by Norris Mitchell
“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates and men decay.”
This quotation is the first two lines from the 2nd stanza of a poem titled “Deserted Village” by the English poet and novelist, Oliver Goldsmith. Goldsmith must have lived in an environment during 18th century England similar to that of Grenada today, where a large percentage of the population – some say as much as 60% – are experiencing a sense of exclusion, victimisation and deprivation to have expressed in poetic language the issues of today through the desperation of his time.
Two years after the end of a three-year so-called “homegrown” Structural Adjustment Programme, we are reminded, ad nauseum – how Grenada’s wealth is accumulating, as our economy is the most robust in the Eastern Caribbean, tourism is booming and the tax collecting agencies like the Treasury, Inland Revenue and the Customs are collecting revenue well above the government’s projection. In addition, the statistics provided, states that from 2013-2019 unemployment has been reduced from 40% to 16% or thereabout, while at the same time we are informed that the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) is going broke.
Many years ago, during a visit to Grenada by the late distinguished Grenadian Economist – Sir Alister McIntyre, in a conversation with him, he reminded/enlightened me, that “there are lies, damn lies and statistics”.
How is it then, that with all this accumulating wealth the government refuses to provide funds to pay teachers and public servants their 25% gratuity and pension as stipulated in our constitution; while arguing that the Fiscal Protection Act instituted at the behest of the IMF, only allows 9% of the GDP for emoluments (pensions, salaries and wages). Can a recent act which intentionally limits the “FISCAL SPACE” and at the same time pauperises a large section of the labour force, at a time in their retirement when these resources are most needed – be the response of a caring (benevolent) government?
After the 2013 and 2018 elections, the Caricom and OAS visiting election supervisory missions made recommendations to the government, on both occasions – to make certain changes in the electoral laws in order to ensure that the pre-election and election processes including the conduct of the election office are transparent and on a level playing field, where voter padding is a thing of the past and registration a reliable process, where votes are not bought and persons intimidated, so as to ensure a free and fair election, which reflects the WILL OF THE PEOPLE, in order to have a representative government of their choice, that is not manipulated in the interest of partisan politics, with the machiavellian (satanic) urge to be “in charge” at all cost.
I am sure the public would like to know whether these recommendations have been executed and passed into law, so that the next general election would be undertaken in the manner prescribed by these two international organisations, in the interest of preserving what is left of our democracy.
The universal expectations from governments are to enhance and empower the people it represents. This being a given, one of the immediate criteria is the health of the citizens. This is reflected in the physical facilities and services provided at the general hospital and the various health centres islandwide. Without getting into the horrid details, it is well known and documented that the present health facilities and service are a continuing nightmare especially for the poor, the elderly, the unrepresented and the mentally challenged – without any tangible evidence of a general improvement in the near future.
Not far behind HEALTH is JUSTICE. When the Justice System (in Grenada) is denied the physical structures and facilities to dispense justice, especially to the ordinary citizen, the State becomes a lawless society – which it is fast becoming as the lawmakers become the lawbreakers. Although the Judiciary is an equal arm of government, it is treated like a bastard child, not worthy of inheritance to the detriment of the people and the unobtrusive “dismantling” of law and order, with its consequential social repercussions which is already occurring.
The state of the physical infrastructure in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique must not be excluded from the STATE OF AFFAIRS. Without adequate and proper roads, bridges, retaining walls, portable water especially to rural communities, maintenance of public building such as schools, health centres, courthouses, police stations etc, the day to day function of the State is hampered and, in some cases,, grinds to a halt, as efficiency and productivity are confined to a priority of contending players in a third world economy. Development in Grenada is the construction of a hotel on a beach, while at the same time systematically destroying nature’s assets (gifts) to Pure Grenada.
It is expected that the developer for the recently announced new hotel project at La Sagesse, St David would respect the High-Water Mark laws of Grenada, and to be reminded that all beaches in Grenada are public property with unobstructed access at all times.
The Informer newspaper editorial of 6 September 2019 entitled “Are we Marrying Development and Environment Effectively”, reminds us of the possible desecration of the pristine La Sagesse area and its environs in the hectic search for jobs. In other words, it must not be development or the environment, it must be developed in harmony with the environment, in which we live and move and have being.
It would be remiss of me to exclude GREEN PLACES, OPEN SPACES from the Physical Infrastructure. This amenity is the one that provides relaxation and spiritual and emotional wellness to the citizen, while acting as the lungs of the community.
