The political leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) party in Grenada has spoken about key issues facing the population, and says his party is ready to fight the election.
Unemployment – especially among young people – and the rising cost of living are top in what Nazim Burke described as “great concerns”, along with what he sees as “attacks on institutions of the state”.
In a wide-ranging interview with WIC News, Burke admitted that it will be a tough battle when people next head to the polls – due to be held before the end of 2018 – but that he is “up for the task”.
“I served as deputy leader of the party, I was leader of the Government’s business in the house, I was Minister of Finance for five years. I have a really good feel for what is involved in strong government”, he said.
When asked how his party would handle a snap election, Burke stated that the NDC was ready to campaign.
This is partly down to a forward-looking approach, he said, and his party is thinking beyond just one term in office.
“We have published a policy agenda, and I believe it is the first by a political party in opposition to have published a programme that says ‘this is what I want to do in the country for the next 13 years,” he said.
“2017 to 2030. We are going beyond one term.
”‘Economic growth not being felt’.
Within the policy document, the NDC has identified 26 areas of public policy, covering economics and social issues.
But Burke believes that three topics are going to be central to Grenada when the election is called.
Economic hardship is still affecting many people, he says, despite the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) being happy with the results of a structural adjustment programme.
“What is success under the IMF is reducing expenditure and increasing revenue. Even if you experience growth, it must be inclusive. At the moment the plans do not mean the ordinary man is doing well,” he said.
“28 different taxes, levies, duties, fees and charges have been imposed on the population. Based on our calculations, we believe that 23% of disposable income has been taken away from the population because of these measures.
But the NDC leader says that it’s not just in the pocket where people are hit, accusing the government of withdrawing several “important safety nets” programmes that were introduced by the previous administration, such as an energy scheme to help the poor.
“Perhaps the most important one is our free schools books programme. We put in place a system that provides free books to all primary and secondary schools. This has now been taken away.
“It’s a similar situation with the duty-free barrel programme, which meant on items shipped in from friends, family to people here the government took no money. They have just stopped that.”
When pressed on the necessity of the government to make savings in an effort to improve Grenada’s financial situations, Burke replied that the responsibility is too one-sided.
“I’m sure they rationalise it however but the point is that the population is being asked to make huge sacrifices at a time when ministers are not.
“They have taken a 13% increase in salaries over time. MPs who are not ministers are being paid the same salaries as ministers.
The NDC leader also revealed that MPs drive to a fire station to get free fuel for vehicles – despite having a transportation allowance.
WIC News has been unable to confirm this, but has reached out to the government for comment.
A junior minister was captured by a local photographer filling his vehicle at the police fuel pump at Central Police Station on the Carenage.
Official figures from the government put unemployment at 28.9%, but the NDC are putting it at around 37% based on their calculations.
The focus is the alarmingly high rate of unemployment of people aged under 35, which sits at a staggering 52%.
Studies over the last three years have put Grenada among the worst countries in the world for youth employment.
“This is Keith Mitchell’s legacy. The only work programme they have in place to deal with this is (the) Imani programme, but the truth of the matter is that this is a programme that is really nothing but a youth stipend,” he said.
“The kids can work in a government place or a private place but if they got to a private place then employers are sending home workers because they can now get people in for free, paid by the government”, he added.
Outside of labour force’s younger members, Burke says there is ”very little work.”
“The government has been unable to embark on any serious job creation on the capital side of the budget. They said they would spend $42.9 million on capital programmes in the first three months of the year. They spent $14 million. They have given no reason”, he remarked.
If elected, the NDC would give attention to the productive sector of Grenada, the leader said, instead of the current focus on “casino gambling and offshore banking – not inherently detrimental but you cannot rely on those things to keep an economy alive.”
“This country is one of the most fertile countries in the world – the whole world. We have commodities that are unique to us and command high prices on the international market”, Burke said.