Mr Speaker, I stand here today with a heavy heart as I am forced to decide to respond to the National Budget presentation on the same day I have been asked to do a special tribute for my former colleague and special friend Adrian “Spaceman” Mitchell.
Mr Speaker, we were asked to have a minute of silence on Monday as a mark of respect for Adrian, which I thought was not fitting enough for his contribution to the Parliament and country. Instead, we should have honoured him by not having this session here today, in addition to the minute of silence.
This brings into focus how the government has operated the business of this house since the last general elections. The present government seems to believe that they can manage the business of the house at their whims and fancies.
Case in point, after receiving a schedule of the House meetings which included the dates for the Finance Committee and Budget Presentation, members on our side had agreed with the proposal. This meant that the Finance Committee would have been held on 13 November and the national budget on 8 December 2023. As our team arranged our schedules based on the scheduled dates without consultation, the date of the Finance Committee was changed from 13 November to 17 November to accommodate the travels of ministers, while a new date for the budget presentation was announced at a press conference held by the government.
Mr Speaker, this level of disrespect, disregard, and arrogance has been extended to the citizens, where the present government believes that it can do what it wants, making major decisions without involving the people.
Whether it is the wasteful spending on travel and other matters, the massive increases in emoluments given to ministers, the lack of engagement with the unions and other social partners, or the signing of documents that impact the social and economic life of the people, the story is the same.
I will, in the course of this presentation, demonstrate how this arrogance, self-interest, and ego in government is the order of the day in so many areas.
Mr Speaker, this debate on the “Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, 2024” is occurring at a critical period for our country. There can be no doubt that the systematic impact of Covid recovery, supply-side disruptions, the ‘blow-back’ of wars, and the catastrophic effects of climate change, have left the global environment more uncertain, less forgiving, and harsher.
Indeed, Mr Speaker the Budget Debate, 2024 is occurring at a time when the Grenada economy has already begun to display clear signs of a slowdown (real GDP of between 3.0 and 3.6% over the next 2 years).
Yet, Mr Speaker, on Monday, 4 December 2023, Grenada experienced a historic moment in this honourable house!! Indeed, it may well have been the first Budget where the Minister of Finance did not convince himself first before failing so miserably to convince this House or the Grenadian population that what he was “given to read” was credible.
What this House and the population were subjected to on Monday, was a disjointed, inarticulate rambling, confused journal of the NDC’s first year and a half in government, which focused entirely on successful programmes that the NNP established and initiated, while at the same time attempting to malign the previous NNP Government.
Mr Speaker, we did have a presentation, but there was no Budget in the manner that Parliamentary processes in this country have come to anticipate!
And Mr Speaker, in that presentation on Monday, every once in a while in the Minister of Finance’s monologue, the NNP’s excellent track record for economic stewardship was introduced followed by sound bites, such as “They said we couldn’t do it” or “what we did in a year and a half, they couldn’t do in decades” followed by the Minister describing and lauding the successful NNP programmes which the NDC had the good fortune to inherit and should have even had better sense to keep.
Mr Speaker, it appeared that at least the Minister of Finance himself was aware that he was “Taking One for the Team” because this was truly a new low in the history of Presentations of Estimates of Revenue and Expenditures.
So, after 1 hour and 47 minutes, the entire country was asking when will he start going into the 2024 Budget? And then, just so! I mean just so… the Minister of Finance, started “calling out acknowledgement.” We were all stunned by the announcement made after the budget presentation, that all public officers would get a mere 25% of their salary as a payment one off-payment. This shows that the government was in panic mode after a dismal presentation.
Therefore, Mr Speaker, I would seek to assist the Minister of Finance, in explaining to this honourable house and by extension the people of Grenada, what is in the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure 2024, and how it intends to help, if at all, the people of this country.
On the issue of climate change, and the recently concluded COP28, Mr Speaker, Grenada for several years played a determining role in the global climate negotiations. We are therefore encouraged by the achievements of the global community, and Small States, at COP-28, particularly on the achievement of the Loss and Damage Fund. This Loss and Damage Fund will go a long way in re-risking, alleviating, and building climate resilience among communities impacted by climate change.
We look forward to the implementation of the Loss and Damage Fund, and we continue to call for broader decisive action of Climate Finance. Unfortunately, the recent amendments to our Fiscal Responsibility and other laws by this administration have stifled the creation of adequate buffers necessary to complement the external climate and other financing. You may recall the amendment made to the Transformational Fund Regulations reducing the contingency fund from 40% to 10% earlier this year.
Mr Speaker, when Hurricanes Ivan and Emily destroyed our country, we had little or no savings to use in the rebuilding process and were heavily reliant on loans and support from international donor agencies and friendly governments. We were urged and agreed to have an appropriate saving for future disasters. This we did as this government admitted to meeting a pregnant treasury when they got into office. So the impression given by this government that we had no money for contingency is misleading. The Minister of Finance must know that all monies in the treasury are under the umbrella of the Consolidated Fund.
