On February 7th 1974, in the dark of night, our nation’s flag was foisted. The darkness was literal because of a black out and figurative because of the social and political unrest immediately preceding independence. And so it was, Sir Eric Matthew Gairy became our first Prime Minister.
For the first time ever, we became fully responsible for our internal and external affairs. Our destiny was now firmly in our hands after almost 500 years of colonial rule shared at different times between the French and the British.
In the 45 years since independence, we have had times of joy and times of sorrow. A most joyous time for us was in 2012, when young Kirani James won our first ever Olympic medal, only to repeat this mammoth feat 4 years later with a silver medal.
Easily, our most sorrowful time was the events of October 1983 when, in a matter of days, we were traumatised with the collapse of the Revolution that offered hope to so many, the killing of scores of Grenadians by Grenadians and military intervention in our country by a foreign power.
As a people, we also made some social and economic strides. Free secondary education for all, significant advancement in our labour and family laws including maternity leave benefits, “a child is a child law” and the Domestic Violence Law. Economically, the construction of our international airport is perhaps our greatest achievement.
Interestingly, none of these advances were achieved during any period of service of Dr. Mitchell, the longest serving Prime Minister since independence. It must not be lost on our people, that in the 45 years since independence, Dr. Mitchell has served for 19 years. The remaining 26 years were shared by 7 different Prime Ministers, all of whom served for less than 5 years at a time, yet, were able to outpace Mitchell in achieving notable gains for the country.
Significantly, not only has Mitchell underperformed compared to his post-Independence counterparts, but under his stewardship, and certainly since 2013, there has been a concerted effort to turn back some of the gains we have made since Independence and to dismantle or undermine state institutions.
This is a serious threat to us as an independent and democratic nation because in the absence of functioning state institutions, anarchy and dictatorship thrive.
The undermining of state institutions is accompanied by the nurturing of a culture of dependency. With dependency, comes increased poverty.
For the most part, no attention is being paid to the productive sectors. Agriculture and light manufacturing were significant contributors to the economy in 1974. Now we import far more than we export.
Mitchell admitted in his 2019 Budget Statement that the trade deficit at the end of June 2018 was $11 million more than the same period in 2017. We cannot be truly independent if our import bill continues to be in the hundreds of millions, while export earnings remain a fraction of that.
Workers and their unions are under increasing threat as job security is whittled away by contract, non-unionised labour. The leadership of the trade unions are continuously undermined. Added to that, confrontation, bullying and intimidation have replaced mutual respect and dialogue.
Forty-five years after an independence that was objected to by many because of the fear of a dictatorship, it is today an open secret that people are afraid to freely express themselves for fear of reprisals against them and their families. The harsh reality is that right before our eyes, the elements of a one party state is being played out.
To crown it all off, our 45th Independence celebrations have been high jacked by the NNP. To participate in activities, people must liaise with NNP constituency offices. Even a circular from the Minister of Education dated 29th January 2019, advised Principals of Primary Schools that the 45th Independence Parade will be held “within each Constituency” and that: “all arrangements will be handled by the Parliamentary Representatives point person in each constituency.”
While all of this happens and the majority of Grenadians, including pensioners, descend deeper into poverty, a few, all part of the NNP clique, turn a blind eye as they become richer.
The NDC offers a far better vision for an independent Grenada.
Our vision for Grenada is anchored on our core principles of respect for state institutions and putting our people first as we strive for a green, equitable and prosperous Grenada for all. This is buttressed by our good governance agenda of an inclusive, non-confrontational, consultative approach to governance, building our institutions so that they may be immune from abuses and corruption.
NDC’s vision for Grenada is that our people will not have to endure the indignity of attending at political/constituency offices to beg for assistance. When it is their own tax dollars being spent. We envisage a Grenada where a tertiary education will be accessible for all our young people and on completion of their studies, they can have job security either in their own businesses or with an employer.
NDC’s vision for an independent Grenada is one where our Government will not ignore the Constitution and deny workers the pension rights guaranteed them under it.
A truly independent Grenada must have a Government that invests in the youth and the productive sectors. Self-sustenance is the hallmark of an independent country.
So on this 45th anniversary of independence, we urge all Grenadians, as you celebrate, to jealously guard the gains of independence.
Fearlessly exercise the fundamental rights guaranteed by the independence Constitution, because those who sit on their rights, eventually lose them.
(The above reflects the views of the main opposition National Democratic Congress)