The Covid-19 pandemic has caused serious financial hardship the world over. For countries like ours, where the rate of poverty was already high, the impact has been particularly severe. In these difficult times, those who are better off are always encouraged to help those who are in need.
Many Caribbean governments announced and did deliver on financial relief for their citizens. Our government also promised relief since April 2020, but most still await delivery. As we wait, things have worsened. Some have not worked since March. The tourism and hospitality sectors have not fully resumed, and St. George’s University for the most part, remains operating virtually.
During his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Mitchell announced the establishment of a Social Fund to help bring relief to those most vulnerable in our society. The concept he says, is that every working person in Grenada will contribute to this fund.
He said the fund will not be legislated but will be left as a voluntary gesture for those who are working and are able to contribute a percentage of their earnings. The Prime Minister proposes that fund will be managed by a committee set up for that purpose.
The NDC has itself taken steps to help those financially affected by Covid-19. Last April we set up our National Care Initiative and have received support from many at home and in the diaspora. Under the NCI we have among other things, distributed over 1000 food hampers, 500 hot lunches to students and 700 face masks. In principle therefore, we commend the call to help, but before we contribute, we must remember previous similar funds established by government.
After hurricane Ivan, the government of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell established a Hurricane Relief Fund. Due to the massive destruction caused, relief poured into our country in various forms and from many different sources. The Hurricane Relief Fund we imagine, was no exception. There was never any accounting for the monies deposited to that fund. Nor was there equal and fair distribution of hurricane relief.
Who are the beneficiaries so far of the Keith Mitchell Education Foundation established a few years ago? Is there accounting for donations to this foundation?
In April 2020, Government announced the establishment of a Covid-19 Relief Fund and Grenadians at home and in the diaspora were encouraged to donate money to this fund. Our ambassadors abroad, including in Washington DC and London, solicited funds for this effort. The funds were received and managed by Government. Prime Minister Mitchell was Minister of Finance at the time. Up to now, no account has been given as to what was collected and how it was spent. All those who contributed should demand an accounting.
Now, we are told of a Social Fund for Covid-19 relief. What happened to the Covid-19 Relief Fund set up 10 months ago? Why is the Prime Minister pitching this Social Fund as a new idea or fresh initiative? Does he expect us to forget that such a Fund was announced and that the same account number at Co-operative Bank was given? How will there be transparency if it is the same account where we already have no accounting?
NDC encourages our people at home and in the diaspora to give generously once you can, but to do so through reputable community groups and NGOs or directly. If you deposit to the Social Fund, it is likely that you will have no accounting and transparency on the use of your money.
The Prime Minister says he will lead by example and deposit an unspecified portion of his salary to the Social Fund. He is filthy rich and over 70. We encourage him to do better than that. Deposit at least a few millions from the over $19 million he has.
The MPs with Ministerial portfolios can, for the first time under NNP, take a salary cut and deposit that into the Fund. Next, the NNP should tap into their large donors and those to whom they have sold us out for nothing, such as Global Petroleum Group. Now is the time to bring home the oil money to our working class and poor. The Fund can then be supplemented by money from the National Transformation Fund, where the monies from the sale of our passports go. Isn’t it we damn money?
None of the austerity measures imposed under the structural adjustment program since 2014 have been removed. How unconscionable to impose a further “tax” on us! Salaries have remained frozen and in many cases have been reduced since the pandemic. Workers are denied the 4% increase due to them. Pensioners continue to retire into poverty. Food prices continue to increase and will get even worse with recent increases in the price of flour, oil and freight charges. Mr. Prime Minister, you cannot get blood from ‘Stone’. Have a heart!
Based on the record, NDC says that the announcement of this Social Fund is just another gimmick. Those most in need are not likely to see any of it, particularly those who do not support the NNP, no matter how much is deposited.
The NNP does not care for the welfare of the people. If they did, rather than finding over $200 million to pay for the GRENLEC shares following a foolish vendetta, that money could have been used to give every Grenadian man, woman and child a cheque for $2,000.00. Imagine what a household of 5 would have received. That would have been true relief!
(The above was submitted by the main opposition National Democratic Congress)