Mr Speaker, as we examine the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2024, in the context of the dynamic changes and developments (some of which are referred to by the government Side); and also within the context of programmes and Projects initiated by the NNP, we are left with one burning question. Who’s interest does this budget seek to advance?
Mr Speaker, there is a level of frustration setting in among the youth and vulnerable groups in our country today, that is quite concerning. Painting the country in black and white with attempted landscaping, for social media likes, or throwing up 3D models labelled “coming soon” is not governing a country. The failure of the government to solidly roll out any new initiatives is obvious in their debate on the implementation of projects that they met in place.
Mr Speaker, the youth, single mothers, farmers, market vendors, bus operators/owners, road workers, the working poor, and the vulnerable, have been waiting to hear concrete steps towards achieving this transformation agenda, but after the hodge-podge presentation we heard Monday, they too realise that nothing transformative is being offered for their lives.
In fact, the “Government’s Medium-term Expenditure Objectives” now states that the “Government’s transformational agenda will kick into high gear during the 2024–2026” period. Even so, there is little or no new initiative being advanced in the forward estimates of this government.
Mr Speaker, while we wait on this illusive agenda of transformation, the World Food Programme (WFP) recent statistics highlight that food insecurity is a growing challenge for our people and that the situation has deteriorated over the past year. Mr Speaker, it is hard not to notice that even as food inflation is at a high, agriculture production, particularly non-traditional agriculture is at its lowest!! Mr Speaker, our agriculture system is broken. Indeed, never, has it been this bad!! Farmers are disillusioned!
Mr Speaker, Grenadians cannot receive basic medicines at the hospital, and the low morale of the staff is obvious — never has it been this bad. Ask the nurses, orderlies, doctors, cooks, and other ancillary staff at the medical facilities.
Our country’s reputation for peace and tranquillity, and our low crime status are major sources of our competitive strength in the areas of private education and tourism.
Mr Speaker, gun-related crime and violence, in fact, all crimes and violence, are also a major threat to the peace and security of ALL our people.
The crime situation is an imminent threat to the country as the Minister of National Security and Prime Minister continues to systematically dismantle the police force. The failure to promote officers based on established policies and the demotion of others for their perceived political alignment has created an atmosphere of discord in the Force. Moreover, the continuous transfers, semantics on advancing the promised pay and grade, the meagre duty allowance to the rank and file of the force, and the sluggish approach to treating repairs at the police station have cumulatively resulted in a demotivated Royal Grenada Police Force. The frustration is evident in the number of officers who have opted to take early retirement.
Mr Speaker, the challenges facing existing officers would affect the new recruits that are entering with a mere 4-week training stint. How prepared would these officers be to protect and serve as their oath demands?
The security of the country is at stake and we take this opportunity to call on the government to urgently arrest this situation.
Mr Speaker, these are the prevailing circumstances in which the citizens of Grenada look to the policies and programmes of the government in any given budgetary cycle for relief and opportunities. Not in the thumping of one’s chest for a bi-monthly payment programme to public officers that leaves some workers weeks on end without salaries. Not the payout of retroactive pension to less than 1% of the population while you cut social programmes.
This budget cycle is cast in a context of hyperinflation, contracted growth, increased crime and violence, unacceptably high youth unemployment, and a largely vulnerable working class. The budget read on Monday presents no response to the vulnerable segments of the population to the runaway inflation, which averages 8.7% for food, but exceeds 15% on some food products. Indeed, after the reading of the budget, the growing segment of our population that comprises the “working poor” now knows for sure that none of the harsh conditions that afflict their lives will be transformed for the better.
It is, therefore necessary to evaluate the extent to which the revenues that are expected to be generated are allocated to the areas that are affecting the people of the country.
Mr Speaker, I want to speak directly to the revenue performance, which is touted as a significant achievement by the government. With an increase in the price of the item by 8.7% (the average inflation cited by the government for food), the government will collect roughly a 10% increase in the Customs Revenue.
Now a couple of things validate this analysis.
First, emerging out of the pandemic, consumption patterns would have already adjusted. What that means is that price increases will increase tax revenue although consumption has reduced. As such, inflation is what accounts for a significant part of the increase in Customs collections.
So yes, revenues are up.
On domestic taxes, the government reintroduced VAT on electricity, reintroduced the petrol tax on gas and petroleum products, placed a 15% VAT on sugar and sugary drinks, increased excise taxes on alcohol, increased licence fees for road users, and imposed a charge on water, all of which are major revenue earners. Additionally, the government has provided an amnesty to encourage taxpayers who owe taxes to take advantage of a tax break.
When we consider all those things together, the revenue performance must be seen as the combination of the ‘price effect’ of inflation, the imposition of new taxes on the people of Grenada, and also of past as well as 2023 performance of the economy.
The buoyant revenue performance has masked the underperformance of the economy.
So Mr Speaker, this is why while we are broadly in support of most of the conclusions of the recent IMF Staff Mission Report on Grenada, We have nonetheless found the Staff Report to be uncharacteristically hollow, not shallow, just not as piercing as we have come to expect it. This is not surprising as the Fund’s discussions were limited to the government.
