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Commentary

The Patriotic Vine… No Oil from the Throne

The Throne Speech is an important instrument in public affairs. Usually, it addresses both the policy and legislative intentions of the Government. The latter eventually reach the Parliament in the form of Bills for an Act, and the other policy matters are provided for in the budget for the ensuing year. Of course, Government will address additional issues, but those will not be top priorities.

The presentation deserves careful attention by the Grenadian public because of the anxious circumstances surrounding the Grenadian economy and society currently. Let us begin by giving the Government high marks for its initial handling of the COVID-19 presence in Grenada. These commendations extend to the financial and wider economic arrangements undertaken by Government.

However, in leaving the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, locally, one finds that the policy priorities offered in the Throne Speech move in the opposite direction with disturbing implications. Absent, loudly, is a credible and comprehensive strategy to reposition the economy. That is inexplicable, and it is not enough to say that a Cabinet Advisory body is pondering the issues.

Frankly, with a newly-minted National Sustainable Development Plan, 2035, available to Government and having collected important sectorial proposals back in April/May 2020, the regime should not need another year to settle its mind on the way forward.

2020 is one year when the Throne Speech needed to communicate an inspiring message of vision, change and freshness to meet the times. Plainly, the authorities preferred more of the same.

Specifically, the most significant observation arising from the Speech is that ‘Oil and Gas’ cannot be expected to play any part in Grenada’s economic recovery and consolidation. In the context of the 2018 General Elections, citizens were given a bold promise that ‘Oil and Gas’ was on the verge of flowing and becoming a big player in the economy.

In 2020, there is not even a passing reference to it. With ‘No Oil from the Throne’, hopes for the benefits of that new economic frontier have gone up in green smoke!

Agriculture! The Speech rehashed the old menu of programs and projects which are incapable of transforming the sector. Not even an ‘Emergency Food Production Initiative’ was presented. So there goes Pedro’s promotion. It would be interesting to learn what is meant by the “revitalisation of the cocoa and nutmeg industries”.

At the top of the list of projects is the Farm and Feeder Roads Project. Since the nineties, Grenada has been building farm roads, initially using European Union money followed by loans from the Kuwaiti Fund. We may have borrowed as much as three to four hundred million dollars from the Kuwaitis. Think of what could have happened with agriculture if one third of that money was used to finance an agro-processing plant, train dozens of young Grenadians in food technology, create a loan fund for farmers in fruit and vegetable production, invest in new technologies and storage equipment, etc.

Will Minister Pedro pull the plug and redirect the resources to these urgent purposes? Unless the sector is promoted, Minister Pedro’s talk of promotion is empty.

A conservative estimate is that upwards of half a billion dollars have been spent on farm roads without agricultural output to justify the investment. On top of which, there has been little value for money and scandalous corruption. A call is justified for an ‘Anti-Corruption Tax Refund’ to taxpayers who have been unjustly over-taxed to the extent of the takings some have pocketed.

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A ‘People’s Commission of Inquiry’ is needed urgently on this corruption overkill. The PM, Minister Bowen and some others should be served with ‘People’s Subpoenas’ to testify. The hearings could be held at the foreign-owned (CBI) Seven Sisters Estates. Minister Pedro could make that happen, easily.

It is true that infrastructural development will be a positive in improving the physical stock of the country and providing employment with important trickle-down benefits. But the problem of ‘implementation capacity’ was identified in the Speech. True, but the explanation for that situation must be highlighted.

We have a problem of human capital in the Public Service because of the treatment meted out to professionals and technicians by the Prime Minister, in particular. Having decimated the Service (personnel and structures), mouthing Public Sector Reform is mere lip-service. A crippled Public Service is bad news for national development and the price for that is extremely high.

Tourism! A policy statement on tourism development is not contained in the Speech. Investment in hotel plant is good generally but should not displace heritage assets or erode cultural rights. Arrangements for the resumption of cruise and stayover tourism are important for the economy, but, inevitably, new cases of COVID-19 will be here. Supposedly, wealth will pay for health. Beyond that, it is vital that Grenadian farmers, artists, artistes, craftsmen, and other workers be enabled to produce new goods and services for sale to the tourism industry. Increasing visitor spend and growing the stake of ordinary Grenadians should be major policy goals of the industry.

SGU! It is a plain fallacy to say that Grenada is preparing for a “full return” at St. George’s University. Get real. Unfortunately, this driver of the economy has succumbed to COVID-19 disruption. Therefore, it makes more sense to strategise for the introduction of new economic activities to compensate for the losses surrounding SGU.

IMANI! Here again, the regime is simply ‘tinkering at the margins’. There is only one route to genuine job creation for young Grenadians, that is, to strengthen and expand the productive sectors. The established programs are weak on skills training with the emphasis on placements of the youth wherever a space may be found. They may be occupied but not producing. Not good.

Lastly, the legislative agenda! The most glaring issue here is the omission of planned legislation for the liberalisation and merger of the cocoa and nutmeg industries. Recall that a Bill was recently put forward on this issue and was sought to be justified given the importance of cocoa and nutmegs to the national economy. Now, there is silence. Has Minister Pedro pulled the plug on this one?

Altogether, the Throne Speech which represents the centerpiece of Government’s plans for Grenada gets a ‘C’ grade! Not good enough and not good for the times.

William Joseph

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