Camerhogne Park, Morne Rouge pasture, Quarantine Point, Lagoon Road park (Kirani James Boulevard) are the only remaining open green spaces available in the Parish of St George, which should be preserved and upgraded, while in the secondary towns, our playing fields are the only recreational facilities extant.
However, an article in the Grenadian Voice newspaper of 30 August 2019 titled “Camerhogne Park on the back burner” painted a very gloomy picture by the chairman of The Save Camerhogne Park Steering Committee who disclosed that the park which is under the control of the Ministry of Tourism appears to be selected for benign neglect, as the ministry appears unwilling to co-operate with the Park’s Committee in maintaining the park generally, and in particular the repairs or replacement of the deteriorating children’s furniture and other amenities. On top of that, the huge pile of earth along a portion of the boundary of the proposed Egyptian developer Rivera Hotel site and the park is alternatively emitting dust or sludge, depending on the weather – onto the park, which renders it unhealthy and unusable at times. Echoes of a caring and children loving government.
The policy/practice of building on every available open space without consideration for the health, wellness and orderly physical development of the nation is a matter of grave concern and reflects the mentality of successive governments to put in place a Land Use Policy, which does not appear to be in the interest of partisan politics, but rather provides “political” leverage in wheeling and dealing with foreign investors at the expense of a rational (scientific) and orderly development strategy as a means of empowering our people, as is done in progressive countries of comparable size like Singapore and Hong Kong.
Grenada is 133 miles long and 12 miles wide with a population of about 110,000 and a road network that was initially designed in the 18th century for donkey carts and for horse and carriage (not motor vehicles). In any modern, progressive country there is the recognisation that there must be a ratio, a sensible balance, if you will, between the carrying capacity of our roads, as it relates to the optimum number of motor vehicles it could safely accommodate without causing traffic jams, increasing loss of productive manpower, accidents and fatal collisions.
In my view, the police can only do so much. The large and growing number and size of vehicles on our roads today begs the questions: What is the policy, if any for (its) future importation? This is an issue of national importance if we are to assist in minimising greenhouse gases (CO2), global warming and rising sea levels, which latter, could destroy our economy overnight by extensive damage caused by hurricanes to our coastal infrastructure of hotels, restaurants and seaside villas. This is the time to analyse the effects of these natural phenomena as we contemplate a Climate Smart Grenada together with a moratorium on our vehicle intake, before driving ourselves to death on our narrow, winding, hilly and congested roads. Dennis Canning’s article in the Informer of 23 August 2019 on the existing problems and the future importation of motor vehicles to Grenada with its grave consequences, should make instructive and compulsory reading to the powers that be.
The social landscape must not go unmentioned. Man is a social animal, we live in communities; and for its survival and enhancement, certain societal norms must be observed. There seem however to be something amiss with our young male population, who comprises almost 100% of the prison population, while our struggling single parent homes of mothers only, without the necessary or adequate support from the state institutions, could be the genesis of a dysfunctional family. Nothing much is said of the church, via the Grenada Conference of Churches – as its latter-day advocacy, leading the flock to the “promised land” is unfortunately muted, and appears to have lost its moral compass on account of its “unusual” accommodation to the ills of the political directorate, which also applies to other institutions like the Grenada Chamber of Commerce and the Media Workers Association (MWAG).
The population of our country is the sum total of the family unit. The strength and integrity of the family is the strength and integrity of the nation. So where are we heading, as a society PURE GRENADA?
In conclusion, the STATE OF AFFIARS cannot ignore the level of institutional corruption in our society. Only a myopic observer would deny its prevalence, where our lawmakers have become our lawbreakers, while our institutions are routinely undermined. There was a recent article in the print media which described the high cost of corruption and the debilitating and negative effect it has on development, especially in poor countries like Grenada, where public funds (taxpayers money) go into the pockets of individuals – enriching a few, who are living on the fat of the land with ill-gotten gains, while denying the health centres and hospitals of beds, bandages and drugs, inadequate repairs and replacement of schools and other essential public buildings, potholes in the roads, housing for poor people – not party supporters only, equal opportunity especially for the youth of all political parties, and of course JUSTICE FOR ALL.
Reading Goldsmith’s Deserted Village was indeed a rude reminder of the parlous state of our own Grenadian affairs.