Commentary

An empty national address

The economic, social and emotional effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on our Grenadian people, demand the most thorough and thoughtful attention of our leaders. This is how we will arrive at attainable solutions, that will offer hope and inspiration to all.

Unfortunately, the recent 36-minute national address given by Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell fell far short of addressing the most pressing needs of the people and failed to present a clear path to move forward. More than anything else, it highlighted how desperately Mitchell lacks ideas and vision.

The NDC has no illusion that this pandemic is a most severe crisis our nation and the world face, and that there are no easy solutions to the overcoming the impacts. However, a national address at this time that just mechanically reminds the nation of our social and economic conditions and offers no suggestion on where we go from here, is most disappointing, depressing and uninspiring. Such an address speaks to the inability of the current administration to tackle the country’s present problems.

The enthusiasm and forward thinking leadership required to direct the nation out of this malaise are not to be found in what the NNP offers. Indeed, NNP’s policies of rule by deception and manufactured dependency are not what we need in this period. In this new environment, Grenada needs a leader who can motivate its people and make them respond to the call for national unity and joining hands and hearts together to build the country. Instead of demonstrating that he is capable of inspiring and encouraging national unity, Mitchell presides over the frustration of NDC’s efforts to fully participate in a united fight against Covid-19 and bringing relieve to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

NDC and the citizens of Grenada were looking forward to hearing the Prime Minister articulate his administration’s plans to move Grenada forward in the post Covid-19 period. Now that this pandemic has laid bare the fragility of the tourism sector as our main source of economic activity, what are Government’s plans to realise real and lasting growth and prosperity? Are we going to persist in the lazy practice of selling our passports for revenue or, are we going to seriously put the country to work?

It is clear, that we can no longer place all our eggs in the usual baskets. We ask therefore, when will we begin to see returns from our oil and gas sector? During the 2018 election campaign, the oil and gas sector was a major theme. The Prime Minister and his Minister of Workers gave the assurance by 2019 Grenada would be receiving money from oil and gas. This was an opportune time to give the nation some hope with a positive report on that sector and the state of the economic bonanza promised.

In the absence of productive sectors, NDC strongly believes that in this period, it will be in the interest of all our people to invest in all areas of our agriculture. We must focus on becoming more self-sufficient and drastically reducing our very bloated food import bill. Investing in all aspects of agriculture will no doubt encourage entrepreneurship.  Instead of supporting the farmers, the Prime Minister tried to defend his administration’s hostile takeover of the GCNA and the GCA.

Is this defence because his son is the CEO of Chimera Inc., the company that owes the GCNA a huge debt that it is not repaying? Are we experiencing a repeat of Call Centre’s Grenada Inc., where the Prime Minister’s family personally benefited at the expense of the people?

Of note, is the fact that the address was delivered one day before Fishermen’s Birthday and the Prime Minister failed to even mention our fishermen who have stepped up in feeding the nation in this difficult time. It goes to show that his government isn’t thinking of the people.

That national address was the opportune time for the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to tell the nation how much of the stimulus package announced since early April has been delivered to date. Our information is, very little. No wonder he failed to give an account. Being a statistician, Dr. Mitchell owed the nation some specific data on the respective areas our tax dollars were spent. For example, how much was spent on payroll support, farmers, bus operators, tourism; and the number of people benefiting. Why was government’s stimulus package disingenuously lumped with the NIS unemployment benefits?

The Prime Minister ought to have created some hope for the thousands of ordinary people, many in rural communities, who are today jobless as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, it would have brought some instant relief to the most economically affected to hear of short term road maintenance work and de-bushing.

Equally important, the Prime Minister could have indicated his plans to improve productivity in the public service which is badly affected by the pandemic – instead he ignored all teachers and public officers.

When impressing on landlords to give tenants some relief, the Prime Minister could have announced an extension of the deadline for the payment of Property Tax which was on June 30th . How could he request landlords to give their tenants relief, without, in the same breath, giving the landlords some tax relief in return?

NDC recognises the challenges in opening our borders and again urges the government to learn from the experiences of other nations who have already opened their borders. We encourage government to do all in its power to bring our stranded nationals home where they belong. Apart from this, we endorse the stance to keep our borders closed to commercial flights, as cases are surging in some of our traditional markets. We add, that the chartered flights that are allowed in must be subject to stringent conditions to keep our people safe.

NDC joins with the government in urging all citizens not to be complacent. Covid 19 requires all our citizens to continue to observe the respective protocols – wear masks and wash hands regularly. We need to emerge from this pandemic a healthy nation because, in the absence of inspiration from our government, it will be left to us to inspire each other as we rebuild our country.

(The above was submitted by the main opposition National Democratic Congress headed by former Education Minister Franka Alexis-Bernardine)

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