As such, we look forward to the Article 4 Consultation of the Fund that is carded for the second quarter of 2024 where they would engage with stakeholders outside of the government, which includes the business sector, unions, NGOs, and the opposition.
Mr Speaker, notwithstanding the excess revenues earned and projected to be earned by this government, the areas of increased allocation or distribution of the same, demonstrate an apparent lack of sensitivity to the needs of the people in key sectors, and a failure of policies and programmes initiatives that would generate jobs for the average Grenadian, that is fuelled by self-interest.
The expenditure projections for 2024 relative to what was spent in 2023 reflect an increase in capital and recurrent expenditure by 7% and 32% respectively.
CAPITAL EXPENDITURE AND LACK OF INITIATIVE FOR JOB CREATION
Mr Speaker, a mere 7% increase in expenditure on capital projects for 2024 speaks to the economic growth prospects of the budget. It is well established that the jobs are created through a combination of private sector and government projects. This government is enjoying record passport sales to the Russians while the Minister of Finance, Prime Minister, Special Envoy for investment, and treasurer to the National Democratic Congress are happy, but not a single new investment project has come to Grenada!
This government has sold more passports to Russians in 3 months than a New National Party Administration did in a year in some instances. We are not ashamed of that record because while we sold less, the tangible projects we brought have benefitted the people of Grenada. Range Six Sense, Inter-continental, Beach House, Levera and Mt Hartman just to name a few, all projects of which are benefitting the working people of the country.
Mr Speaker, to date, this government has not brought a single new CBI project but they gave US$22 million of hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars, to a man who invested EC$18 million in Grenada. This is only the tip of the spending iceberg on this matter as there are at least US$56 million to be paid to individual investors.
Mr Speaker, with no new major private sector investments on the horizon, the capital spending of the government would be largely expected to drive economic activity. The 7% increase in capital expenditure is largely attributed increased cost of building materials and 2 new projects that were added to the list of inherited projects from the New National Party administration, that were in various stages of implementation. Further, there is no guarantee that these 2 projects will get going through the budget period, and if so whether the conditions will be beneficial to the people of this country.
While some of the existing projects were renamed, for instance, the Bathroom and Toilet programme to WASH, De-bushing to Beautification Empowerment Sustainability and Transformation (BEST) or Special Projects to Community Mobilisation Empowerment & Transformation, all big words, the 2 new initiatives budgeted for in this cycle are Project 500 and the Teaching Hospital.
Mr Speaker, the so-called young, bright, and creative transformers on the transformation train have failed to come up with any original ideas that can create job opportunities for the people of Grenada. It is therefore anticipated that 2024 will be another year of the continuation of projects initiated by the New National Party Government. I expect to see more social media posts about implementation rates, and “coming soon” rather than project initiation.
We, however, commend the expressed intent of the budget to continue these projects and encourage the government to give accelerated implementation consideration to the Molinere landslip and issues affecting the western corridor and the community of River Road.
Mr Speaker, we were hopeful that the rate of increase in the recurrent expenditure would have been utilised to assist the people of Grenada, Carriacou, and Petite Martinique in some key areas of concern. However, we continue to see the lack of empathy and sensitivity, cold-heartedness, and incompetence of this government in critical areas of :
- Housing and Social Services
- Housing, SEED and Debushing
- Efforts relative to inflation
Mr Speaker, the government touted its “free tuition” programme as a major success. We all know that schools in Grenada, with the exception of the T A Marryshow Community College, the New Life Organisation (NEWLO), and private educational facilities do not have a “tuition” fee per se, but rather fees for things like report cards, tie and the like. As a matter of fact, schools across Grenada still charged parents for these things in 2023 and the same would continue in 2024.
On the issue of TAMCC and Newlo, while the “tuition” is paid as a one-off charge per semester, the transportation support provided by the previous government, particularly for students in rural communities, was reduced by 1.2 million or 50%. Mr Speaker, the deceptive headline that “education in Grenada is now free” while we have children who are unable to access the same is a façade.
Students from the rural communities attending St George’s University were also assisted by this programme. Moreover, there was a cut in the allocation for the ebooks programme in the Schools. Mr Speaker, one would think that a government that wears the term “transformation” as a running theme in every word that they utter, would embrace the e-book programme, but instead, there is a 5.5 million reduction in the support provided for that programme by the former New National Party Government.
It takes a special level of insensitivity in a period of hyperinflation, to reduce the needed support in this area as without the tools to facilitate students learning, then the tuition support is useless.
Mr Speaker, the reduction in transportation allowance and book support just to create a headline of “free tuition for all”, hinders students of lesser means from accessing an education. This, in turn, widens the margin between vulnerable families and those who can afford it.
While we are concerned, we are not surprised because we saw the same lack of sensitivity to the poor and vulnerable people by the policy decisions of the NDC government of 2008. Their policies have always supported the concept of taking from the less fortunate and giving to those who can help themselves.
So, Mr Speaker, while we boast of increased revenues, the failure to use those revenues in key areas of education to benefit the people of Grenada who need it the most is unfortunate.
Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister and then Minister of Finance, when he delivered the 2023 budget speech, labelled the health budget of 2023 as the biggest budget in the history of Grenada. In fact, healthcare was considered the number one priority of the government and a critical aspect of its transformational agenda.
With the highest allocation in the history of the country, it is baffling that the estimates reflect an unspent amount of $27 million, while we lack basic medication at our health facilities.
Mr Speaker, imagine, $27 million would be left unspent while nurses are paid a taxed $500 to remain silent on the issue of promised regularisation as the government actively entertain privatisation talks with venture capitalists.
Everyone would recall the nurses hitting the streets during the period of the New National Party as they felt that our phased approach to regularisation was not at the pace that they desired. While that may be so, we never stopped regularisation. Mr Speaker, the option for the privatisation of healthcare was proposed to the New National Party administration, however, the cost of services to the people under such an arrangement, with healthcare being a public good was of paramount concern. Moreover, the implications for workers and the cost associated with the same were also worrying.
Mr Speaker, you do not have to take my word for it, just ask the leadership of the Public Workers trade union who exposed the notion of privatisation of the healthcare system! Consider the words of the leader of the said union who has gone on record highlighting that healthcare is worse than it was during the period of the New National Party governance.
Ask the many mothers who have lost babies at the health facilities. Speak to the families who have lost loved ones due to routine procedures, or better yet, ask your activist in St Patrick West who fell and broke his jaw in 5 different places and was left unattended for 3 days.
Mr Speaker, this government is all words as we heard on Monday. With an added 3.4 million to the healthcare budget of last year, making this one the largest in history, make no mistake, we anticipate the same results. The leadership at the policy level in the Ministry of Health is woefully inadequate — a reflection of the entire government’s inadequacy.
Instead of minding the business of the health system, the Minister of Health is busy erecting signs in the Constituency of St George North West and delivering sporting balls.
Mr Speaker, while I advocate for a reconsideration of the leadership in the Ministry of Health at this time, I caution the government on the issues of privatisation as we must consider the nature of healthcare as a public good.
HOUSING & SOCIAL SERVICES
Mr Speaker, the government has budgeted $9 million for their Project 500. One of the few new ideas coming from the government and we applaud them for at least thinking about something. However, Mr Speaker, if we were to take our cue from what has happened with the free housing units donated by the People’s Republic of China and the utterance of the Prime Minister in one of his many galas, it is well recorded that these houses are not intended for low or no income people.
The mere fact that this category of persons was asked to approach a financial institution to secure a loan to make upfront payments for housing units that were donated, one can naturally expect that the houses that are to be built by the government would not be targeting this group.
Additionally, Grenadians at a National Democratic Congress political party function in the diaspora were encouraged to invest in these homes. Accordingly, the allocation made in the 2024 budget is not intended to fulfil the housing needs of people who currently reside in Grenada but is expected to be channelled, in some cases, to party hacks in the diaspora.
Additionally, Mr Speaker, the amount of funds usually spent on the housing brigade under the housing assistance and improvement programmes, now referred to by this government as the Grenada Home Improvement and Resilience Project, has been reduced by $1 million. Accordingly, we anticipate fewer people being assisted by the house repair programme.
Mr Speaker, it is often said by members of this government that the New National Party is fixated on the “poor and vulnerable” or the people on the margins. Mr Speaker, we make no apologies for that perceived fixation because a part of the prevailing philosophy of a New National Party government is to create the enabling environment for everyone to thrive as they wish, but there must be a special focus on the poor and vulnerable. History would record that we have always supported and never cut benefits to this group while catering to the needs of all groups.
I commend the relentless efforts of all the people who have consistently called for the government to have a heart and return the $150 to the SEED beneficiaries. The government has made some efforts to return the $150 with a $50 top-up to some of the SEED beneficiaries, most specifically, the disabled, mentally challenged, and persons over the age of 65. This means that the people who have been calling on the government to return the support have to continue to make those calls as all of the beneficiaries will not receive the $200 come January 2024.
Mr Speaker, on demitting office in June 2022, there were 7,107 beneficiaries on the SEED list. Given the inflationary pressures that were prevailing, the New National Party Administration increased the SEED by $150 for every household. This policy position brought the SEED cost to the state of Grenada to $26.6 million in 2022. This decision was taken as a cushion or buffer to food inflation which remains relatively high.
During this year, the Minister for Social Development advised the nation that they have added to the SEED beneficiaries list. As a matter of fact, in response to questions posed by the Office of the Leader of His Majesty’s Opposition, the Minister informed that there were 7,373 beneficiaries as of 18 April 2023. With an increase of 271 beneficiaries, the SEED budget remains $5.6 million less than what was spent on the policy position of a New National Party Government.
Mr Speaker, if we can spend close to 15 million on an independence celebration, why can’t we help these people to cushion the effects of inflation? Why would cut the support given to marginalised children, and chronically ill persons who make up 74% of the persons on the SEED programme, at a time when we are collecting more revenue?
