My government reiterates that while vaccination in and of itself will not end the pandemic, it is our best chance of survival and a speedy return to normalcy (and) is therefore heartened by the clarion call by several stakeholder groups during the recent consultation on the 2022 budget for a national conversation on vaccination to increase vaccine uptake.
Those words were uttered by the island’s female head of State, Governor General Dame Cecile La Grenade as she delivered the traditional Throne Speech which is written by the government of the day to mark the Ceremonial State opening of the Fifth Session of the Tenth Parliament, under the theme “Towards vision 2035, protecting lives, safeguarding livelihoods and investing for growth and resilience.”
Dame Cecile called for those persons in leadership positions and with influence in the country to “use your voice to encourage vaccination”.
“My government continues to strongly urge all citizens over the age of 12 to get vaccinated. Achieving herd immunity means 80% of the population must be fully vaccinated. However, at present only 30% of our people are fully vaccinated. As a nation, we can do much better,” she told the Joint Sitting last Friday of both the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament.
The Keith Mitchell-led government is facing an uphill battle to get a reluctant population to accept vaccination as the best approach in dealing with the deadly coronavirus that disrupted life in the country for the past 19 months.
Dame Cecile emphasised the importance to achieve herd immunity to drive the much-needed rebound of the country’s economy, which had been on an upward trajectory since 2013, with an average growth rate of 4.5% per year, but experienced a 13.7% contraction in 2020 due to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first time in history, the Governor-General delivered the Throne Speech electronically via Zoom, from her residence in Point Salines, St. George, where she gave insight into the plans and intentions of the Mitchell-led ruling New National Party (NNP) administration for 2022.
She pointed to a further downgrade in the projection of economic growth for 2021 and 2022, due to “current fiscal realities facing the government,” including “lower tax revenues as a result of the uncertain economic environment, the need for higher spending associated with managing the current spike in COVID-19 cases and limiting the associated social and economic fallout.”
The female Head of State noted that “at the time of the 2021 budget presentation the real GDP projections for 2021 and 2022 were 6% and 4.8% respectively (but) were revised downwards in June of this year, to 5.2% and 4.7% respectively on account of the slower unexpected rebound of some major sectors.”
“The outlook for the rest of this year and next year would be further downgraded because of the heightened uncertainty created by the latest spike in cases,” she said.
Dame Cecile also acknowledged that while “the measures implemented to curb the recent spike in cases, and limit exposure among residents have undoubtedly curtailed economic activity, and increased the burden on our citizens, especially our poor and vulnerable,” they are geared to “bring the COVID-19 situation under control.”
She also touched on the “need for greater capital investments to stimulate economic activity, create jobs and advance our nation’s development agenda, to meet ongoing and in some instances growing existing obligations including wages and pensions and debt servicing”.
She stated that while the government “will continue to act decisively to protect the lives of every single citizen” it cannot “overemphasise the importance of adhering to the COVID-19 protocols, and other proven measures including vaccination to mitigate the risk of serious illness and death.”
The female Governor-General warned that “in the absence of compliance with these measures, COVID-19 will continue to claim lives, destroy jobs, and inflict lasting damage on our people and economy, adding that “beyond the priority of saving lives, and protecting livelihoods” the government also seeks to “ensure that recovery from the pandemic is based on solid and sustainable foundations.”
“In this context, the correct fiscal policy stance is crucially important to raise the agenda for 2022, while ensuring long-term fiscal and debt sustainability,” she told parliamentarians.
“My government recognises that withdrawing crucial spending from the economy in the current environment would do more harm than good at the same time prudent fiscal management continues to be of paramount importance to ensure that scarce resources are properly targeted and allocated to their best and most efficient use,” she said.
She went on to say: ”My government will therefore continue to take steps to increase spending efficiencies while boosting capital investments.”
The Governor-General noted that in order to facilitate this, government will for the second time invoke the Escape Clause under the Fiscal Responsibility law in 2022 to help cover “additional financing” as expenditure continues to exceed revenue collection in the “protracted and difficult” battle against COVID-19.
According to Dame Cecile, “the priorities for the next three (3) years are set forth in the medium-term action plan 2022-2024, which draws on the National Sustainable Development Plan (NSDP) 2020-2035,” which will continue to drive the “government’s framework for policy implementation.”
This policy directive, she said is intended to make “Grenada a resilient and prosperous nation with a gracious and caring citizenry, promoting human dignity, and realising its full potential through sustainable economic, social, and environmental progress for all.”
The Governor-General stressed that the roll out of this 3-year medium-term action plan (MTAPs) will be the vehicle through which the NSDP is implemented, adding that “the agenda for 2022 will also be informed by the recommendations of the Cabinet-appointed economic task force as well as input from broader stakeholder consultations.”
The Throne speech also highlighted several “strategic objectives” that are expected to “guide efforts to support robust and inclusive growth and build resilience” including accelerating the creation of sustainable jobs, boosting competitiveness and diversifying the economy and export base, boosting investment in health to improve healthcare delivery, and build resilience to health crisis, accelerating human capital in education by investing in infrastructure.
It also mentioned as priorities ICT infusion and skills development, accelerating the infusion of technology in the economy and fast-tracking digital transformation, increasing investment in agriculture and the like, manufacturing sector to boost food and nutrition security and to reduce the food import bill, as well as accelerating the rehabilitation, and upgrade of the nation’s road network and other physical infrastructure.
Dame Cecile also said the government is committed to continuing with efforts to build resilience against external shocks, including strengthening structural financial and post-disaster resilience, preserving and expanding as necessary social safety nets to protect and empower those most affected by the pandemic.
In addition, the Mitchell-led regime will continue with efforts to protect “our environmental assets from human and climate change impacts (and) fast-tracking our transition to renewable energy.”
Dame Cecile explained that the government’s legislative agenda for the upcoming period in Parliament will be driven by strategic measures to protect lives, safeguard livelihoods, and investing for growth and resilience.
“The proposed legislative agenda will cover the following areas among others – energy development, digital transformation, climate change, and mitigation and adaptation, economic policy, public finance management, and labour relations,” she said.
The delivery of the 2021 Throne Speech came, approximately one (1) month ahead of the highly anticipated national budget presentation in November, when Finance Minister Gregory Bowen is expected to disclose government’s Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the upcoming fiscal year.