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Soufriere Hills Volcano from Salem. (Nerissa Golden Photo)

Is Montserrat Afraid of Its Greatness? Almost Doesn’t Count

(This is a recovered version of the article due to a system failure. Some details may be slightly different.)

There’s a song I love by Brandy Almost Doesn’t Count. The title says it all.

Montserrat, ALMOST getting the pier and breakwater DOESN’T COUNT. Yes, I know a new deal was signed but the plan is to leave the port in Little Bay but this will change the most popular beach and the waters. It also reverses everything the people have seen and envisioned for the new town as to date the plans have been secret.

ALMOST getting DFID to allocate granting aid that does more than keep us dependent DOESN’T COUNT.

ALMOST getting a geothermal plant which is not only reducing our electricity costs but increasing foreign exchange DOESN’T COUNT.

There are near mythical stories of a time when Montserrat exported limes, cotton, pineapples and mangoes. We can keep harking those times as a clear sign of our awesomeness or we can create some new opportunities to be greater.

We’ve got a land issue and our farmers are not collaborating to ensure that the marketplace has variety week after week. You get a lettuce and cucumber glut because that is all they are farming. We run out of eggs at the same times every year as no one has figured out yet how to have local eggs in the shops at peak periods. Aren’t there any farmers wanting a real piece of the three million plus spent annually on importing whole chickens and chicken parts?

ALMOST being a farmer DOESN’T COUNT. Backyard gardening alone won’t feed the nation.

We have gold in our hills, so says a potential investor in our geothemal project, if we dared to go after it. But we won’t know that because we can’t make a decision. The time of expecting DFID to come to our rescue is gone and it won’t be back. We say that because we have no desire or wish for Soufriere to get busy again. If DFID won’t save us, who will?

We have resources thanks to Soufriere that we can harness. In cases, where we don’t have the ability to harness it ourselves for lack of funds and technical capacity, we should open the opportunity for those with the expertise to do so. Yet, here we are, sitting with proposals from bidders but we won’t move on any.

The government has yet to sell the geothermal story to the public. Could it be because they don’t really know what is possible? What would we want tapping the power beneath the volcano to do for a people who have been struggling with less than for more than 20 years?

We would want any potential geothermal project to do the following:

  • Reduce the cost of electricity to our homes and business. 50% is being bandied about and I am smiling at the thought of cheaper power.
  • Make us attractive to manufacturing companies. This is both a logistical and political opportunity for companies. Having cheaper power will allow companies who are interested in exporting to the UK, Europe or even the CARICOM nations to receive the access and benefits Montserrat has to these countries. It will also increase local employment, bring more families who will rent or buy property, shop in our stores and dine out.
  • Increase our foreign exchange. Our location gives us opportunity to sell power to neighbouring islands who are looking for cheaper power. We can choose to build a plant enough for Montserrat or we can go big and generate enough power for sale.
  • Power cryptocurrency mining. Cryptocurrency is no longer the future, it is now. It takes a massive amount of power to mine the currency, albeit with computers. The potential is there to attract mining companies who can make use of our geothermal power.

The ash being shipped overseas has much more value if we were processing it and selling the products. We are giving away our resources.

Our ALMOST fantastic tourism product DOESN’T COUNT.

Any strategy which does not offer an opportunity for property owners to bring their villas into the 21st Century with furnishings and appliances purchased in the last five years, isn’t worth much. We will not be a major all-inclusive hotel destination and that would really take away from what we are best at, but we do need to have properties which fit the allure we need to sell, which is exclusive, private, restful and refined.

The strategy must include a comprehensive customer service, hospitality training and restaurant management programme for businesses.

Tourism is nothing without culture, and so the strategy and attached budget should include allocations for ramping up the annual festivals. The St Patrick’s Festival can easily use one million to enhance the experience and attract more visitors. The Calabash and literary festivals can also use more support. What must change is the handsoff approach of government for events which are run primarily on their purse. If they are to make a real impact on tourism, then they need to be restructured and managed for transparency and effective execution.

Our ALMOST Sports Programme DOESN’T COUNT.

This is NOT a jab at the athletes or their coaches but at the laxadasical effort that the government puts into sports. The most influential people in the world are either athletes or entertainers.  Were it not that the Commonwealth Games foot the bill for the team to go to Australia they would not have been able to attend. The team was absent of female athletes because all of those with ability were either too young or non-nationals. We have young people from the CARICOM nations who have grown up here, train in track here but because they have not been nationalised they cannot represent us in international meets. Nationalising the young people who are making valuable contributions to the island is a MUST.

Montserrat’s greatness will come from many sources and angles. We must leverage everything we have available if we want to move out of this stagnant place. We need to leverage our location, our land and resources, our people, our skills, our political relationships and the absolute love that so many even those who are not from here have for us.