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Dickon Mitchell scolds Keith Mitchell on SEED

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell – provided an extract from Parliament from under NNP rule to prove that the additional $150.00 given to SEED beneficiaries for one year was a “temporary” measure

…Do not let people fool you or mislead you into thinking that somehow while they were in administration embarked upon a permanent programme that this administration is reversing – it is not.

Those were the words uttered Tuesday by new Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell as he scolded the defeated former Grenadian leader Dr. Keith Mitchell and top members of his New National Party (NNP) who called on the 7-month old Congress administration to restore the EC$150.00 that is no longer provided for persons receiving state assistance in the controversial Support for Education and Empowerment and Development (SEED) Programme.

Dr. Mitchell who now holds the position of Opposition Leader in Parliament spent the past week appearing on several radio stations aligned to NNP slamming the new government for not making the payments that were initiated by his regime which lost power on June 23, 2022.

Former Foreign Minister Oliver Joseph who lost his St David seat to Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell in the election also appeared Tuesday on GBN’s “To The Point Programme” and denied that the additional $150.00 was “a temporary” measure from the then NNP government.

As part of its onslaught against the NDC administration, the island’s main opposition party also circulated a press release which said: “The New National Party (NNP) is calling on the Dickon Mitchell administration to immediately return the One Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($150) deducted from the monthly payment to senior citizens and vulnerable families under the SEED program.

“The increase was initiated by the Keith Mitchell-led administration in 2022 to further assist the vulnerable to meet basic needs. The party notes that the cost of living has significantly increased since July 2022 and therefore considers the cut in this payment an immoral act.”

“This action is taken at a time when there are significant increases in electricity and impending increases in the cost of water and sugar. It is disheartening that while the government takes away $150 from the elderly and vulnerable, Government Ministers paid themselves a 2000 dollars salary increase and are contemplating a second increase.”

“The party therefore finds it unbelievable that the government has taken this decision to viciously cut payments to vulnerable families across the country.”

“The New National Party empathises with the hundreds of citizens and particularly senior citizens and single parents who are left unable to purchase basic medication, food and pay for transportation to send their children to school.”

“The NNP calls on the Government to have a heart and refund the monies deducted.”

The position of Congress on the SEED programme got support from the opposition when former Social Development Minister Delma Thomas, MP for St Andrew North-west stated publicly that the initiative was always “temporary.”

She said: “I recall vividly that we (NNP Government) did add this $150.00 per household – it was a stimulus added to the SEED programme…because of the issue of Covid. We decided to give that particular additional assistance for one year … January to December.

“What I did last year was to reach (out). I met with my elderly, I had a function for them and I did say to them be prepared that this $150.00 may come out because it was temporary at the time when we did it, it was temporary.”

“I didn’t want to catch them off-guard and then they believed that I was the minister there and we lied to them. I told all of them – the parents with children too that I came into contact with, that that (withdrawal of the $150.00) might be the case.”

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell hit back Tuesday at the NNP attack and told Grenadians that the former Keith Mitchell-led government had announced the measure to give the additional $150.00 to the poor and vulnerable in the wake of the fall-out from the Covid-19 pandemic but did not even make budgetary allocation for it before it was booted out of office by the Electorate.

PM Dickon Mitchell also pulled out an extract from the 2022 Budget address by the then Minister of Finance, Gregory Bowen, the Number Two man in the then NNP regime in which he indicated that the extra $150.00 was “temporary”.

The Grenadian leader said the following on the issue: “As the Minister of Finance I want to make some comments in relation to the SEED programme.

It appears that deliberately so, personnel are trying to suggest that somehow the government has chosen to end the programme which was a permanent programme by a reduction of the EC$150.00.

I am going to read for our citizens and for you members of the media an excerpt that was taken from the speech of the then Minister of Finance, Honourable Gregory Bowen as it pertains to the temporary nature of the additional $150.00 that was added as part of the economic stimulus package on a temporary basis to beneficiaries of SEED.

