by Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News
Voters took out their anger on the then Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas, and his National Democratic Congress by voting all of them out of parliament, giving their seats to Dr. Keith Mitchell and his New National Party. It was an unprecedented election outcome that left Grenadians living outside of the country wondering what was going to happen next with their country, 30 years after a bloody uprising led to an American invasion or rescue mission and an eventual return of freely elected government to the Spice nation of Grenada, Carriacou- Petit Martinique.
Twelve months have elapsed since that election, the country is celebrates the 40th year of its independence from Britain and Grenadians are asking are they better off today than, say, a year ago.
Back in 2012 and early 2013, one of the world’s largest nutmeg and spices producers was tottering on the brink of financial collapse engineered by gross mismanagement of the economy, the fall-out from the global economic crisis that has crippled most of its neighbors and several European countries, and by the infighting of the Tillman Administration. Nothing seemed to be going right. People were losing their jobs, investment had slowed to a trickle and like other Caribbean tourist destinations, visitors from North America, Britain and the rest of the European Union were staying away in droves.
As if those headaches weren’t enough, Grenada was saddled with a mountainous debt burden. Its economy had become stagnant over a three year period and the prospects for a kick-start to economic growth were zilch. Hit by large structural current account deficits and large external liabilities, not to mention weak foreign liquidity as well as the ever present danger of natural disasters, the three island- independent nation seemed to be facing trouble at every turn.
Grenada has seen a resurgence of public confidence in government. Dr. Mitchell’s presence in the Prime Minister’s office is responsible. Nothing is more debilitating than a country having a government that is fighting itself and forcing people to ask what were we thinking when they elected it to office?
If it’s a consolation to Grenadians that question is being asked elsewhere in the Caribbean as several administrations flounder in trying financial times.
As an old hand at running a developing country, Dr. Mitchell knows how to impose discipline on his cabinet ministers and prevent them from committing the dreadful error of public squabbling and glaring indecisiveness that characterized the previous administration.
The Mitchell team has taken steps to end the financial bleeding. It stopped servicing its foreign and local currency debt. As it seeks to restructure its debt, anchored with a financing package from the International Monetary Fund. Projections point to a return of economic growth in 2014, for the first time in years. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that foreign exchange earnings from tourism remain weak and unfortunately the importation of capital good is fueling large current account deficits.
The truth is that Grenadians have grown accustomed to battling adversity and the useful tool in their arsenal is a firm belief in themselves and their ability to slay the dragon of self-doubt that induces second-guessing and paralysis in government decision-making.
Known for its track record of rising from the ashes of calamity, few doubts exist it can do it again.
After all, having endured a coup in 1983 when a government turned on itself, Grenada bounced back, installed an elected government and has done so ever since and without as much as the spilling of a drop of blood or the threat of a return to the bad old days. That’s not all, it has rebuilt much of its infrastructure and is a safe place in which to live.
Not bad for a country whose historic attainment of sovereignty began on a night of darkness in 1974 because of a national worker’s strike.
The collective flickers of thousands of candles that lit up the dark sky, replacing the electric bulbs which were shut off when the power plant couldn’t generate power spawned a picturesque evening that few, if any would forget.
Grenadians are realists. They know that the promise of a return to prosperity remains just that: a promise. They are also aware that the incidence of crime is high, much too high for Grenadian standards. Still, the country remains relatively safe as people go about their business during the day or at night and they usually go to sleep feeling safe in their beds. The same can’t be said of some of its neighbors.
Another thing. Grenadians aren’t about to gamble with political instability again and are determined to keep it at bay.
“Grenada has emerged as a vibrant and largely successful three-island country which has shown how nations can rise from the ashes of calamity through its own resilience,” was the way a commentator in New York, put it.
A few years ago, it suffered another reversal when 90 per cent of its buildings, roads, housing and other parts of its infrastructure were lost or damaged by high winds and heavy rains of a hurricane. It set out to rebuild itself, a task that was well underway when the global financial crisis struck with a vengeance few people expected.
If history is a guide, Grenada can be expected to rise once again from the ground floor to the elevated levels of good fortune.