In a blistering attack, Political Leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Nazim Burke has labeled Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell as an “economic con-man” who delivered the 2017 budget with the sole purpose of trying to win the next general election.
Speaking at Monday’s weekly press conference held by Congress, Burke said that Dr. Mitchell was on an “election journey of lies, deceit and manipulation,” and described some of the relief fiscal measures announced in the budget as “crumbs (being) dangled in the face of the people.”
He charged that if re-elected into office, the Prime Minister and the ruling New National Party (NNP) will then restore the tough austerity measures that were rolled out after the 2013 general elections.
He charged that if Dr. Mitchell was returned to power “he (the Prime Minister) will enter into a new programme with the IMF and restore the taxes on the backs of the people.
“That is our prediction – we are saying it today and we are going to say it again because this is what is going to happen,” he said.
The NNP scored a 15-0 victory at the polls in 2013 on a campaign promise of delivery of thousands of jobs, the building of several 5-star hotels, and creating a new economy for the country.
One month after returning to office, Prime Minister Mitchell announced that Grenada was unable to honour its commitment to the island’s US bondholders and was forced to implement a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) that included increases in several existing taxes like Income Tax, Petrol Tax and Property Tax.
Burke told reporters that PM Mitchell delivered what he categorized as “a classic election budget” in order to attract the electorate to give the NNP another term in office.
“…With election now on the doorsteps and given his (Dr. Mitchell’s) failure and the failure of his government to address the basic needs of the majority of the Grenadian people he is telling himself that his only option at this stage is to put together a nice sounding package of empty promises and try to sell it to the people,” he said.
The Congress Leader stated that PM Mitchell is once again displaying “a total lack of respect for the intelligence of the Grenadian people (and) is hoping that their memories are so short that they would forget the fairytale that he sold them just before the last election only to impose naked hardships on their backs shortly after reassuming office.”
According to Sen. Burke, Congress has always maintained that once the three-year International Monetary Fund (IMF) supported Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) comes to an end that “in order to bait the people, he (Dr. Mitchell) will temporarily roll back or try to manipulate one or more of the 29 different taxes, fees, duties, levies, charges that were imposed (in an effort to) try to get the people to vote for the New National Party (NNP).”
He heavily criticised the EC$2 reduction in the price of cooking gas from $42 to $40 at this point in time, when the cost of oil on the world market is significantly lower than it was when the NDC was in office.
“When the NDC was in government, the going price for cooking gas was $47 (and) recognizing the hardships that people were facing, we took the decision to reduce the price of the 20lb cylinder, the poor man cylinder, to $42 per cylinder and fix it at $42,” Sen. Burke said.
“This was at a time when the price of oil on the World Market was as high as US$120 a barrel,” he noted, adding that since then, “over the last three years, we have seen oil prices drop as low as $30 a barrel”.
“One would think that the price of petroleum products in Grenada would fall, just like they have fallen all over the world and that the $42 would have gone down to a much lower price today as had happened in every other country in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States OECS,” the NDC leader said.
According to Sen. Burke, “every other country within the OECS is selling cooking gas for a significantly lower price that it is in Grenada” pointing out that “it is significantly lower than the $40 Dr Mitchell is speaking about.”
Sen. Burke also criticised the reason provided by Dr. Mitchell for the 2018 commencement date for the reduced rate in the annual Stamp Tax from 0.75% to 0.7%, for businesses on the grounds that the notices for 2017 have already been sent out.
He told PM Mitchell: “….As an economic manager, who has been in this business for many years, when did you decide that you were going to lower the Stamp Tax as part of your economic prescriptions to get the kind of outcomes you want to see in the economy?”
“One would expect that you would have examined a planned reduction, do an assessment or evaluation of the economic impact of that reduction, what it’s going to mean for your revenue intake and make a calculation based on that, what percentage is an optimal percentage to reduce by. You don’t come to the nation and say I am going to do that in 2018, I can’t do that in 2017 because I already sent out the notices,” he said.
Sen. Burke argued that Dr. Mitchell, as the country’s economic manager, would not have sent out the notices if he knew what he was doing” adding that as manager of the economy you (Dr. Mitchell) have to know these things in advance.”
He said, “these little cheap tricks” that Dr. Mitchell has up his sleeves “is not impressing anyone,” expressing the view that “the Prime Minister has to come better than that.”
Burke also slammed the failure of government to provide the Opposition Senators with the book containing the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure as is customary when the Minister of Finance presents the Budget Statement in the Lower House.
He said the missing document will hamper the ability of Senators to adequately respond to the budget as presented by Prime Minister Mitchell.
“All we have available to us is the (2017 Budget) statement that was delivered by the Prime Minister, the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, which contain the numbers that are supposed to support the statements or from which the statements that he made are supposed to founded are not available to us,” Sen. Burke, informed the media.
He described this action by the Mitchell-led government as an “act of cowardice”, noting that since the 2017 Budget has already been presented then the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure should be made available at the first instance so that it can be reviewed.
“Let us see the numbers so that we can verify what you have said in that statement,” Sen. Burke told PM Mitchell.