And am reading his budget statement: “Additionally Mr. Speaker $10 million is allocated under government’s Covd-19 Economic Stimulus package for the provision of cash transfer benefits in 2022. These will be provided through temporary horizontal expansion of the SEED programme to provide support to over 1000 households.”

Now I want citizens to understand this: This statement which was contained in the then Budget Statement of the Honourable Minister of Finance, Gregory Bowen that statement was made when he delivered his Budget presentation and it was made post or after the preparation for that budget.

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There was in fact no budgetary allocation in the budget for this and as a result when this administration took office in June we came back to Parliament and sought the approval of Parliament for EC$8 million to in fact fund the temporary increase in the SEED allocation of $150.00.

Let me repeat this: When the budget statement was read in November 2021 (by Gregory Bowen) promising this additional $10 million there was no actual appropriation for it. And so when the programme started and there was the additional increase in 2022 there was no budgetary allocation for it. There was no actual Appropriation approved by Parliament.

It is this administration when we went back to do the Supplemental Appropriation that we had to budget an additional $8 million to ensure that the funds were spent.

This is not hidden because the Supplementary Appropriation went through all of the Phases. It went through the Finance Committee. I am the Chairman of the Finance Committee and each member of the House of Representative is a member of the Finance Committee.

The Honourable Leader of the Opposition and all of his members who attended the Finance Committee meeting would have been part of that process of approving the additional $8 million which was never budgeted for and which it was known was a temporary measure as part of the Covid Economic Stimulus package for the year 2022.

And so that package came to an end in 2022. It was always temporary, it was known that it was temporary but specifically it was not in fact funded by the previous budget.

It took our Supplementary Appropriation to authorize the spending for this and so I want our citizens to understand that perhaps we didn’t do a good enough job in October/November to remind citizens that this temporary aspect was coming to an end.

And if that is the case, we accept responsibility for that but do not let people fool you or mislead you into thinking that somehow while they were in administration embarked upon a permanent programme that this administration is reversing. It is not.

It is the same $18 million that is budgeted for the SEED programme 2021, 2022 and into this 2023 budget. And so we can assure you that there will be no demenition in the normal SEED benefit.

The Honourable Minister (Gloria Thomas) has indicated that the list is being cleaned up – and when you listen to the category of persons – she talked about dead people, people who are overseas, people who are in prison, people who have graduated from the programme.

What we want to ensure is that those persons who truly need the programme benefit from it. We are confident that once we are able to sanitise the list and we are able to ensure that persons who need it get, then we would be in a better position to review to see whether or not the government is in a position to do any permanent increases to the programme”.

Minister for Social Services, Gloria Thomas who also addressed reporters at the press briefing disclosed that SEED is presently undergoing a recertification exercise in order to sanitise the list.

She pointed to the list having names of the dead on it, as well as persons such as students who have already graduated and are now working, as well as families whose circumstances have improved, and people who are also receiving other financial benefits from the State.

In addition, she cited as SEED beneficiaries, persons who have travelled abroad and now living overseas as well as people who are currently held in custody at the Richmond Hill prison.

According to Minister Thomas, officers attached to her ministry are now going around to the homes of beneficiaries to verify the information and not merely to remove names from the SEED programme.

“If persons fall in the category named above the names will be removed. The temporary measure that was employed to assist families to cope with the impact of the Covid-19 ended in December 2022,” she said.

In addition, the female government minister stated that persons who applied for SEED and did not reach the requirement as they did not receive a good grade from the Grenada Living Condition Index – these persons were given a stimulus payment which also ended in December 2022.

Minister Thomas denied that the budgetary allocation for SEED was cut by Congress, saying that EC$18 million was budgeted for the programme in 2022 by the previous government and this year the same EC$18 million was again budgeted for it.

“So there was no cut in the budgetary allocation facing the beneficiaries. We are hopeful that once our implementation plans start rolling out the face of the ministry will improve – we will be better poised to provide better services and to make some critical changes that are needed to improve service delivery,” she said.

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