Four top areas have been highlighted by Governor General, Dame Cecile La Grenade in her presentation of the throne speech at the opening of the fifth session of the ninth parliament at the Trade Centre last Friday, as priority areas of focus for the Keith Mitchell administration in the 2017 budget to be presented today (Friday) in Parliament.
Government has said that Budget 2017 will focus on building on the strong foundation of the recent past by investing better and smarter, investing in the people, investing better for sustainable and job-rich growth, and strengthening national unity.
According to Dame Cecile, the achievements of the past like the rebounding of the economy and the improvement of in fiscal and debt situation is what will be piggy-backed on to ensure that the budget meets its targets.
“Our economy is stable and growing and our citizens are beginning to feel the positive effects of this stable growth. The results that we achieved together in recent years are tremendous, but significant challenges remain. It is imperative that we consolidate those gains and continue to work even closer together to achieve much more,” she said in the speech that is written for her by government.
In an immediate reaction to the speech, former Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas who stepped down nearly three years ago as Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) described the GG’s presentation as nothing but words.
“I heard nothing new, nothing exciting. In her conclusion she said that the economy is stable. How can you say that an economy is stable when you have such a high level of unemployment, when Grenada has been on the decline in the Doing Business report for the last two years – constantly on the decline? That in itself is a contradiction”, he said.
“…We talk about infrastructure, since the 2014 budget, there is a road project for St. Patrick’s, from Sauteurs to Pointzfield – up to now, none of that has been implemented. So it is more a talk, I mean it’s nice words but nothing really exciting in that presentation,” he added.
The 2017 throne speech also highlighted the intention of putting to rest the issue of pension for public workers.
The Governor General said that the government has begun the process of bringing this issue into resolution “within an eighteen to twenty-four month period.”
Dame Cecile told Parliament: “The first step taken was to seek independent, technical advice from the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC). The CARTAC Report, which was shared with the public sector unions, is a starting point that has helped us define the problem and outline possible interventions to resolve the issue.
“…Since receiving the CARTAC’s Report, my Government has developed a detailed proposal for a collaborative road map, inclusive of a time bound task force made up of representatives of the public sector unions and the government and with appropriate technical support from the National Insurance Scheme and other entities,” she said.
First Vice President of the Public Workers Union (PWU), Rachel Roberts told reporters that they want to be fully participatory in the process of pension for civil servants.
“We hear pensions and public officers are really looking forward to receiving their pensions. Yes, a framework was presented to us…we have to ensure that any pension that is given to public officers is one that would benefit them, they must not be disadvantaged”, she said.
“Pension was given to us by our constitution and our member Mrs. Armstrong also won that case and when the discussion is happening, we want to be part of it,” she added.
According to Roberts, the fact that the Mitchell-led government has once again signaled its intention to focus on public sector reform is not something new to the public sector.
“Public service reform is very critical in the development of the public service. However, pubic services reform must happen in a manner that ensures that public officers are able to perform effectively and efficiently. It must maintain the neutrality of the Public Service.
“Public officers must do what is the responsibility of public officers and our political leaders must also take a bold role in the manner that they should when we have the infringement of the rules being mixed, where we have that kind of anomaly which does not augur well for the reform of the public service.
“So we would like to see reform handled in a manner that really speaks to the development of persons within the public service …as a whole, so that we can really see citizen-centered service – service that really meets the needs of our citizens and public officers are willing and ready to get that kind of service.
The PWU and government have often been at loggerheads on the issue of pension in light of a law passed by the 1979-83 left-leaning People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) which denied civil servants pension following the creation of the state-controlled National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
A high court judge has ruled the law illegal and re-instated pension for public officers.
In addition, PWU has often accused the Mitchell administration of trying to set up a new entity to hire public officers and to usurp the role-played by the constitutionally recognised Public Service Commission (PSC).
Dame Cecile told the Joint Sitting of Parliament that the 2017 budget will also give priority to agriculture as the industry is seen as “the bedrock” of the economy.
She said: “We have the potential to realise food and nutrition security for our people, while at the same time, contributing significantly to health, employment, income and foreign exchange.”
The key priority areas in agriculture will include: implementation of the National Agriculture Plan 2030, continuing implementation of the Praedial Larceny Strategy and Action Plan, supporting youth in agriculture, upgrading of farm machinery and equipment, supporting agri-business development; and, supporting investments in quality and phytosanitary standards to facilitate exports, among other critical interventions.
In reaction, farmer’s representative in the Senate, Keith Clouden said he was pleased to hear that some of his recommendations were being heeded but said he would have also liked to see efforts placed in planting material.
“What I did not hear that concerns me is that we need to have planting material available. We need to start exporting whether it’s yellow yams, pumpkin, sorrel, whatever it is but we need to have a safe brand or to have planting materials made available to farmers at a reasonable cost so that we can develop greater production, greater volumes of production.
“…Another area that I thought was of worth to mention was the tissue culture lab. That is critical in terms of what I just said – in terms of developing significant amounts of planting material to be made available… but clean and healthy, well sterilised planting material…”.
The Throne speech also highlighted government’s commitment to help improve Grenada’s Ease of Doing Business ranking and to make the island a world-class tourist destination and to invest heavily in infrastructure.