Lead Opposition Member in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Nazim Burke has questioned the authenticity of some of the figures presented in the 2016 billion-dollar budget presented by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell.
Sen. Burke who is the Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) indicated that on page seven of the budget statement Dr. Mitchell said that at the end of the year he expects the total revenues collected to be $550.4M as compared to the $545.4M that was budgeted.
In making his contribution to the debate on the 2016 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, the Congress Leader noted that from pages 18 to 19 of the budget statement, Dr. Mitchell said recurrent revenues for 2016 are estimated to be $574.6M or approximately 9.5 percent more than expected collections in 2015.
“When I multiply $550.4M by 1.095, I get $602.68M,” he said. According to Sen. Burke, the numbers presented by the Prime Minister, a mathematician and statistician by training are wrong, as it does not amount to $574.6M.
“The recurrent revenue number of $574 is wrong and, therefore, the estimates of all the surpluses, current surplus… primary surplus, overall surplus are all-wrong,” he said.
“Never before in the history of this country has somebody come, a minister of finance came and presented a budget where the basic summary numbers don’t add up,” he added.
Sen. Burke accused Prime Minister Mitchell of trying to paint a rosy picture of solid economic growth in the country since his ruling New National Party (NNP) came back to power in February 2013.
However, the NDC leader stressed that in evaluating the strength of the budget, and the character and credibility, there are three things that are worth mentioning.
He said out of a targeted sum of $214M in grants, government only received $72M, and $199M of the $313M budgeted was used as capital expenditure, and the revenue collected from the National Transformation Fund through the Citizenship By Investment (CBI) Programme amounted to $12M of the projected $124.9M.
Sen. Burke told the Senate meeting that government had projected that some $100.9M from the CBI Programme was going to finance the $313M as outlined in the capital programme.
He also took a swipe at Dr. Mitchell for continuing to blame Congress for the state of the economy.
“In the more than two-hour presentation in which the Prime Minister is expected to tell the nation what are his plans and programmes for getting our country growing and keeping it growing, for creating jobs for the thousands of unemployed persons who have finished school with their certification, in many cases, have nothing to do, for getting small businesses up and running, for attracting foreign investors, for reviving our agriculture and tourism sectors, for reducing the cost of energy, those kinds of issues, he spends his time blaming the NDC for his failures and his inability to deliver”, he said.
The Congress Leader stated that Dr. Mitchell blamed the previous administration 14 times throughout his two-hour budget presentation.
In defence of the stewardship of the former Tillman Thomas-led Congress Administration, Burke said the problem is not that of the previous administration, but it is a capacity problem with Dr. Mitchell not understanding the fundamentals of economic management.
He indicated that when Mitchell’s NNP was voted out of Office in 2008 the country was overwhelmed by economic and social mismanagement, illegal and corrupt practices, and a lack of transparency and accountability.
The former Finance Minister said Grenada’s credit rating was the lowest of any sovereign nation in the Caribbean, and the public debt was $1.7BN.
Sen. Burke claimed that although Dr. Mitchell said the budget contains no new tax, based on what Congress has seen and heard, the people of Grenada can expect a further hike in the petrol tax by an additional fifty cents.
“It is the ordinary people who are feeling this… and those who are feeling it understand what this government has done is deny the Grenadian people an opportunity to pay lower prices for the gas at the pumps, and to live better, considering all the taxes that they are already facing,” he live better, considering all the taxes that they are already facing,” he said.
Sen. Burke was also critical of the move made by the Mitchell administration to lower the income tax threshold from $60,000 to $36,000 per annum.
He charged that it has done “severe damage” to a number of people in the country.
He said that people who took loans from the commercial bank on the strength of their disposable income are now finding it difficult to service the loan.
He added that on top of all of the new taxes that have been imposed by the Mitchell administration, the price of goods has also increased.
The NDC boss also took issue with the budgetary allocation on the capital side of $11,927,086 for the Prime Minister’s Ministry.
“What is the Prime Minister’s Ministry producing? How is it creating jobs? In what key sector of the economy is the Prime Minister’s Ministry stimulating growth?” he asked.
Sen. Burke observed that there is an allocation of $7M for special projects in the Prime Minister’s Ministry although there is a Ministry of Works and Community Development, a scholarship programme being administered from inside the Prime Minister’s Ministry for $750,000, and a needy assistance programme of $1.25M although there is a Ministry of Social Development.
“Why are we taking all this money and throwing it inside the Prime Minister’s Ministry? What is the purpose, what is intended by this?” he further asked.
Sen. Burke said that at a time when the economies of Carriacou and Petit Martinique are disadvantaged by varying issues, a capital allocation of $4.575M is given to the ward islands, which amounts to a mere 38 percent of the capital budget set aside for the Prime Minister’s Ministry.
The NDC Political Leader also took issue with the $1.8M allocation for Parliamentarians, through the “Strengthening Parliamentary Representation Provision,” that is now placed in the Prime Minister’s Ministry.
Last year, that provision was within the Parliament, however, this year it is taken out of the Vote of the Parliament.
“The decision flies in the face of the separation of powers, the business of the Parliament cannot be run out of the Office of the Prime Minister,” said Sen. Burke.
He pointed out that unless safeguards are built to protect the integrity of the system, it will be abused by those seeking to promote their narrow political self-interest.
Speculation is rife that the NNP is putting systems in place both at the government and party level to prepare for the next general election, which could be held within the first six months of 2016.
Meanwhile, Private Sector Representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Christopher DeAllie joined his colleague opposition Senator Nazim Burke in criticising the move made by the Mitchell Administration to place funds from Parliament to the Prime Minister’s Ministry.
Sen. DeAllie told the Senate he takes “a dim view of the movements of funds from Parliament to the Prime Minister’s Office,” which he said is contrary to international best practice.
“The major independence issue for Parliament is having funds separated. The Parliament must administer (its) own funds as (it) sees it fit,” he remarked.
“This thing about bringing it back under (the) Prime Minister’s Ministry… and taking it out as a Vote, cannot be a positive move. That is a negative move… You cannot have the funds for Parliament being dictated by Central Government,” he said.
The Private Sector Representative who normally gives full support to the Mitchell government felt that “this is one of the worst things in the budget.”