Response & Contribution to the 2013 Budget Statement

On Tuesday April 16, 2013, less than two months following the New National Party’s massive landslide victory at the polls, the Prime Minister of Grenada and Minister of Finance & Energy, Dr. The Right Hon. Keith Mitchell, presented the 2013 Budget Statement to the nation for the current fiscal year ending December 31, 2013.

The 1.1 billion dollar 2013 Budget, entitled “Restoring Hope, Building the New Economy and Empowering our People” was described by Dr. Mitchell as holding since, according to him, due to the shortage of time it strictly addressed the key policy areas of his government.

I agree with the holding label but for a different reason being that the key policy areas addressed are lacking in substance; and therefore one does not need the eight months between budgets to realise that the 2013 Budget is sadly incapable of achieving its claim of empowering the people and, in the process, restoring hope.

For example, there is no mention whatsoever under the heading, “Enhanced Governance” of facilitating bottom-up participatory governance; or, under the heading, “Empowerment of our People”, of the collective transfer to farmers and agricultural labourers of the idle or under-productive people’s estates carded by the government for commercialisation.

Giving Jack his jacket, however, the 2013 Budget Statement indeed glitters galore; yet, substantially, it is “holding” – not gold.

It was very pleasing, in these challenging economic times, to hear the Prime Minister affirm that he is anti-tax (hike) and that he’ll instead be turning to creative ways of raising badly needed revenue, i.e. without unnecessarily adding to the burden or hardship of Grenadian employees and business persons alike.

Thus the likes of stemming revenue leakage; a citizenship by investment program (with all the necessary background checks); increase user fees for gun licenses; a signature number plate program; also license fees for casino (for non-locals) which means that in our sub-regional lot of the global dot Vincentians are permitted to gamble in our casinos while the more financially affluent citizens (by citizenship investment or otherwise) of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique

would in turn have to hop a speedboat to the Union Island casinos next door.

While on the issue of raising revenue creatively we must remind them (the Prime Minister and his Government) that the most creative way of reducing expenses and raising revenue is to create wealth in our communities and reduce the dependency of the populace on the state.

Also, while being anti-tax (hike) is excellent, thinking outside the box we need to go all the way now to create the ideal conditions for business and economic vibrancy by creating a comprehensive virtually duty-free, tax-free regime – with one main revenue stream whenever money changes hands for goods and/or services.

Additionally, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique has been called the land of paradise: from a tourism product perspective we need to truly make Grenada… the cleanest, safest, most beautifully decorated, most hospitable, but certainly NOT the cheapest location in the Caribbean (of course also free of vagrants and drug addicts on our streets) and market our gem as the little Heaven on Earth that it was created to be.

Construction surely stole the spotlight from the $110M package for Education and Human Resources. In an effort to stimulate the construction industry for the duration of the next twenty months, VAT is/will be reduced to 5% on certain building material including sand, cement, concrete blocks, steel, roofing material and lumber.

Additionally, the government is committed to cut the price of sand by at least half from the present $120/load to no more than $60/load, projects under $400,000 will be exempted from VAT and physical development plans will be approved in an efficient and timely manner.

Slashing the VAT on construction input is one thing, putting money into the hand of home/property owners is another! Therefore it was somewhat surprising to witness the subtle attack by the Prime Minister on men (who are already in crisis) and the family by promising to load all government contracts with incentives to ensure that wherever possible the emphasis is placed on hiring young people and women.

The majority of construction workers, for example, are young people. Additionally, men need to be paid their rightful dues in order to responsibly and adequately provide for their families so that our women folks do not mandatorily have to sweat for their bread.

Returning briefly to creatively raising revenue… one observes that instead of slashing the VAT the same or better result (e.g. providing the necessary reduction in the price of construction input) can be achieved by increasing that revenue stream from 15% to 50% in the first instance while providing qualified persons, including low income workers, with a VAT rebate currency; coupled with the virtual abolition of income tax, property tax, annual drivers’ license and custom duties and taxes generally.

The main point here is that tax payers must not be made to subsidise the construction and other activities of the more financially affluent, e.g., the citizens by investment and aliens.

On the issue of the proposed New Health Insurance Scheme, while there is need for an urgent response to the present national health situation, insurance is certainly not the only or best solution.

In any event any proper scheme must have built-in monetary and other incentives to encourage prevention and responsible lifestyles.

Government must also move to zero-rate and promote peas and beans as the healthy alternative source of protein to animal flesh.

Finally, any elimination of alien land holding license should apply strictly to lease hold estates for fifty years and under – not freehold estates.

In “empowering our people” the government must send a clear message that Grenada and its people are no longer for sale!

Let’s now zero in on some of the substantial defects in the 2013 Budget Statement.

The intended commercialisation/selling-out of the “state-owned” estates is a good step but in the wrong direction.

