As we look at the Christmas Season, and as we gather at home, it is good that we can touch base with family and friends, and to reach out to one another. Especially because there are so many of us at home together at this time we need to reflect together on steps to build a better tomorrow for our common home, Montserrat. The matter cannot wait.
I therefore ask for a few minutes of your time.
Over the past year we have seen a series of very unusual events that should cause us much concern: gruesome murders, a fatal plane crash and near fatal landing incident, very controversial outcomes of court hearings; plus, the very recent attack on our court buildings. At a time when Montserrat is being promoted as a peaceful and tranquil destination it is bad enough that all of these unusual and shocking incidents are taking place but what is worse is that it appears that little is being done to clear up the misunderstanding and to properly remedy the various ills. We must remember that justice must be done, and it must be seen to be done. So the people must be involved and properly understand why court and other decisions have been made in order to play their part in setting things right.
On top of this, after 17 long hard years of volcano crisis, more and more pressure is being placed on an already small, overburdened and heavily taxed and tariffed workforce. With no increase in salary to cope with the ever increasing cost of living, recent years have been particularly hard. And, if those who have stable jobs have been struggling from day to day, week to week and month to month, just imagine what the unemployed, the under-employed, the underpaid and those living on small and fixed pensions are feeling. One can only imagine the plight of the struggling single mother, the elderly and vulnerable.
Can you imagine a single mother earning under $1,000.00 per month and having to feed, clothe one or two never mind three school going children? Can you imagine for instance a person still considered a non-established worker after being employed by the Government of Montserrat for 18 years, and earning less than $2,000.00 per month, a mere $1,600 plus dollars after tax and social security is deducted. That non-established worker has not seen a pay raise since 2002, ten years ago under the late John Osborne's government. In those ten years the cost of living has skyrocketed: cooking gas is very high, electricity with its huge surcharge is probably the highest in the region, not to mention the ever increasing cost of food and other basic needs.
Going even further, the plight of the private sector on Montserrat is like that of a man bitten by a poisonous snake. He rushes to the doctor to save his life. But, the doctor tells him that what he needs to do is to exercise and eat right, even as he gets sicker and sicker. Exercise and proper diet is good but when a man is bitten by a poisonous snake what he needs is medicine to kill the poison. Right away, not in a year's time.
Now, I wish the MDC well in its efforts to creating and encouraging an enabling environment in which the private sector can be revived.
It is obvious, however, that until we have a proper sea port in place and our expensive and troubling air access is put right, cutting jobs disguised as outsourcing as well as increases in taxes and fees will only make matters worse. Seeking to attract investors to invest in a new town, expensive villas and other areas before having a firm commitment on a proper port makes little sense and is much like putting the cart before the horse. Even DfID and GoM are admitting this and both agree that until our air and sea access are put right all investments may go nowhere.
So, why are we rushing into outsourcing bus, cleaning and school lunch services and raising taxes in an already half-dead economy? Why is our government forcing non-established bus drivers and cleaners into uncertainty about their future when neither economic justification or explanation as to whether the outsourcing will cost or save the GoM money has been provided. It is clear that our government has not done their Maths and parents or even the private sector may be the ones to feel the heat later on.
Why also has our government chosen to raise revenue by increased charges on essential imported goods like food, televisions or even pampers for the elderly? Then, when the new tariff was produced, our government chose to present it in a format that does not allow the public to compare the new tariff to the old one easily. I guess these only makes sense if Cupid is right about the Government's plan is to outsource the whole of Montserrat.
While we are at it, we must ensure that the ongoing exploration and development of Geothermal energy is managed in the interests of the nation and its long-term development. For instance, how is the Geothermal energy Unit going to be set up and what sort of regulatory powers will the Unit have under law? Who, we must ask, is going to own and benefit most from Geothermal power?
So the promise of millions of dollars to be spent next year on a geothermal plant, hospital and port project may bring excitement. But we must make sure that it is not mainly the few who benefit, while the vast majority continue to struggle. And, in rebuilding the country, we must take positive steps to bring home many of our exiled people: especially the fresh, energized and well-educated young people who are full of ideas that can make a great difference.
As our national vision says, to have a healthy economy we need to have a stable, safe and democratic society with economic opportunity for all: national, non-national, black, white, civil servant, private sector, old, young, rich and poor. This means that concerns about policing and the justice system need to be addressed for the good of both the police and the people. Concerns about air travel especially safety -- must be respected and properly addressed. Also, we must not neglect the poor, the underemployed with small salaries or pensions who are vulnerable and hurting.
So, as we move forward in a new year with bright promises about multimillion dollar port, new town, geothermal and air access projects, let us make sure that the things we need to build up our whole society are put in place. By God's grace and for the good of all, together let us make sure we use our God-given, democratic, people power that King Silk is singing about.