Prime Minister Keith Mitchell has announced plans to approach Social Partners in the country with a proposal for the creation of a “Social Fund” to assist individuals faced with financial vulnerability due to the negative impact of the COVID-19 public health crisis.
The Grenadian leader made the announcement Sunday, while addressing a ceremony marking the island’s 47th Anniversary of Independence at the Grenada National Stadium at Queen’s Park with limited attendance in keeping with COVID-19 social distancing protocols.
The disclosure came five days after Social Development Minister, Delma Thomas, announced a “phased approach” towards providing financial assistance for families who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, through a programme, which she indicated, will be launched “very soon.”
Pointing to the sudden hardships for various sectors of the population, which “continues unabated leaving many to seek some form of relief from the government, friends and family at home and abroad,” Prime Minister Mitchell said that “since this pandemic started (in March 2020) and over the past few months in particular,” he has been “personally inundated with requests for assistance through calls, text messages and emails.”
Dr. Mitchell emphasised that “unprecedented times necessitates innovative and out of the box thinking to find solutions that would soothe the desperate cries of those among us who simply have no means of helping themselves right now”.
“We all must remember them and do what we can to help (and) it is for this reason I plan to present a proposal to Social Partners and by implication the country, for the creation of a Social Fund that will be used to help the most vulnerable in our society,” he said.
“The concept is that every one of us who is working will contribute to this fund (and) I would lead by example contributing a portion far above anyone else of my salary every month to help those in need and I will be encouraging my Cabinet colleagues to do the same. Similarly, I will be encouraging everyone (that is) able to make a contribution to do so.
“The fund that we wish to establish will never be enough to meet the pain…we are also in discussion with the regional and international community to get additional funds to compliment the initiative.
“The way I have envisioned it, the Social Partners will establish an independent committee to manage and disburse the funds acquired through this effort.
According to PM Mitchell, the beneficiary of this initiative will be someone with a “justifiable need that will be verified.”
The Prime Minister noted that among the persons on the island who are hurting badly from the Covid-19 pandemic are the over 2000 persons without a job in the tourism sector which was badly hit by the health crisis.
He also acknowledged that “farmers, fishermen, restaurant owners and bars, tourism and market vendors, taxi drivers, water taxi operators, tour operators and guides, industry providers including operators of marine-based business, LIAT workers and others in the aviation industry, hair dressers, entertainers, school-based vendors, shop keepers, small travel agencies, property owners are also among those who are “hurting badly” due to the onset of the coronavirus.
However, he said the reality of the situation facing the country is that while some people are forced “to make something out of nothing, others are demanding more and more.”
The Prime Minister was making obvious reference to the refusal of public sector trade unions to agree to government’s request for a deferral of their negotiated 4% salary/wage increases for 2021 which should have taken effect from the end of January but was not paid by the State.
He expressed the view that “those of us who are earning a serious salary must understand that it’s our time now, despite all the circumstances, we must reach out to those who have nothing”.
“This is what we were told as a Christian nation. Love you neighbour as yourself,” he declared.
As the nation commemorated its 47th Anniversary of Independence in the midst of what PM Mitchell described as a “very challenging period,” he said, “guided by the targets and milestones set out in our 15-year National Sustainable Development Plan, government envisions a future of hope (and) targeted interventions.”
“Government’s focus in 2021 will be on protecting the health and well-being of our people and fostering economic recovery (and) putting our people back to work is an important part of this process,” he said.
Prime Minister Mitchell pointed to the construction sector, which has been identified as key in spearheading economic recovery efforts on the island following the significant decline in revenue collection, since COVID-19 started last March.
“Many private and public sector projects will come on stream this year and we anticipate these projects providing jobs for hundreds or even thousands of Grenadians and Petite Martiniquians and helping therefore to stimulate the local economy,” he said.
“In addition, the timing of these projects and their estimated completion dates mean that Grenada will be better positioned when the tourism sector begins to ascend its post-COVID trajectory,” he added.
PM Mitchell told Grenadians that “the course of recovery and a return to normal will depend largely on the acquisition and successful roll out of COVID-19 Vaccines (and) that government, with guidance from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), is moving aggressively in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders to procure COVID-19 vaccines soon.”
PAHO Representative to Barbados and Eastern Caribbean, Dr. Yitades Gebre in a press release on January 30, 2021, encouraged member states like Grenada to take the required steps as promptly as possible, no later than the end of February, to avoid potential delays in receiving vaccines through the COVAX Facility which plans to deliver 357, 600 doses of the AstraZeneca AZD1222 vaccine, to member countries, by mid to late February.
Under the COVAX facility, Grenada is scheduled to receive 45,600 AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccines, licenced to the Serum Institute of India under the advance purchase agreement between Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and AstraZeneca.