms which threatened to undermine the very foundations of our democracy. We continue the weather these storms today as our democratic institutions are systematically undermined at the highest level. Our independence Constitution is breached and our democracy undermined when public officers are denied their pension, when the electoral office is interfered with and when large sums are spent from the Consolidated Fund without Parliamentary approval.
Immediately after independence, the agricultural sector accounted for most of our jobs and export trade. Those glory days for Agriculture, began to decline in the 80’s with the advent of globalization and the loss of preferential treatment in the European markets. To compound matters, agriculture has been consistently neglected, by the NNP from 1995.
The NDC acknowledges the need to diversify our economy to allow for varied sources of revenue, but there can be no denying that the abandonment of agriculture without investment in other stable and sustainable sources of revenue, has contributed to the increased level of poverty and dependency among our people. Policy makers desperately embrace economic quick fixes like offshore banking, the sale of passports, and questionable deals, which carry the risk of major reputational and in some instances, environmental damage to our country.
In some ways things have not changed. This is especially true of our social landscape. Unemployment was the number one problem facing Grenada in 1974. Unemployment remains our number one problem in today and is particularly alarming among the nation’s young people. The Covid 19 pandemic has only worsened the situation. Our health sector was in crisis in 1974. Even with the increased number of doctors, our health sector is still in crisis today and is being severely tested by the Covid 19 pandemic. To make matters worse, the ineptitude of the government in addressing the job insecurity of our nurses is resulting in a mass exodus of these critically needed health professionals to England and the US.
Like in 1974, education remains poorly serviced. We have more schools, but the physical plant of many schools is in a state of disrepair. Our teachers are underpaid and overworked. Even in the face of this, government had no problem finding $200 million on an unnecessary expense because they lost the 26-year old GRENLEC feud. At the same time, they refuse to find $13 million to pay teachers and public officers increments. A growing number of our teachers are temporary, with no plan to make them permanent. Pension rights guaranteed by the Constitution continue to be denied as our public servants retire into poverty.
As we celebrate 47 years of nationhood we stand at the crossroads. We are facing a changed world and we need fresh new approaches. We must not fool ourselves into thinking that these fresh new approaches will come from those who have had over 35 years in the parliament and over 20 years as leaders. During all this time, they have shown absolutely not vision and have demonstrated not ability to transform Grenada into the new, prosperous society. Fresh new approaches will only be possible if there is a new approach to governance and a new level of inclusiveness. The current administration needs to abandon its incestuous approach to decision making. Big decisions like the source of funding to obey a court order to repurchase of majority shares in GRENLEC, cannot be shrouded in secrecy, nor motivated by personal vendettas. Such actions undermine the spirit of independence, and as Flying Turkey puts it in his calypso ‘Grenada still belongs to we.’
This new inclusiveness in managing our affairs must be guided by the motto, ‘All Hands On Deck.’ Every Grenadian has value; every Grenadian can contribute. We need to take into account the vast capabilities of all Grenadians at home and abroad. They must be brought on board to craft and execute national development plans. We must tap into the wellspring of skills, talents, intellect and wealth of Grenadians in in the diaspora. Other nations like Barbados are doing it. Why can’t we?
Independence requires a new spirit of boldness among our people. This will not happen unless we unleash the energy and creativity of our people, particularly our youth. It is well known that young people are more open to identifying and making use of the opportunities that the changing global environment presents. Youth leadership must be nutured and empowered. Young people must be equipped with the skills to hold their own in the unfolding dispensation. The focus on youth must be one of the most important and strategic elements in the new approach to governance as we continue our journey towards self-sufficiency and economic stability. Our young people must not be used just to amass votes every five years. They must be seen and treated as integral to our long term development goals.
We are fast approaching our fiftieth independence and it is a good time to address the matter of our national consciousness. Who are we as a people? Are we still honoring our former slave owners and colonial masters as heroes? Is this reflected in the names of places and in our national monuments? What are we doing to properly document our history and heritage? Are we lifting our writers and artistes and others in the Creative Arts? A were celebrating and preserving our built architectural heritage? Those are real questions we must address as an independent nation. These are the matters an NDC government will concern itself with as with build national pride and consciousness and exploit the talents and creativity of our people. We can do better. Working together as one people, we can build a better Grenada.
Brothers and sisters, the National Democratic Congress extends congratulations to all Grenadians at home and overseas on the achievement of another year as an independent nation. Let us use this opportunity to reflect and recommit ourselves to serve and build our country. Let us join hearts and hands in unity.
God bless you all and God bless our Grenada.
Acting Political Leader