Advocacy bodies for the Grenada private sector are in alliance with the New National Party and this has been the case for some time now.
This is certainly true in the case of the Grenada Chamber of Industry and Commerce. The evidence of this was the placement of leadership of this body in the hands of individuals like Nikolas Steele, Simon Stiell, the current president Ruel Edwards and other known NNP sympathisers.
Both Nikki and Simon removed their masks and moved into full blown politics just before the 2013 elections after they had used the Chamber to mount assault after assault on the NDC administration.
Ruel Edwards emerged as President. We are talking about a man whose affiliation with the NNP is well known and whose job as manager of the MNIB puts him at the mercy of the Prime Minister. Had he been a private sector business owner or manager like former Chamber Presidents, this would not have been the case.
Legitimate questions must therefore be asked about his ability to act independently and represent the interests of the hundreds of businesses that form the membership of the Chamber, pay their dues and expect that organisation to be true to its mandate.
Other high profile private sector officials have acted as virtualspokespersons for the NNP, both in opposition and in government.
So, who will stand up and speak up for Grenada’s private sector? Who will put things in a private sector perspective now that the Estimates for 2015 have been presented?
Here are some of the issues that require advocacy:
The manufacturers enjoyed a very generous 10% of sales rebate on their non-VAT tax obligations under the NDC administration. The arrangement cost the then government more than 10 million dollars in revenue foregone in 2012.
This, however, was considered inadequate and under the leadership of Mr. Chris DeAllie, this sector pressed for the arrangement to extend into letting the manufacturers retain two thirds of the 15% VAT they collected from the public. When this request was rejected by the technical staff of the Ministry of Finance on the grounds that it would undermine public finances, the manufacturing lobby went to war against the NDC administration. They played their part in securing a regime change in February 2013. But what do they have now?
The 10% rebate has been reduced to a 5% rebate, and all this will end by 2016 in keeping with the government’s existing commitment to the IMF! So, who is talking up for the manufacturers now? Where is Chris DeAllie? Where is Ruel Edwards?
Small Business Tax
Small businesses turning over between 30,000 and 120,000 will soon be paying a gross sales tax of 5%. The Prime Minister did not choose to speak of this in his theatrical speech, but this is yet another commitment made under the existing agreement with the IMF.
In the current economic climate in which businesses, including banks, are closing down or shedding staff, can small businesses bear this additional burden on top of all the taxes and fees they have been saddled with since the NNP took office?
How come the Chamber is not asking this question? Why has Mr. DeAllie not gone to bat for the small businesses on this matter, some of whom are in fact agro-processors or small manufacturers?
Grenada’s Doing Business Ranking
Grenada’s Doing Business ranking has taken a nose dive, dropping a whopping 19 points from 107 to 126. The NNP administration has abandoned Doing Business reform. Instead of maintaining the task force which operated with private sector involvement, and drove the reform process under the NDC government, they put together a committee of three politicians and one technician and told them to see what they could do. No administrative back up, no work plan! Naturally, nothing happened.
It was an approach that ignored international best practice and the success of the work of the task force that led Doing Business Reform during the tenure of Finance Minister Burke.
Now then, given the importance of a country’s Doing Business Ranking, as a measure of how easy or difficult it is for business to be conducted, and as an indicator of the attractiveness of a country to foreign investment, one would expect the oldest and largest private sector body to have something to say about this. True to its new Modus Operandi not a peep has been heard from the Chamber. The conspiracy of silence reigns!
Genuine Advocacy and Not Cover Up
There are many other matters pertaining to Grenada’s development in which there is need for rigorous and thorough interventions by interest groups that are prepared to faithfully carry their briefs.
Advocacy bodies like the Chamber should not be intimidated into silence and reduced to becoming mere rubber stamps for government policy and they should be consistent in defending the interest of their constituents. That is how lobbies grow strong and survive.
Sad to say, this stilling of the tongue is not restricted to private sector groups, but has spread like Ebola into would you believe it the Trade Union movement, where a Judas like sell-out is unfolding. The nation is looking on with bated breathe to see where this obscenity will lead.
In the final analysis, advocacy groups can enter into compacts for national development, but this should not result in their emasculation or muzzling. The individuals who are leading this sell-out should know that by their actions they are engaged in self-marginalization and loss of respect, ultimately undermining themselves.
This is a time for genuine advocacy and not cover up.