The Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association (GHTA) is questioning why more resources are not pumped into agriculture and tourism by the ruling New National Party (NNP) government.
Speaking on the “Sundays With George Grant” radio programme, GHTA President, Jerry Rappaport indicated that agriculture and tourism are the two sectors that create foreign exchange, and if there is not sufficient support for them as seen in the 2017 budget then a real challenge lies ahead.
He said the body recognises the economic situation the country has now found itself in but at the same time it is felt that agriculture which creates foreign exchange and provides jobs leaves one to “question why we’re not seeing more of it (monies) being directed that way.”
The budget allocated for the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) is $50.3M, while the funds earmarked in the upcoming fiscal year for Tourism, Culture and Co-operatives amounts to $22.3M.
According to Rappaport, the vital tourism sector will be under a lot of pressure in Grenada this upcoming year.
He pointed to what appears to be the lack of proper co-ordination in tourism projects being submitted for approval by non-nationals.
“Right now we’ve got situations where tourism ventures are coming into Grenada. They’re going to GIDC (Grenada Industrial Development Corporation, some are going to GTA (Grenada Tourism Authority), some are going directly to the Prime Minister’s Office, and there is a lot of confusion at times as to what’s going on,” he said.
Rappaport told the host of the programme that GHTA has already begun to see a drop off in visitor arrivals from the United Kingdom market, uncertainty in the United States as a result of the recent Presidential election, and a drop in the Canadian Dollar.
“So we’re concern, and we’re concerned about the fact that we know that the GTA budget is going to be reduced,” he said.
The GHTA boss also expressed the view that the issue with airlift among the various Caribbean islands will be very problematic in the coming year.
LIAT, widely regarded as the premier airline in inter-island travel has already cut back on its number of scheduled flight in and out of the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) at Point Salines.
Rappaport also voiced concerns about the concessions offered to foreign investors, as against the assistance provided to indigenous Hoteliers.
He said while the hoteliers realise the need for government to give incentives to new projects coming in from abroad, it must be recognised that there is a hotel sector that exists in Grenada in which eighty percent of the money stays within the local economy.
This, he said contrasts sharply with what actually happens with those international outfits that come into the country in which only twenty percent of the money remain in Grenada.
Government’s Economic Advisor, Dr. Patrick Antoine who defended the budgetary allocation to RGPF spoke of the security threat to the country, which he claimed to be significant.
Dr. Antoine said having been knowledgeable of regional security briefings, he understands the border threats Grenada and the rest of the region face.
“Law and order, as a key priority for our country, is a matter that cannot be denied,” he added.
Dr. Antoine stressed that the country’s security infrastructure in terms of vessels and equipment for the Police Officers that are required in the execution of their duties have suffered as a consequence of the inability of government to increase the capital spend on law and order.
“If the administration now deems it prudent… to increase the spend to law and order, I believe that that is a decision that cannot be sharply criticised,” he said.
Prior to losing the 2008 general election to Congress, current Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell was accused of using a sum of money allocated to Grenada from a regional facility financed mainly by Trinidad & Tobago to pay salaries of civil servants instead of the Coast Guard that it was borrowed for upgrading.
The Trinidad-based Dr. Antoine made reference to the police force being without bulletproof vests which he said was unacceptable.
The RGPF was marred last year over the fatal shooting of Corporal Daniel Edgar who was without a bulletproof vest as he went out on a crime scene.
Dr. Antoine described the fiscal measures laid out in the budget as “a very cautious budget” at a particularly delicate time in the country’s macro-economic context.
He said the measures are not substantial in terms of the benefit or relief for Grenadians as the country is at a delicate juncture.
The Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government is coming to the end of a Structural Adjustment Programme with support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that brought sweeping austerity measures.
Statistician Curlan Gilchrist, a former Government Budget Officer, who was also a guest on the programme, was not excited over the 2017 budget.
Gilchrist said the budget is attempting to give hope, but he believes people have to be reminded of the reality that the country is not yet out of the economic crisis.
“I don’t consider it (the budget) to be a Santa Claus Budget as most people would say,” Gilchrist told the host of the programme.
He said he is still trying to understand what the jubilation is all about when there are tremendous challenges ahead, adding that the citizens of Grenada have to be prepared to move from one challenge to the next with optimism.
“The way in which the real events are unfolding these days, the smile on your face can be wiped away very easily,” he remarked.
Gilchrist predicts that the way in which growth is generated in the economy will not impact broadly on the island’s unemployment figures.
He said there can only be “fiscal easing” when the more fundamental issues of economic development are addressed by the powers-that-be.
According to Gilchrist, as long as the country struggles with job creation and all of the social dynamics, there will be difficulty in easing the burden in terms of fiscal relief.
He charged that even the announcement of reducing the Personal Income Tax from 15 to 10 percent would just provide a revenue stream of four million dollars.
Gilchrist said some of the measures including the tax amnesty are not economic stimulants and could have been done more or less as a routine action and suggested that “the mischief” done there does not worth the salt.
Some local analysts have termed the 2017 Budget as an Election Year Budget by Prime Minister Mitchell who is seeking an unprecedented 5th term in office.
Speculation is rife that the Poll will be held sometime between May and early July.