Saturday, February 24, 2018

Mitchell's second coming


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Tuesday's resounding electoral victory has given Dr Keith Mitchell an emphatic mandate from the people of Grenada to assume the authority and responsibility for leading their country out of its current dire straits.

The 15-0 clean sweep by Dr Mitchell's New National Party puts him in the ranks of Caribbean prime ministers who have received multiple mandates to govern. Tomorrow, Grenadians will enjoy a national holiday to celebrate the NNP's victory. After that, however, the returned prime minister should be warned that, despite his overwhelming mandate, Grenadians are unlikely to waste too much time waiting for his government to deliver. For one thing, they have previously had no hesitation in showing him the door as they did in 2008 after three terms; for another, the extent of their country's problems leave little room for patience.

With a 30 per cent rate of unemployment, Grenada's problems are biting, and biting hard. Having presented themselves as the party with solutions, the NNP will be expected to begin delivering as Grenadians look for early signs that the NNP administration can put the brake on economic decline and begin the process of a turnaround.

Like so many countries of the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada faces the problem of dependency on one key revenue earner which, in its case, is tourism.

Hit hard by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and the global economic collapse of 2008, Grenada's tourism continues to languish. It has stayed afloat on the back of debt which, as the Caribbean Development Bank recently warned, is at such an "unsustainable" level that there is now urgent need for measures to anchor investor confidence.

The fact that six other Caricom countries, including Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, received the same diagnosis should indicate to Dr Mitchell that Grenada's problem is no passing cloud. When energy-rich Trinidad and Tobago and financially conservative Barbados could be stacking up dangerous levels of debt, what should come into question is the very viability of the approach to governance and economic management pursued by Caricom countries.

At age 65, and given his considerable experience both in and out of government, Dr Mitchell's return to office could be a welcome addition to the ranks of Caricom leaders. He has the benefit of a long eye that could assist today's younger crop of leaders for whom regional solidarity has lost its mystique and rationale. Notwithstanding the annual parade of summits, Caricom remains adrift, unable to find the leadership to breathe new life into the integration mission.

Today, Barbadians go the polls to determine which political party should be handed the reins of government at a time of economic peril. How they decide will determine whether Freundel Stuart becomes more than a one-term government or whether Owen Arthur, like Keith Mitchell on Monday, gets a fourth chance to make things right.

As they prepare to dip their finger in the ballot ink, we wish our Barbadians neighbours the very best.