Prime Minister Keith Mitchell has launched a blistering verbal attack on the newly elected Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Attorney-at-law, Dickon Mitchell, describing him as “the legendary infamous fighter against the cause of workers.”
The five times Grenadian Leader, who is seeking a sixth term in office at the polls next month, criticised Dickon Mitchell’s election campaign promise to pay public servants their salaries every two (2) weeks, as opposed to the current monthly system.
Prime Minister Mitchell was addressing supporters of the ruling New National Party (NNP) who converged Sunday at the Morne Rouge playing field to witness the launch of the party’s candidate for the South St. George Constituency, Infrastructure Development Minister, Norland Cox.
The Prime Minister who had promised fortnightly payment to public officers during the 1995 campaign seemed to have had a change of heart when he told the gathering that this is just not feasible.
“Over 20 years ago we explored to see if at all we could pay public servants fortnightly if that was feasible, we even made the statement that we would look into it. In other words, if it could be done, we would do it (but) it turned out that it was not practical at the time…so they are 23 years late in understanding that…they don’t have a clue,” he said.
PM Mitchell expressed the view that “the various administrative processes that must go into that decision (will) make it very difficult to implement” a bi-monthly pay system for public servants.
He attacked Dickon Mitchell as one who was always “fighting workers, stopping them from going to the Privy Council with their grievances, making sure Cable & Wireless workers did not get the benefits they deserve,” and accused him of being “too busy to represent poor people’s children…because it didn’t have big money in trying to represent a poor man.”
“This corporate lawyer has always abandoned poor people’s children when he had the opportunity to serve them. Sisters and brothers, if a man shows you where his yellow heart is, believe him, don’t doubt him,” he said.
Prime Minister Mitchell noted that “the last time his party (NDC) was in power they needed 40 and 50 days to pay their salary.”
“Wey he de day, wey he de day? (local dialect) when NDC was paying people, then policemen bawling, nurses bawling, everybody bawling (and the) bank (was) charging them increase in interest because they ain’t pay in time,” he said.
The Prime Minister told NNP supporters it is “the same people who were there back then presiding over that debacle” that are now advising the Congress leader on economic matters.
“They are coming back now with the same economic and fiscal attitude that will undermine the people’s finances and polarise you the people of this country…now, when we say these people don’t have a clue, this is not a political pigeon, it is a serious statement…” he said.
PM Mitchell charged that “they are talking about returning to the bad old days and are calling it moving forward.”
Several trade union leaders on the island, notably the President of the Public Workers Union (PWU), Brian Grimes and the President-General of the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU), Andre Lewis have branded Dr. Mitchell’s NNP as the most anti-worker government in the history of the country.
The blistering attack on the Congress leader comes days after a viral video began circulating on social media of a rather youthful Prime Minister Mitchell on a political platform over 20 years ago, also promising to “look seriously” at the possibility of paying public workers every two weeks as opposed to monthly.
“The NNP has been looking into the economy here…and what we realise is this, every month a man get a salary (and) by the time the middle of the month the man broke completely and because of his being broke the economy in several ways stagnates for that period,” the recording had PM Mitchell saying back then.
However, the Grenadian leader stated a week ago that “it was not feasible (to make fortnightly payments to public workers), and that has not been feasible in any other Caribbean country at this time because the government “will not have the cash flow by the 15th of the month unless they do a lot of serious re-organisation of the government service.”
Dr. Mitchell pointed out that “VAT payments which is the biggest source of revenue of the government is due on the 20th of the month and that’s where the bulk of the money comes from to pay public servants.”
“They even say they go try to remove (VAT) for a while – well let me tell you something, remove VAT anytime, you won’t have any money because that is the main source of government revenue. The man does not even know basic information. So you see the kind of risk you might be taking…,” he charged.
PM Mitchell went on to criticise the NDC’s plan to “mandate salary increases” and advanced the argument that the “government cannot just mandate salary increases for the public service…without discussing it with the tripartite system of both the government, trade union and businesses.”
“We have a tripartite system that has worked well for this country (and) avoided industrial chaos,” he said.
PM Mitchell charged that his opponent in NDC is “clueless about public sector management and governance” and warned that “if we were to ever mandate increases this could be counterproductive (and) faced with rising bills, the reaction might be to reduce staff and send people home and hurt the very workers that we are talking about.”
“Poor thing…poor this fella…never in the History of Grenada has a supposedly serious political party presented such an unprepared bunch to be considered for political office,” said Dr. Mitchell, who indicated that his party would support salary increases for public servants.
“…We believe the tripartite committee needs to meet as soon as possible to look at this possibility,” added the Grenadian leader, who encouraged Grenadians “to keep Grenada in safer hands” with the ruling party following the June 23 general election.
Congress has been campaigning on a platform of messages to the electorate including an announcement to honour a high court ruling on pension which would see the State having to find an estimated half-a-billion dollars to pay out to public officers over a 40-year period.
NDC has also unveiled initiatives to enhance the lives of public servants and Grenadians on a whole, to put an end to contract work in the public service as soon as it takes office, to make contract workers permanent, as well as to reduce the scourge of poverty that is prevalent in the rural areas, and to reduce the unemployment index to less than 30% in the first two years in government.