The sitting of the Senate last Friday ended with laughter as former Finance Minister Nazim Burke and Leader of Government Business, Kenny Lalsingh clashed bitterly on the issue of party abortion.
Abortion, an act that is illegal on the country’s law books, was repeatedly used by Senators representing both the governing New National Party (NNP) and main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) in making reference to the first 100 days in office of the Keith Mitchell-led administration.
The debate on the Adjournment of the Sitting kicked off with Parliamentary Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Ministry with responsibility for Information, Senator Winston Garraway, informing the House that the NNP has not been walking on “velvet” since taking office following the February 19 General Election.
He explained that since taking charge of the nation’s affairs, the NNP has paid out millions of dollars in outstanding debts including more than $10 million to get the controversial Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC) Feeder Road Project back after the company packed up its equipment and shipped them out of the country under the NDC watch.
Sen. Garraway announced that $3 million was paid to the Kuwait Fund, $5 million in arrears to CCC and $1.2 million to DIWI Consultant to ensure that the second phase of the Agricultural Feeder Road Project began.
He said that a further $6.5 million was paid to the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the financiers for the Greater Grenville Project, to avoid the institution being further downgraded, while $3.6 million was paid to the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) and US$500,000.00 was paid to the World Bank every month after receiving a “stinging letter” of warning from the financial institution.
“It (hasn’t) been a bed of roses, not walking on velvet all the time, but the government … is experienced and mindful of what needs to be done … the platform has been laid, and the plane is about to take off, higher and higher, that’s what we want to do for this country”, Sen. Garraway told the Senate meeting.
In his response to the statements, Sen. Burke asked a favour of President of the Senate, Lawrence Joseph.
“Mr. President I would want to ask the Honourable Senator (Garraway), when the plane take off please remember us on the ground, throw some crumbs for us”.
The former Finance Minister under the 2008-2013 Congress government urged the NNP administration to refrain from giving the Grenadian people a false sense of hope.
In making specific reference to the Mitchell government’s first 100 days in office, Sen. Burke said that the boastings of the NNP administration about its achievements are quite laughable and not the way to go.
The debate descended into humour after the Number Two Man in Congress accused the NNP of being pregnant after the General Election but terminated the pregnancy on May 30.
“We went into the election, we came out of the election pregnant with hope and pregnant with expectation, all what has happened is that on the 30th of May, Grenada had an abortion”, he told the Senate.
“You (NNP) can’t deliver anything; you had an abortion that’s really what happened. …You see, you can’t give birth to no baby because you have nothing to give, you had an abortion on the 30th of May, so don’t come and tell the nation you delivering and you delivering and delivering and everybody could see your belly flat. What you delivering?” Burke asked.
In response to Burke’s stinging criticisms of the NNP-led government and its 100 days achievements, Sen. Lalsingh accused the former Finance Minister and his Congress government that was headed by former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas for being responsible for moving the country’s debt from $1.7 in 2008 to $2.3 billion in 2012.
Lalsingh said the new NNP government since taking up office in February has been paying several outstanding debts left unattended for the past four years by Congress.
“If there was an abortion, probably that might be true, we would have aborted the last government’s child, because this child was pregnant with debt and all kinds of foolishness happening so we had to abort the child”, he added.
“We have to bring good children into this world, we can’t continue with children with poverty, bad pay … all kinds of stigma attached, we cannot continue with that, we have to come with something proper,” he said.
During an earlier stint in office, Prime Minister Mitchell was often accused of embarking on a spending spree by taking the national debt from EC$373 million in mid-June 1995 to a staggering EC$1.7 billion by July 2008 when he was voted out of office.
A number of questionable loans and government guarantees that were often pointed at the then former Prime Minister involved an estimated $75 million to failed projects like the Garden Group of small hotels in the south of the island, the Call Centre involving family members, and the MNIB fiasco in the Lagoon road area of St. George’s.
According to Sen. Lalsingh, while the NNP government had been able to achieve several accomplishments within the first 100 days in office such as the return of CCC, one of its biggest challenges is the country’s debt situation.
He conceded that it is an unprecedented challenge to get the Grenadian economy on a path of high and sustainable growth in the shortest time but his administration is determined to turn the country around so that a sustained economy can be developed.
“It has been a very embarrassing situation. Every time a Minister attend(s) a meeting they (are) told well, Grenada is at the top of the list as it relates to your contribution, and because we were at the top of the list in default, Grenada is unable to get any kind of support whatsoever,” he said.
Prime Minister Mitchell has announced plans to approach creditors to do a comprehensive restructuring of the island’s debts following Grenada’s failure in March to make a payment of EC$19 million to some major foreign bondholders.