Mr Speaker, this is an orchestrated attack on the marginalised people of this country. So I call on the Prime Minister, who knew all what the World Bank said prior to the elections, to provide a minimum of $650 to the SEED beneficiaries, or better still, we await the promise to eliminate poverty in Grenada. Until such time we would continue to speak about the poor and the vulnerable people of this country.
DEBUSHING NOW KNOWN AS THE BEAUTIFICATION EMPOWERMENT SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSFORMATION (BEST)
Mr Speaker, our NNP government has over the years implemented large debushing programmes to aid persons without a steady income or permanent jobs. For example, during the Christmas season, one would have seen over 6,000 persons enrolled in that programme since October, ensuring their season will be relatively bright. This increased the circulation of money in the economy as the small business benefited compared to what we are seeing now. There was a complete gutting of this programme with a $6.7 million cut. This government simply does not care!
Mr Speaker, the New National Party administration during its last period of service has engaged in at least 6 alternative youth programmes in addition to the Imani programme. These included Yutbiz, Project FLY, ASPIRE, REACH, Youth in Agriculture, and M-power. These projects carried a combined portfolio of $57.5 million and considered from youths in entrepreneurship to youths who were incarcerated.
Mr Speaker, today, the government that boasts about having a youthful team has done the least for the youths of Grenada. The only youth programmes catered for in the budget of the Ministry of Youth are the Imani and the M-Power programmes with a budget of $41 million, a $17.5 million cut in cumulative youth spending.
Notwithstanding, the inability of the government to come up with innovative programmes that engage the youths, they have not added any new persons to the Imani programme, systematically sent home some trainees, reduced the income of some of the trainees by $300 and cut the M-Power Budget by $2.5 million.
Mr Speaker, the nation would recall that the now Prime Minister had referred to the 2022 budget of the New National Party Administration as one of tokenism. The attempt to pacify the Imanis, just like the nurses and doctors with a $500 and $1,000 increase respectively, that is likely subjected to NIS, cannot be used to compensate for the promise of permanent employment with the stroke of a pen, pension, and gratuity.
This $500 increase is a mere token to silence and window dress the real issue that this government is still “re-imagining the Imani Programme” and is unable to fulfil the promise made by the Prime Minister to make them permanent in 12 months after assuming office.
Mr Speaker, while this government appears to have an obsession with providing $500 as a token of silence, we look forward to the making of all the Imani permanent, with the provision of pension and gratuity in keeping with what currently obtains in the Public Sector, as was promised.
Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister and then Minister of Finance, announced the largest Agriculture Budget in the last 10 years as he delivered the Budget speech of 2023. Like the story of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture has only spent $16 million out of a $39 million allocation.
Mr Speaker, with the largest budget and all the nice talk, 23 million remains unspent, with 18 million of that amount related to capital investment into the agricultural sector.
Notwithstanding the poor performance of the sector in 2023, there is a $10 million increase in the allocation for 2024, largely driven by the reinstatement of the Youth in Agriculture programme that was cut in the 2023 budget cycle and the increased allocation for the Climate Resilience Agriculture For Integration Landscape Management Programme all programmes that were initiated and commenced under the New National Party Administration. While we commend the government for the continuation of these important projects, we note with concern the cuts in the Food Security Enhancement project, the Exportation of Agricultural Products programme, and interestingly, the Development of the Cannabis or Marijuana Industry Projects by $6.5 million.
Mr Speaker, ironically, only last weekend we saw a picture circulating on social media with the Prime Minister posing with marijuana signalling the intent of the government to legalise the use of the plant. The extent to which his actions were within the ambit of the laws of Grenada or can be considered irresponsible, I would leave you to be the judge of that. However, I will say that the picture and the posting of the same were an attempt to deceive the people of Grenada as the budget for the Cannabis Commission was reduced by 40%.
Mr Speaker, it is unfortunate that food security and supporting the exportation of our agricultural products in particular is not a priority for the government. This has implications for the balance of trade, as reduced allocation in both areas suggests reduced efforts in supporting the needs of the farmers and by extension the population to consume local and export more.
Mr Speaker, while we remain concerned about the reduced investment in critical areas, we are more disturbed by the fact that in a ministry with at least 3 advisors, 60% of the funds allocated remains unspent. If we continue on this trajectory, 2024 would be no different.
EASING OF INFLATIONARY PRESSURES
Mr Speaker, the government has made no serious efforts to utilise some of the resources to ease the food and fuel inflation on the people of the country. Instead what we have seen is a tax policy position that has resulted in a further burden on the average Grenadian. The removal of the cap on fuel has allowed gas and diesel to be nearly $17. The introduction of an additional $50 on the licence fee across all vehicle types has implications for taxi and bus operators who are grappling with the unmanaged cost of fuel at the pumps. This is likely to have direct implications for the bus and taxi fares in 2024.
The reinstatement of VAT, environmental levy, and the removal of the 25% discount on the non-fuel charge on electricity has contributed to increased costs in electricity for 96% of the households in Grenada. The imposition of VAT on sugar has affected the cottage and confectionary industry in the country and the additional charge placed on water has negatively affected the farmers and manufacturers who utilise large amounts of water.
