National address delivered by Franka Bernardine, Political Leader of the NDC on Tuesday, 1 September 2020.
Good evening Sisters and brothers.
I address you this evening to tell you what most of us already know; that our country is in a state of crisis. But as a nation of faith and determination, we must remember and hold strong to the ideal that: where there is life, there is hope.
Since listening to The National Address delivered by the Rt Hon. Dr Keith Mitchell on 17 August 2020, the need for all of us who want to see a better Grenada, to come together, unite, and work together, became more obvious and at the same time, more urgent. The hope in which we have faith, can only be realised if we put our shoulders to the wheel, put our small differences aside, and accept that more unites us than divides us! We need everyone on board in order to rescue Grenada. Calling for it is not enough! Doing it by example is what is required.
As leader of the National Democratic Congress, a party which has consistently gained the support of over 40% of the popular vote in the last 4 general elections, I am committed to work not just with the party, but with every person in Grenada, Carriacou, and Petite Martinique, to ensure that Grenada takes its rightful place again as a shining example among nations, with a government we can all be proud of, and to become a sustainable, equitable, and just Grenada for all people.
Over the past months, our nation, our region, and the entire world has been faced with the Covid-19 pandemic; which we wish was a nightmare we would awaken from, but which sadly, is the reality! It has changed everything, and there is now a new normal. It cannot be business as usual! This is a time when we have to review our Health system, our Education, our Agriculture and ability to feed ourselves, our Economy, indeed every facet of our lives, have to change and adjust. But together, we can do it.
As a nation, sisters and brothers, we must give thanks to God, for seeing us safely to this point. We must also show gratitude to our frontline workers, the nurses, doctors, other healthcare workers, police officers, our farmers and fisherfolk, retail workers, and all others who have shown the metal from which we are made, who have made every sacrifice imaginable, to see us through to this point. There is hope, and we shall continue to stand shoulder to shoulder, to battle this pandemic and see our nation prosper at the same time. I am a firm believer that it is the spirit of goodwill and helping each other whenever possible, that we are well known for, is responsible for much of our success to date.
We must recall that every occasion of adversity is an opportunity to rise, with ingenuity and creativity, problem-solving, and resilience. We must see this time for the opportunities which present themselves; opportunities for our entire nation — on a macro and micro level — to embrace and advance technological reliance, in the workplace, by entrepreneurs, in the school system and socio-economically. The youth particularly are gifted at this, and given the chance, the financing and the freedom to flow, they will excel at this, and carry us all forward! This drive, coupled with the experience and wisdom of we the older ones, should be able to shape Grenada into the island nation we all want! I say to the youth, let us work together once again to realise your dreams and build the future you deserve.
The innovation of our people in these challenging times has seen the birth of many novel businesses as a result of the constraints placed on us by the pandemic. Look around and see the small businesses emerging, and those are to be heartily congratulated and encouraged! We see you.
It is clear that as a result of Covid-19, we will have to revisit and readjust our economic plans. Our priority must now be self-reliance and food security. We must ensure that every family, without exception, has enough to eat, and that none of us falls through the cracks. Systems should be in place to ensure this! Systems should not be tempered with political favouritism, and what party you support!
I call on the government of the day to put an end to this political approach to providing food supplies and housing assistance. We are aware because the complaints reach us every day.
The NDC’s Care Givers Programme was a decision to assist the nation with a food hamper distribution, with face masks, drinking water in clinics and essential services, and school feeding for the CXC and examination students and this expressed our desire to help across the board, to encourage others to do so, and to play our part in making sure people who need assistance , get assistance.
Agriculture and agri-business must be priority number one! We need to engage our local, regional and international experts, to renew our agricultural thrust, using traditional as well as cutting edge technology to get the greatest yield possible from our land!
As mentioned before, the youths are particularly good at this! Animal husbandry and fishing must be equally addressed. But on a more immediate basis, we must encourage our local producers and suppliers to utilise the social media and other available technology to expand their reach, and available markets throughout the nation, particularly as so many of them have been recently displaced. Let us know where you are, let us know what you have, and how we can get it. Farming, fishing and animal husbandry nourish the nation; it’s time that they are advanced accordingly.
Sisters and brothers, while tourism has been a major pillar of our economy in the past, the pandemic has shown how unsustainable it is. We cannot, and should not continue to build massive hotels as our approach to the tourism industry. We must revisit this approach and find a more environmentally friendly and sustainable method. The NDC is quite clear on that, after our Covid experience. We need to examine geo-tourism, cultural tourism, and promote tourism within the region, and from neighbouring islands, even within our island, parish to parish for those who want to, in addition to our usual guests from further afield. They must respect us for who we are, and we welcome them to enjoy our warmth and hospitality as equals. There are Grenadians within our party who are regional tourism experts, advising governments in Central American Tourism Development. Why are they not advising on Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique?