Since the central focus of the Budget is on “empowering our people”, this once in a lifetime opportunity must never be missed to create the base for community wealth here and now by economically empowering the farmers and agricultural labourers, who have faithfully toiled in the land from dawn till dusk since donkey was a little boy, by the government collectively transferring of the estate/s to them via a company or co-operative as well as guaranteeing, if necessary, whatever loan they may need – in exchange for their creating employment and supplying the local market with affordable farm produce.

Most preferably, the government should facilitate the establishment of a Corporate Union of the People of Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique (GCP Inc) with a mandate to create community wealth following which, beginning with the government estates, all (idle and under productive) “state-owned” property, including the main tourist sites mentioned by the Prime Minister in the Budget Statement and the potentially oil-rich seabed, would be transferred to the people via this company; which in turn will enter into long-term lease and other




arrangements including with farmers and agricultural labourers as well as other private sector interests.

In any event qualification for ownership (of the estates by the farmers) must not be confused with that of management. Even if they do not have all the expertise to manage the estates that in itself must not prevent the farmers…from owning it – while hiring the best expertise including from home and in the Diaspora to sit on the Board of Directors.

Ultimately, this is all about the just distribution of wealth and community economic empowerment which dictate that the estates must not be used to add to or help preserve the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few from home or abroad.

The Commercialisation of Crime has to be the highlight of the 2013 budget. The Prime Minister’s stated intention to commercialise (the operations at) Her Majesty’s Prison is another good step but in the wrong direction.

One fully recognises the fact that the living conditions at Her Majesty’s Prison — particularly the men’s dorm — are alarmingly primitive, unhealthy, inhumane, degrading and can therefore justifiably declare that Her Majesty’s Prison is worst than slavery; however, the commercialisation of crime for the benefit of certain individuals is surely not the answer.

Grenlec, Lime and Digicel are all great readymade sources of income in the energy and telecommunication industries respectively; but, contrary to the buzz

of the special interests or multi-million election campaign financiers who like eagles are hovering above the prey in sight, Grenada certainly cannot afford a thriving prison industry.

We must develop and enhance the local Heaven on Earth tourism product and, by extension, the creative revenue stream by drastically reducing or eradicating crime – not commercialising it as such.

Any handing over of the (operations at) the prison should be to the religious

community with a mandate to renew the mind of the inmates as well as a

built-in incentive to set free those who have received their life transformation.

The focus must be shifted from punishment to education and reform (i.e. renewal of the mind) as correctly stated by the Prime Minister in the Budget Statement presentation.

Accordingly, as a first step we should get rid of the prison overnight by suitably renaming it (Grace Sanctuary Universal) and all “profits” derived from its operations must be spent on the Education, Training and Reformation of the inmates — as we all consciously and prayerfully claim and reach out for, including by our individual conduct and examples, the healing of the nation.

While on the issue of commercialisation what we really need to “commercialise” is our education system – not crime.

To help alleviate overcrowding in our primary and secondary public schools while improving the education product, government must encourage – and provide subventions to assist with school fees for — private schools thus making them more affordable for all.

Let me also take the opportunity to mention that constitutional reform is knocking on our doors in the name of the CCJ as our final court of appeal and bringing down the curtain on the era of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, represented by the Governor General, as the head of state of Grenada.

It’s therefore pertinent to know whether the hearts of the judges of the CCJ like some of their Privy Council counterparts are home to the oppressive order of the concentration of wealth in the hand of a few (in line with selling out the peoples estates to the wealthy) or the just distribution of wealth and the creation of community economic power (in line with transferring the government estates above and Grenada’s oil rights to a Corporate Union of the People).

Ultimately, we need to end the marginalisation of the masses from the governance process by facilitating and establishing bottom-up Village Assemblies and Constituency Assemblies; as well as a National Assembly of the People, practically the highest Court in the land, with real power to check all branches of government including the bridle to recall rogue elected members of parliament.

Also, under the new constitution will a local “Crown” or God occupy the existing seat of oppression or will we put an end to oppression by ushering in a system of government founded upon the new commandment to “love one another”!

In ending, conscious of the fact that unemployment is soaring at 40% and will not be reduced to zero overnight, (beyond the already existing inadequate safety net devices such as the school feeding program).

I don’t remember hearing the self-proclaim caring government offering or pouring out any substantial help in the holding budget, such as the March 13 Revolution style distribution of basic food items throughout the length and breadth of the nation via at the community (medical) centers or the implementation of some program whereby needy school children instead of missing school can ride the bus to and fro at the government’s (monthly) expense or the establishment of a National Assurance Revolving Fund to assist those who are asked to sacrifice and bear with the government while it continues to settle down, including single parent head of household, who want to work but cannot find a job.

Verily the task of Empowering our People, Building (a new economy propelled by) a New Private Sector and Restoring Hope demands the contribution of every single mind and pair of hands available.

 

Abdurraheem A Jones

 

 

 

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