Mr Speaker, inflation is one of the single most pressing issues affecting Grenadians. While workers in the public sector settled for 13% over a 3-year period, the real wage of those workers, when considering inflation and the increases in NIS, is less now than what it was with the 12% the New National Party gave for the last cycle.
This government has done nothing to cushion the effects of cost on the working people.
The fact that the government advised that the regurgitated 20 items that were VAT-exempt last year would be placed on the price control list suggests that that policy did not impact the price. What is even worse, is the Minister indicated in his announcement that “the wholesale and retail markups will be determined after consultations with industry stakeholders.”
Mr Speaker, we are in December 2023, this is supposed to take effect at the beginning of the budget year January 2024, and the government has not done any consultations.
Mr Speaker, it is without a doubt that the working class people’s purchasing power was more during the reigns of the previous government than it is today.
Mr Speaker, while the government failed to address some key areas of concern affecting the Grenadian people in this budget cycle, they did not fail to address the needs of themselves. Having recognised the key areas of deficiencies in the pillars of “transformation” it is important to evaluate the areas where the increased recurrent funds were allocated for spending that was self-serving.
Notwithstanding a 31% increased allocation for Pension and debt which are mandatory expenditures, it is evident that the government have prioritized most of the increased spending on party loyalist and themselves.
Mr Speaker, the travel budget of the government has increased by 115% in 2024. It is no secret that this government runs Grenada from the clouds. To date, the people of Grenada have not seen any tangible benefits from these rendezvous. With an increase in the travel budget for 2024, we can only hope that Grenada will benefit beyond the pictures and memories portrayed on the Government Information Services and other government social media platforms.
Mr Speaker, the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of National Security, Home Affairs, Public Administration, Information and Disaster Management, moved from $4 million to $37 million, a $33 million or 825% increase. This increase is largely attributed to a $27 million allocation for the provision of security contracts to companies some of which are aligned with the National Democratic Congress. The value of these security contracts is equivalent to 41% of the recurrent budget of the police force.
Mr Speaker, are we creating a miniature security service that is beholden to the whims and fancies of the leadership of the Prime Minister and his security advisors who were characters in our not-so-glorious revolutionary past? We make a special appeal to the people of Grenada to pay particular attention to this development.
Mr Speaker, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a $13.4 million increase relative to what was spent in 2023. The entire increase caters to the operational needs of the friends and associates of the government that holds the “red or diplomatic passports” in missions, consulates, and embassies across the globe. This represents $11.4 million more than what a New National Party government required to conduct foreign policy. Moreover, based on the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure that is presented before the House today, there is little or no evidence of how the missions, consulates, and high commission funds were expended in 2023 and in some instances who funded them. Outside of the Trinidad, Cuba, and Brussels missions, there is no accounting of the 2023 expenditure in the missions, consulates, and commissions to which persons were assigned and announced on 28 March 2023. This includes the UN (New York), OAS (Washington DC), Venezuela, China, and Miami Missions, the Dubai and Canada Consulates, and the High Commission in the UK. We must be concerned about the financial dealings of our foreign offices.
Mr Speaker, another act of the government helping themselves at the expense of the state of Grenada is the deceptive approach taken by this government to increase their income.
Mr Speaker, let me make it clear, I register my comments not just as a voice in the political arena, but as a fellow citizen deeply concerned about the direction our beloved nation is taking. As someone who believes in fair and equitable treatment, I am not opposed to parliamentarians receiving a salary or income increase. In fact, I am on record lamenting the need for an increase. Mr Speaker, members of the NNP government, and this team can testify that when discussing this matter, timing, independence of the process and amounts were always key points of concern. As a matter of fact, the current government has a two-thirds majority largely because of the desire for more money.
On the issue of independence of the process, the New National Party in government with a 15-seat mandate did not arbitrarily sit in the Cabinet and decide to increase the income of the members. We commissioned an independent committee in 2018, to review the salaries of Parliamentarians and Ministers alike. The established committee was made up of sector experts, some of whom are well-known sympathisers of the National Democratic Congress. They were:
- Henry Joseph, Chairman
- The late Meryl Forsyth, Former Cabinet Secretary and Representative of the Public Sector
- Anya Chow Chung, representative Private Sector
- Davis Adams, representative, Grenada Trade Unions Council
- Karen Williams, representative, Eastern Caribbean Central Bank
- Carolyn Honoure, Secretary
The list of offices within the purview of the commission were:
- Prime Minister
- Ministers of Government
- Ministers of State
- President of the Senate
- Speaker of the House of Representatives
- Deputy Speaker
- Deputy President of the Senate
- Leader of the Opposition
- Parliamentary Secretary
- Members of the Senate (Other than a Minister)
- Members of the House of Representatives (Other than a Minister)
The committee recommended a 35% increase in the salary of the Prime Minister with a 10.5% increase for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, while the President of the Senate 18%, Speaker 8%, Deputy Speaker 7%, Deputy President of the Senate 24%, Leader of the Opposition 25%, Member of the Senate 10%, Member of Parliament 10%.
