Labour representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Raymond Roberts has called on Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell to apologise to Grenadians for the many mistakes he made during his tenure as Prime Minister from 1995-2008.
“I say to him (Dr. Mitchell), prove your credibility, apologise for your mistakes of 1995 to 2008; let’s move forward because we are a forgiving people,” Sen. Roberts said.
Many critics have blamed the current Prime Minister of placing the country’s finances in jeopardy following a massive borrowing and spending spree in which the national debt skyrocketed from EC$373 Million in 1995 to over $1.8 billion in 2008.
When Dr. Mitchell returned to power in 2013 he was forced to engage in a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) as the island was unable to pay its U.S Bondholders.
Sen. Roberts used his contribution to the debate on the 2017 budget to chastise PM Mitchell as the one to lay the blame on for the economic mess in which Grenada has found itself.
He said while some people would like to speak about the 2008-13 period of Congress under Prime Minister Tillman Thomas Government, he will instead focus from 1995 when the New National Party (NNP) first came into office.
He recalled Dr. Mitchell making a presentation to the Trades Union Council (TUC) at the East Wing of the Grand Beach Hotel in Grand Anse, St. George’s when in opposition in which he spoke of bringing the income tax threshold to $60,000 once if he won the general election to get into government.
“We gave a list of ideas why we ought not to go down that road.
Today, the consequences are here – the blame has to fall squarely on our current Prime Minister… He absolutely knew that he was playing a game,” said the Labour Senator.
According to Sen. Roberts, Prime Minister Mitchell did not only raise the Income Tax threshold, but also went on a borrow and spending spree, knowing that the Grenadian economy cannot sustain the repayment which resulted in the national debt rising to $1.7Bn.
He also took a critical look at the 2017 budget especially on various areas relating to labour issues and described the package as having just “plenty gigantic numbers.”
Sen. Roberts accused PM Mitchell of once again seeking to embark upon a period of indiscriminate spending and referred to the large sums of money earmarked for various votes in the budget in recurrent capital expenditure under a section itemised as “other services” without any indication as to where the money is to be spent.
*Vote 2, which is for Parliament, to receive $11,000, Supreme Court $110,000, and $15,000 for the Magistracy.
*Vote 8 which is the Parliamentary and Election Office received last year $46,000, but for 2017 will be getting $796,000, Vote 12, Police moves from $250,000 to $738,000, and Security, Public Administration, Disaster Management, and Information received $119,000, but has now jumped to $1.5M.
*Vote 19, Youth, Sports and Religious Affairs last year received $26,000, has moved to $22M, and Vote 20, Finance and Energy got, last year, $381,000, but for 2017 it is $4M.
*Vote 30, Ministry of Works had $300,000 last year, and has now moved to $2M. Vote 35, Ministry of Social Development received $760,000, but it is reduced to $473,000, Vote 36 for the Ministry of Carriacou and Petit Martinique Affairs is being offered $100,000, Health which was $2M has moved up to $201M, Agriculture moved from $365,000 to $1.1M.
Sen. Roberts told the Senate he has calculated in excess of $30M earmarked in the budget for other services and warned that, “if that is wisdom and progressive thinking, Grenadians join me in delivering yet another “no vote.”
He was obviously referring to the November 24th Referendum where he publicly called on the nation to vote “no” to all of the seven Bills.
The electorate overwhelmingly rejected all the bills including the three that were being promoted by Prime Minister Mitchell.
The Labour Senator also raised concern over the sum of money allocated to the Prime Minister’s Ministry for Social Services under Vote 10 in which $2M is being set aside for public assistance.
According to Sen. Roberts, there is no need for two ministries to provide public assistance to the country as Member of Parliament for St. Andrew North-west Delma Thomas as Minister of Works holds the portfolio for Social Services in which public assistance is an integral part.
In the area of health, the Labour Senator reported that the hospitals around the island require professional services and that health care in Grenada leaves much to be desired, particularly for the poor people.
Sen. Roberts made particular reference to the one-off payment offered to public workers for the period of sacrifice during the three-year Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).
He reminded the Upper House that workers have not accepted anything else, but a deferral of salary increases and as such the promise of a one-off payment is not on the agenda.
“We didn’t accept any frozen salary, we refer to it as a deferral, and we want it to be highlighted in that manner,” he said.
Sen. Roberts pointed out that “with the success of this home-grown programme” as boasted by the NNP regime, the workers expect that the 15 percent and $36,000 income tax threshold “would have been completely removed.”
During his budget presentation, Dr. Mitchell announced that there will be a five percent reduction in Personal Income Tax.
The Labour Senator remained critical of the move to offering contract work by the government and advised workers to begin to rebel against it.
He accused the Mitchell-led government of being the biggest culprit in contract labour and referred to the outsourcing of jobs for nurses.
He said the TUC still does not know the agency that has been contracted by government to provide jobs to the nurses.
Under the Grenada Constitution, the Public Service Commission (PSC) is recognised as the only body responsible for hiring public officers in the country.
Sen. Roberts described the many projects outlined in the 2017 budget by Dr. Mitchell as being “phantom projects,” as was the case with the two-billion dollar Mt. Hartman tourism project involving controversial Chinese investor, Charles Liu.
“Today the news we have, is that the investor (Liu) is in deep trouble with the (Security) Exchange Commission in the United States, but what is even worse, yet another investor of little or no character putting Grenada in the news for all the wrong reasons,” he said.
Ambassador Liu who is the Commercial Attaché in the Grenada’s Embassy in Beijing, China is charged by the SEC with violating anti-fraud laws in the U.S in connection with a cancer treatment business in California.
Liu along with his wife, Xin “Lisa” Wang, are accused of misusing two-thirds of the money they raised from investors for the project.