Health professional Kennedy Roberts has defected from the ruling New National Party (NNP) to the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) with a blistering attack on Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
In his first appearance on a Congress platform last Sunday night at the La Sagesse playing field in St. David, Roberts called for the 71-year old Mitchell to step aside and go into retirement.
“I have known Dr. Mitchell for a very long time. I have been close to him in many ways. I have respected him and I believe he has done a lot for Grenada in the time he has been here but I am convinced that this is our time in history when we have to tell him thank you, Dr Mitchell you have played your part, time to move on”, he told the large gathering.
Roberts who contested the 2008 election for the NNP in the St. George North-east constituency is the second noted NNP official in the past year to call for the ageing Grenadian leader to call it a day in frontline politics.
Minutes earlier, the Congress meeting was addressed by Samuel George (Bosco), a former long-standing NNP member who is now campaigning with NDC after 33 years of association with the Mitchell-led party.
Roberts also used the NDC platform to accuse his former party of playing games with the people since it “is not interested in the health of Grenadians”.
He told the meeting held to endorse Adrian “Persuader” Thomas as the NDC Candidate for St. David in the March 13 general election that the NNP is not putting enough effort into the health sector which is of great concern to Grenadians.
“Over the 20 plus years I have been labouring, talking about National Health Insurance, talking about the health of the people. I got involved with the NNP because of my personal relationship with Dr. Mitchell but I have tried, I have given my best, I have tried in all ways and in these last five years, I have given them the benefit of the doubt.
“I have tried, I suggested, I recommended, I’ve put it in writing, I have sent it in the newspapers and I am convinced that the New National Party is not interested in the health of Grenadians – they’re not interested in people. And as a result, I am here tonight to tell Grenadians to think carefully, think about your health situation and you have to think seriously about the decision you make on March 13th.”
Being with the NNP for 33 years, Roberts said for over 20 years he has been consulting with his own Government on implementing National Health Insurance (NHI) in a proper way in an effort to improve the country’s health care but his recommendations and suggestions have been falling on deaf ears.
He said, “In June 2013, sisters and brothers that is almost five years ago, I did a presentation to the (NHI) committee and I told them health sector reform is about people so while we are looking at National Health Insurance let us talk to the people, let us talk to the health workers, let us talk to the other stakeholders.
“Sisters and brothers, up to today the health workers have not been consulted in a way that they can each share what their experiences have been in the health sector. We are going ahead with National Health Insurance in a situation where we don’t understand the health problems of the health sector.
“…We are in a situation where if you get sick today and you cannot come up with thousands of dollars, you are as good as dead. We are going to health centres and our doctors are seeing a few people and you have to be turned away. They are encouraging you to come to their private practice because sisters and brothers that is where they are making their money.
“So, our health system is run by a set of persons who are not interested in people and in order to address it, you have to have dialogue and I told them let ‘s speak to the people and they said no, our mandate is to look at National Health Insurance.”
Roberts charged that the rush to implement NHI by the Mitchell-led government is a mere election gimmick and was not necessarily being done for the benefit of the people.
This, he said is based on an encounter with the Minister given responsibility by Cabinet to chart the NHI course, Emmalin Pierre.
He said: “In October 2016, Emmalin called me and she say Kennedy we want you to come back on the committee to proceed. I say Minister Pierre I am willing to do it but under the condition that we do it properly. She said well we have a plan to implement it by July 2017.
“I said Minister Pierre it is impossible to do it in such a rush, let us go to the people, let us consult but what I realise, they were hoping to have election in October, November last year so, they want to introduce it for politics rather than the health of the people and I said no, we have to go to the people and that’s why when NDC comes into office on March 13th, they have given me the assurance that we are going to the people, we are not going to move in this direction.”
Roberts accused the NNP regime of having a “disjointed approach to health” in Grenada.
He said, “Over the last five years, if you think of it, they said they improving primary health care, I told them while primary health care is important we have to think about how people pay for care. Then a Canadian company come talking about Management Information System, then a next set coming and talk about hospital and a next set coming and talk about National Health Insurance.
“We need to pool all these things together because health is not about one sector, health is about an integrated approach and they don’t have a clue and they don’t even know that they don’t know.”
Over the next few weeks, Roberts stated that he will be doing all in his power to ensure that Grenadians and their health is thought about when they go to the polls on March 13.
He told the Congress meeting: “Our district health services are running in a manner, while our nurses are working hard, people are not using our health centres, they are not using our medical stations because they don’t have confidence in it.
“We are going to restore the confidence in our public health system. We are going to make sure that Grenadians feel comfortable to go to your health centre, see a doctor, see a nurse, see a health professional and get proper attention.
The former NNP executive member and candidate also made some passing remarks about the historic March 13 date selected by Prime Minister Mitchell for the national poll.
It was on March13, 1979 that the leftist New Jewel Movement (NJM) of late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop seized power in a coup d’etat against the elected Eric Gairy government.
Roberts said: “…I am going to do all in my power over the next four weeks to give my energies to Grenada to make sure that when we go to the polls on March 13th, we remember the revolution.
“Maurice Bishop is not buried but I am sure he is in the arms of the Lord and he is looking down at us, he is looking to see what we will do and we have to make him proud where ever he is.
Prime Minister Mitchell has faced many criticisms for selecting the March 13 date for the upcoming general election.