Mr Speaker, the report was presented for review and wider discussion in 2019 which did not allow it to be incorporated into the 2020 budget cycle preparation. Arguably, it could have come in the supplementary budget in 2020 but Covid struck in the first half of that year. At that time, saving lives and livelihoods was the single most important priority of the government, without apology. As such, Covid spending took obvious precedence over increasing the salaries of ourselves. This has to do with the context and timing.
The issues of the people must come first!
Mr Speaker, I stand by my previous statements and I strongly maintain my views on this issue. The Prime Minister claims that he has power and he knows how to use it and with the stroke of a pen, the salaries of his ministers were increased.
Mr Speaker, this government has deceptively increased its income and sought the House Committee of the Parliament approval after approving the same at the Finance Committee.
The required process for a salary or income increase for Parliamentarians that is to form part of the budget is approval by the House Committee followed by budget ratification by the Finance Committee and the ultimate approval when the budget is passed in this place. The income increases were in the Estimates of Expenditure that went before the Finance Committee on 13 November 2022. Mr Speaker, you convened a meeting of the House Committee to discuss the increases on 22 November 2023, after it was already decided at the Finance Committee. It is important to note that no adjustments could be made to the Estimates of Expenditure after going to the Finance Committee. Mr Speaker, you and this government continue to defy the rules of this house unabated.
Notwithstanding, the lack of understanding of parliamentary proceedings, the Finance Committee, which was attended by all members of Parliament on the government side approved the following income increases to themselves effective January 2024.
Under the Parliament’s allocated expenditure, Vote 2, all the ministers of government who are members of the House of Representatives or MPs except the Prime Minister will receive a $60,000 per year allowance which is in addition to the $24,000 annual travelling allowance increase already taken and accounted for by the various ministries. Moreover, on average, each minister’s base salary was increased by at least $3,000 per year.
This therefore means, that ministers of government who are members of the House of Representatives will receive an income increase of $87,000 per year, which represents an income raise of 106%, bringing their total income of a minister, not including telephone and internet allowances to at least $169,687 per year.
While the members of Parliament who are not ministers will receive $60,000 per year or an increase of $45,600.
Similarly, the Parliament has allocated a $42,000 increase for ministers who are senators which would be added to the 24,000 increase in their travelling allowance already accounted for under the respective ministries. Additionally, ministers who are senators have also received an average salary increase of $3,000 on their base pay as a minister.
As such, ministers who are senators will receive an income raise of $71,000 per annum or an 87% increase bringing their total income to $153,687 while other senators who are not ministers will receive $42,000.
Mr Speaker, none of the previously mentioned adjustments affects the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister increased his salary by $13,000 per year bringing his income to $105,218. This amount does not consider $246,000 paid in rental for the Prime Minister’s residence which brings his total compensation package, not considering telephone, internet, entertainment, and other support to $351,218 per year.
As Prime Minister, I resided at the residence provided by the State of Grenada and the base salary of your humble servant never reached $90,000.
Mr Speaker, the percentage increases that this government sat in a room and gave themselves in less than 2 years in office while the people of Grenada grapple with rising costs and hopelessness, is unconscionable. It must be noted that the base salary in the report presented by Henry Joseph, took into consideration the increases given to public officers over the years as the base salary before the percentage increase. Had the government followed that report, to date a minister’s income would have been $91,318.32 across the board and not $169,687 for ministers that are members of parliament and $153,687 for ministers that are senators.
Mr Speaker, what is even more frightening, this government came to this House less than a month ago and repealed the Fiscal Responsibility Act and replaced it with the Fiscal Resilience Act which saw the amendment to the wage bill rule from 9% of GDP to 13%.
The leader of government business when presenting the bill lamented the government’s interest in providing increases to the workers. However, deceptively the amendment was made after the public workers were locked into a 3-year increase but just before the budget to accommodate the increases provided for ministers.
Page 31 of the Medium Term Economic Fiscal Report that was laid with the Budget document highlights that the wage bill rule is now 9.7% with increases taken by the government ministers. This demonstrates that the amendment was not done to accommodate workers in the medium term. It was to benefit the ministers in government.
The replacement of the wage bill rule by this government smacks of sheer selfishness, while ministers enjoy significant increases, the rest of the public service is constrained to a paltry 13% rise spread over 3 years, Imanis, nurses, and doctors are pacified with $500 and $1,000 respectively, while the subset of the SEED beneficiaries receive a $50 pittance!
Mr Speaker, what is even worse, at a time when our country is grappling with the clutches of hyperinflation and widespread economic hardship, all income increases included the $500 given to the nurses and the Imani, the $1,000 to the doctors, the $50 duty allowance provided to the police, and the 25% one-off ex-gratia payment to public officers in December, given to public officer are all subjected to tax, and increased NIS, which has affected all workers purchasing power, this government ensured that 98% of the income increases to themselves are not subject to tax by categorising it as an allowance. The Income Tax Act makes provisions for allowances of parliamentarians to be exempt from taxation.
Mr Speaker, the true question in this budget is Whose interests are truly being served?
