The Grenada Government’s $1.2 billion dollar budget is a spectacular concoction of eye-catching numbers, fantastic projects and empty rhetoric that ignores the real social and economic challenges of mass unemployment and depression being experienced by the rural poor and ordinary citizens and thus, compounding the continued hardship that the COVID-19 Pandemic has imposed on many Grenadians.
No doubt about it, this is another attempt by the NNP Minister of Finance and his government to sugarcoat tough economic times with lavish unrealistic ideas rather than being frank and genuinely honest with the people.
The Minister of Finance’s betrayal of trust began with his unrealistic discourse on the rebirth of tourism in the short-term and the thousands of potential jobs for Grenadians.
The COVID-19 Pandemic is not only negatively impacting the tourism industry; it has temporarily halted industry growth worldwide; and Grenada is no exception.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank are all projecting very difficult times ahead. Despite news of approved vaccines coming on stream by year-end, these institutions all agree it is highly unlikely that the tourism industry will blossom to its full potential in the immediate future.
Nevertheless, the Minister of Finance, using spin-doctor tactics, is happy to paint a scenario that all will be well going forward with promises of millions and millions of dollars to be invested in hotel projects and along with thousands of jobs for everyone.
Grenadians ought not to fall for Minister Bowen’s trickery. His utterances in the budget presentation provided absolutely no serious evidence that any of the investors in the many hotel projects are committed to spending millions and millions in this period of uncertainty.
Both the Honourable Gregory Bowen and the Government are fully aware that poor people are hurting badly – many cannot pay their utility bills, feed their children and meet other basic needs. Nevertheless, they have chosen the temporary and easy path of creating “a feel good” environment to trick the unsuspecting poor and vulnerable.
Allocating the sum of $2 million to the Prime Minister’s office to help those affected by COVID is yet another ruse by the NNP political machine to humiliate poor people and force them to subject themselves to ruling party politicians for life saving assistance.
Once again, the NNP is using taxpayer’s money in yet another political party ploy, such as the school uniform, transportation, eye care, and medical care assistance programs to subject those in need to allegiance to the ruling party.
A more credible and self-respecting approach to empowering affected individuals would have been to set aside the $2 million to a government-appointed multipartite grouping of trade union, private sector, religious and non-governmental representatives.
That committee would be charged with identifying opportunities for working with the Central Government on facilitating a variety of short-term jobs as well as skills training and re-training in a variety of areas.
This method would depoliticise the process and provide skills that empower people and help them to become self-sufficient.
As depressing as the COVID Pandemic is, it provides an opportunity for the Government to seriously help the rural poor and others to empower themselves with the necessary skills that can provide them with future jobs.
Grenada has tremendous needs for people who are skilled in plumbing, carpentry, masonry, tiling, electrical services and more. The objective is to make each man and woman independent so that they can command or create a job rather than being dependent on the political apparatus.
This is a unique period in our history that calls for genuine recognition of the fact that an increasing number of our people are disoriented due to job losses and an uncertain future. Therefore, party politics must not be a dominant feature as the NNP is demonstrating by way of attaching budget humanitarian support to its constituency political offices and party employed field workers.
The Bowen Budget has not only politicised the humanitarian help for workers and their families but it has also vividly demonstrated no respect for workers especially our teachers.
The government made no mention in the Budget of its initiative to end the industrial dispute with the Teachers and Public Sector Unions.
Nevertheless, the Minister of Finance and Government are asking the teachers to defer their negotiated and signed four percent salary increase for 2021 because of the downturn in the economy.
Even more appalling is the fact that the same Government continues to refuse to extend an olive branch to the almost 2000 teachers who are continuing a work to rule in protest over Government’s contentious deduction from their monthly wages in 2018 as punishment for participating in an industrial action.
Former NDC Finance Minister Nazim Burke is correct in stating that using the $3 million to settle the dispute with the teachers will bring greater rewards than retrofitting the traffic lights which have not worked in the last five years.
In fact, there is evidence to support that when traffic is managed by police officers, there is greater efficiency and traffic control.
One can only assume that the aggressive pursuit of the traffic light business is a means of padding the pockets of the political big boys and elite who find ways of benefiting from big kick backs.
In these extremely difficult financial times for ordinary people, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet’s decision to invest such a large sum of money on traffic lights is further testament of how uncaring the Keith Mitchell government is.
The Minister of Finance, like in previous NNP budget presentations, spent plenty of time blowing their own trumpets about the prospects of huge economic growth in our gross domestic product (GDP).
In this COVID Pandemic era, NNP says 6% growth and more are forthcoming based on the millions to be invested in construction and agriculture. We wish them well. However, do not be surprised when three/four months later the nation gets another story as NNP has mastered the art of hoodwinking ordinary people!
Finally, the Minister of Finance, in his presentation, indicated that a committee will be appointed by the government to review charges for services it provides. Question Mr. Minister: ‘Is that the covert approach to increasing taxes or fees on workers? Why not come clean?
During its 2013 to 2018 reign , then Finance Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell increased port charges two/three months after presenting what he said was a tax free budget.
Let’s hope that this Gregory Bowen Budget stands the test of time and does not become a repeat of no relation between the words in the budget and the action of the government in real everyday life.
Time will tell!