Ralph Gonsalve greets hotel staff while Foreign Minister Senator Maxine McClean looks on.
Ralph Gonsalve greets hotel staff while Foreign Minister Senator Maxine McClean looks on.

The non-stop focus on leisure, pleasure and having a nice time will be the downfall of the region.

This was the warning today of Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves as he embraced the topic of “Embracing change” at a Caribbean Exporters’ Colloquium at the Hilton Barbados Resort.

Comparing the path of the region to that of ancient Rome, the veteran regional politician and one of the region’s longest serving heads of government, warned too that a situation has arisen throughout the Caribbean where “too few people were carrying too many unproductive people”.

The St. Vincent leader noted that a progressive society was one which produced smart, hardworking people at its core, adding that among the region’s limitations were people who refused to work smart or hard enough.

He told his audience that he represented an agricultural constituency and he discovered that some workers waited until they arrive on the job to sharpen their machetes. Gonsalves further charged that after working for three hours they call that a day’s work and depart for home.

This poor work ethic, he added, was not peculiar to St. Vincent, but could be found throughout the region.

Linking that work ethic to the cost of production in the region, Gonsalves said: “You cannot produce anything in St. Vincent for export or for consumption at home, because the price of yams, dasheen and … eddoes are more expensive than flour and rice, so people ignore the call to buy local.

“If your mother has three children to feed, what is she going to do? Is she going to buy a pound of dasheen for EC $8 dollars when she can buy a pound of rice for EC $1.30 cents? These are the problems we have in the region. In some cases half of a breadfruit costs more than two pounds of rice.”

Gonsalves identified crime as another limitation confronting the entire region.

“You can have all of the tax incentives, you can do all of the productive work, but if as I see out of the newspapers in Trinidad and Tobago that you have a detection rate of 12 per cent for serious crimes, and we are spending a lot of money on tourism, you are spinning your top in mud.

“This business of development has to start from our families and go all the way through. There are no quick fixes in this situation,” he added.

Gonsalves stressed that he did not want to speak exclusively on the people’s limitations because while the region could end up with a “learned hopelessness”, it still possessed immense possibilities and strengths.

Identifying some of the region’s strengths, Gonsalves pointed out that the region had an abundance of fertile land, a good water supply, a landscape and seascape of exquisite beauty, wonderful climate practically all year round, and the presence of energy resources of hydro, geo-thermal and wind.

He further stated that the region had a private sector that was basically patriotic, English was its first language, the people were God-fearing, there was a commitment to family life and it attracted generous amounts of direct foreign investment.†(NC)††

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