Former Opposition Leader and Minister of Agriculture in the late 1990’s Michael Batiste has launched a blistering attack on the 14-month old Congress government of Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell accusing it of not doing anything much to aid the agriculture sector.
Speaking with Journalist Calistra Farrier on the program ‘The Narrative’ on Wednesday, Baptiste who once represented the St Andrew South-west constituency in Parliament said that things have gotten worse with the labour subsidy programme in Grenada under the new administration.
He charged that he was not comfortable with where the country is at the moment in terms of the performance of the government in office.
He said the regime has been in power for 14 months now and cannot use that as an excuse for the lack of economic activities taking place in the country because they came in and offered a lot and ought to use their chance to deliver.
“14 months is a very long time, I can understand your first six months grace, that is your honeymoon period, six to nine months but 14 months is a very long time,” he told the programme host.
Baptiste recalled that the first New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell in the 1995-99 period did so much within the first year that when the then Foreign Minister Dr. Raphael Fletcher brought down the administration the people of Grenada overwhelmingly gave the then ruling party NNP its first 15-0 clean sweep at the polls because people saw a lot of activities taking place in the country.
One of the biggest projects undertaken by the NNP in office then was the building of an EC$159 million sporting stadium at Queen’s Park with assistance from the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan.
However, when the stadium collapsed during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, it was discovered that the facility was not insured and the Keith Mitchell-led regime could not make a claim for financial compensation.
According to Baptiste, he has not seen this new NDC government outline any new economic plans for the country.
He claimed that the “artificial economy” created by the NNP has been dismantled and under the current rulers in the Botanical Gardens things have gotten worse.
He feared that Congress does not recognise that Grenada is coming from a post-COVID period and the economy was at a halt and now that they are in office it is time to stimulate the economy.
Baptiste said he was of the opinion that the NDC was sitting on the sidelines and watching what was going on during the Covid-19 pandemic under NNP and saw the struggles of the people and the need to resuscitate the agriculture sector so that in the event of another pandemic “we wouldn’t have to go through the difficulties.”
“When we look at the food import bill one would think that one of the first major actions of this government is to reduce the food import bill,” he said.
This, he said could have been done through action in the poultry, fishing, livestock sector or resuscitation of the banana industry.
“…We need to get serious and look at agriculture as a case of emergency. We cannot wait for another Covid to hit Grenada and then we are depending on St. Vincent to send us food and go through all of that,” he remarked.
The former Parliamentarian charged that Congress is not fulfilling most of the new policies that were outlined in their action plan.
He cited the tax breaks given to the private sector because when they come in with containers of goods nothing has been trickling down to citizens because “when you go to the supermarkets, the prices are still high.”
Baptiste pointed out that there is a global recession and that inflation is taking a toll on Grenada but the government is not doing a lot to deal with the issue.
Suggesting that one of the best ways to deal with that “is to grow locally the things that we need”, the former Opposition Leader said that “when we look at the shelves we see food that can be grown being shipped to Grenada.”
Baptiste felt that the Congress administration is continuing to pursue the same failed policies of the former Ministers of Agriculture in the NNP administration.
He claimed that the labour subsidies offered in an agriculture programme by NDC is a total failure and waste of taxpayers’ monies.
“They spent millions of dollars clearing people’s lands with no serious plans for replanting and within two weeks rainfall and the grass grow back again. So that was throwing money away – that money could have been better spent and better utilised to resurrect the rural economy,” he said.
Baptiste expressed his disappointment with the Minister of Agriculture Senator Adrian “Persuader” Thomas because he was working in agriculture under the NNP and saw how the programme was used by the NNP to resurrect the banana industry after the country was bug-infested.
He thinks the farm labour programme has not worked under the new administration because there is no plan in place.
According to Baptiste, there is no planting material nor any serious plan to resurrect agriculture in Grenada under the new regime.
He does not believe that just clearing the land is enough or the planting process should be left up to the farmers but insisted that they should produce planting materials and aid in supervision.
“The first thing we need to do is to coordinate with the farmers, we have to understand that we must know exactly what it is the farmer is going to plant, what he is involved with, and give him the necessary support to accomplish that feat,” said Baptiste who has been investing thousands of dollars in the poultry industry.