The people of Carriacou and Petite Martinique have shown that when necessary, they are quite capable of functioning on their own. We admire your spirit! The ancestors must indeed be pleased! You have a vision for your Hillsborough Port which must be addressed. After all, you are the people that live there and experience it day to day. It is regrettable that consultation from the various sectors was not sought at all as we hear it from you, and now there are big issues from the surrounding businesses.
The health remains the most disturbing of all, and despite the many examples right here in the Caribbean of how to set up an efficient system, the situation remains the same. To expect an individual to pay $10,000 upfront to the island ferry for transporting a patient to Grenada is preposterous. The options of an air ambulance or a public/private partnership for on-island treatment are options that would be considered by an NDC Government.
Earlier, I expressed gratitude to our workers. I now do the same to all our people throughout Grenada, Carriacou, Petite Martinique, and our other dependencies. Our people have tried well during this period despite the emotional distress, making sacrifices, looking out for each other, and generally adhering to the sanitary and other protocols necessary in this period. The bus drivers and conductors have been outstanding. I salute and thank you all and encourage you to continue to be your brother’s and sister’s keeper. There is great hope when we work together.
The issue of unemployment is worrying as the number of unemployed people continues to grow. This is not a problem affecting our youth alone. Our deteriorating economy, Covid-19, the disruption of the global supply chain, and other factors, have resulted in people of all ages being unemployed and underemployed. My party, the NDC, has been reviewing this with local and regional economists with the aim of finding creative solutions. We will share this in a public forum. Shortage of skills has been identified in some areas and with a refocus and radical approach to Training and Education and the use of Technology, there are good possibilities particularly for the youth. A refocus of our development, our needs and our consumption pattern, also present opportunities. Working together, we are confident that this problem of unemployment which has plagued our nation can be solved. There is hope, but we must work together.
In a matter of a week, most of our children will be back in classroom. Again, teachers will be like second parents, attending to the needs of the children and making the sacrifices we all take for granted. There are going to be tremendous challenges particularly with parents not being able to help children with their online platforms, internet availability, teachers still uncertain — and rightly so, with the new digital platforms being used — children practicing social distancing and learning to wear masks, and everyone being vigilant and working together in each school to keep everyone safe. These are a lot of challenges, and I want to emphasise that “wishing thinking” cannot be part of the “successful path” being highlighted by the government, but a clear realistic picture and good practical decisions and planning is what is going to make it work. Teachers are a living example of sacrifice and commitment. We thank you for shaping the future of our nation. We urge to you to make the best use of the limited books and the partial use of the new technology, and we also urge employers to be mindful of the challenges that parents will inevitably face, in caring for their children when they are not physically at school as a consequence of staggered attendance; and to be flexible in the circumstances, recognising that in many instances, work can continue remotely.
Only last week, despite the threat of Covid-19 and the taking away of the carnival holidays, the people defied the authorities and celebrated, especially by playing jab jab. While we are very concerned about the defiance shown to clearly stated regulations, and the lack of compliance and of course the possible exposure to the coronavirus, we must also examine the cause of such displays so as to get to the root of the issue. It is evident that a people who see and sense a creeping dictatorship will take the risk, and send a message to the authorities that there is a point when they will resist! That double standards will not be accepted! What’s good for the goose is also good for the gander!
We pray that all will be well and that there was no exposure as a result of the breakdown in behaviour.
Sisters and brothers, after what we saw and heard in the Prime Minister’s last address, and the confused handling of oh so many issues — the market venders, the cocoa and nutmeg boards, the La Sagesse Beach issues, the electoral process, the poor management of the education system — many Grenadians have been saying, including we in the NDC, “We can do better than this!” The NDC offers better, and with other Grenadians, young and old, we shall do better! That is because we always put the people of Grenada first and not ourselves and our pockets! We therefore invite all patriotic Grenadians of all ages and of all walks of life, to join hearts and hands on this journey to rescue our beloved Grenada. Our country is in crisis, but there is hope. If you feel that you can no longer sit on the fence, if you would like to do something to make a difference, there is no better time than now! Let us all act before it is too late. Let us have a conversation and work together, to be the change we desire.
It was Gandhi who said, “We must be the change that we want to see in this world!” We trust in you and ask that you trust us in making a better Grenada for all of us.
Thank you and may God bless us all.