This decision is not just economically imprudent, it’s a stark display of self-interest over the public good. The increases to the ministers come at a time when the regularisation of public sector workers is not married with the natural retroactive benefits which include pensionable years that are due, but current-year regularisation is the order of the day. This to me, is one of the biggest deceits of this government.
Mr Speaker, Minister of Finance announced that 300 public sector workers would be regularised by the year end 2023. However, according to the Manpower Summary of 2022 and 2023, the government can only accommodate 87 workers on the permanent establishment of the public service. This information is in Appendix I of the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure. The Minister went on to announce the regularisation of 1,754 workers in 2024. Again, based on the Manpower Summary in the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, the government can only accommodate 81 workers on the permanent establishment of the public service.
Mr Speaker, this is either a case where the minister has blatantly lied to the workers and, by extension, the people of Grenada, or he simply cannot read the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure.
Mr Speaker, on the issue of pension reform, the New National Party in government has advocated for pension reform. As a matter of fact, efforts to engage with our colleagues in the union post the pension judgment on this issue proved to be futile. During the campaign, the Prime Minister promised pension and gratuity for all in accordance with the court ruling. He lamented that there was no need for a pension reform committee and that if he had to borrow the money to pay all worker’s pensions then he would do it. Today we see the shafting of the workers as they lose pensionable years and retroactive pay with current-day regulation!
Today we see a pension reform committee being established without the active participation of the union! Today we see that the government has set aside funds to contribute to a pension plan that no one has any idea of what it entails!
Mr Speaker, it is well understood that management of the economy is about setting policies, making choices, and implementing policies that maximise the overall benefits for the people of the country. It’s about doing the greatest good for the greatest number.
In this regard, Matthew 7 Verse 15, sets up what for me as a trained statistician, is an interesting proposition. It states quite candidly and I quote… “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves?”
Verse 16 simply states that “You will know them by their fruits.” Let me repeat, “You will know them by their fruits.” When this Administration gathered and took more of the fruit for themselves, by
- increasing the travel budget
- providing Loans from the Grenada Development Bank to ministers of government contrary to the law that governs the bank
- when they build roads and other facilities to their residence on the backs of the taxpayers
- provide large contracts for party hacks
- increase their incomes by over 100% and most of it is tax-free
- making profits from the Citizenship by Investment Programme
- utilising the Government Information Service as a political media outfit
- provide a tax break that can benefit members of the Cabinet
But then turned around and
- removed the $150 from the SEED
- reduced road work
- cut the caregivers programmes
- failed to introduce any new youth programmes
- failed to make the Imanis and contract workers permanent within 12 months of assuming office
- reduce the support given to the Grenada Development Bank by $8 million
- cut the transportation allowance to students
- closed down most of the operations of the Marketing Board
- reduced the e-book programme
- cut the housing brigade programme
- increase taxes on electricity, gas, sugar, and water
- fired workers and victimised workers
- denied regularised workers retroactive pay and pensionable years
- failed to pay for medication in the hospital
They are telling you who they really, are!! ravenous wolves!!
As I reflected, Mr Speaker, on the passage Matthew 7, 15–17, it dawned on me that it is this passage that might have motivated Maya Angelou, that famous Black female giant poet who wrote: “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
When this NEW Administration shows you their fruits, you don’t have to guess what tree it came from. You don’t have to guess whether they are sheep or wolves.
Mr Speaker after years of sacrifice that led the Prime Minister to remark that he met ‘A treasury full of money” it should bother us all to see the Cabinet and Select Men and Women aligned to the NDC, living high off the “fatted calf.”
No concerns for fiscal buffers. No real concern for the productive sectors. To the Youth who have become despondent, to the civil servants, the police officers, nurses, who have given their professional lives building up the country, but who now cannot bear to serve out their year in mediocracy, lack of professionalism, a broken system, with demoralised staff, absentee Ministers, and no accountability — the NNP and the people of this Country, share in your dismay.
To the elderly, for whom the increase in SEED, disability and other allowances have come a “day too, late and $150 too short” — the NNP will restore that which the NDC “cankerworm” has taken away.
By its actions, the administration has rewritten the well-known biblical admonition. By their fruits Mr Speaker, by the loans from the Grenada Development Bank (GDB) to ministers and friends, to repay private debts, and preferential loans to their own children, and their businesses, to build houses and buy land; they have clearly told us that they do not believe in the biblical dictum “God, First, Others Second, Ourselves Last.” Instead, they have created their own dictum: “Themselves First, The People’s Money Second, The People Last.”
This country cannot afford to risk a return to the difficult years.
We must also remember Mr Speaker, that for as long as we are here, we have one government at a time. That the government has a responsibility beyond its political party.
As we advance towards the celebration of our 50th Anniversary of Independence, we implore the government to remember that it has a duty and a responsibility to all Grenadians.
Mr Speaker, the presentation on Monday did not inspire business confidence, does not state the employment that will be created if any, will not stimulate the productive sectors, and disappoints by its failure to give our youth, women and vulnerable groups hope that 2024, will be any better, than 2023.
Mr Speaker, Grenadians deserve better.