by Leslie Stewart
With the presentation of the Grenadian national budget and the subsequent budget debate by the various MPs, the public was treated to a massive dosage of what I would term ‘Blameonesia’.
MP after MP seems to be enjoying themselves casting blame on the previous NDC government of Tillman Thomas for all the ills facing the country and (not) giving any meaningful solutions as to the way forward.
Listening to the MPs, one would get the impression that all Grenada’s social, economic and political problems were created in the last four and a half years.
The MPs made a gallant effort to rewrite history, forgetting that many of them and their party ruled the country for thirteen consecutive years from 1995-2008 and at one point during the period had total control of our Parliament.
The MPs were giving the impression that they are new to the political process and the seat of power. They tried to make the public believe that they are surprised and shocked given the magnitude of Grenada’s economic problems.
Instead of using the budget debate to rally the people and present credible and realistic solutions to our problems, the public were fed with a diet of campaign rhetoric and chants of “we will deliver”, but no clear path was articulated as to how, and when they will deliver the thousands of job that are needed to reduce the Island’s unemployment rate to a manageable level.
Our MPs seems to be stuck in the election campaign mode, making a dire effort to divert the attention of the people away from the real economic realities confronting the country and keeping them in a state of anticipation for the promised delivery truck and its unspecified cargo.
The MPs should have used the budget debate to level with the Grenadian people and inform them about the current economic realities facing the country. They shouldn’t bury their heads in the sand like ostriches, pretending to be unaware of what is happening with the economy and resorting to blaming the Tillman Thomas-led NDC administration.
Personally I would rate the budget debate a grade D. The more experienced MPs didn’t step up and be examples for the rookies. The performance of the new Speaker of the House had the PM very much amused by his lack of understanding of parliamentary procedures.
In the interest of the country and our parliamentary democracy, the Speaker will have to improve his performance before the next parliamentary debate.
Now that the debate in the lower house is over, the public is in much anticipation to hear the debate in the Upper House. The debate in the lower house was an all government affair and, as such, the people who voted wisely or unwisely for no opposition were denied the benefit of a proper budget debate.
With the likes of Hon Nazim Burke, Franca Bernadine and Dr. George Vincent in the Senate, one anticipates that this debate will be much more interest than that of the Lower House.
As the Grenadian economy struggles to record some positive economic growth, the question that needs to be answered is who is really responsible for the situation that the country is in. Is it the NNP, NDC or the Grenadian people that reached to this dire economic situation?
I would quote from a former Minister of Finance Anthony Boatswain under the NNP administration of 1995-2008. When asked about the high national debt incurred under his party, he responded, “I don’t see a problem with the national debt. It’s not the size of the debt that matters, it’s the ability of the country to service its debt and we are doing just that.”
History has proven Hon Anthony Boatswain to be dead wrong.
Even as the NDC administration committed itself to paying millions of dollars in debt servicing, the current NNP administration is now forced to enter into a debt restructuring program with the creditors.
Grenada just can’t afford to service its massive $2.2 billion national debt and at the same time provide the necessary goods and services to its population of 108,000.
The Hon Prime Minister Dr. Mitchell indicated that the government is struggling to pay monthly salaries and, as a result, the retroactive pay for public workers will have to be re-negotiated.
Too much time was wasted in the last budget debate playing the blame game. The average man on the street however knows who is responsible for Grenada’s economic plight. History can’t be rewritten and no attempt should be made to do so.
This won’t serve any economic purpose and our poor people will continue to suffer if concrete steps are not taken to promote sustainable economic growth as soon as possible.
For the past 18 years the NDC has been in office for a mere four and a half years and so it is hypocritical to blame the previous government for the nation’s economic plight.
Our country is in serious economic problems as a result of the massive national debt that built up during the period 1995-2008. During that period, the national debt increased from $340 million to over $1.8 billion. This debt is a millstone around the neck of every Grenadian citizen.
The previous administration didn’t create this national debt and, as such, it is grossly unfair to blame it for our current problems. While the previous government isn’t blameless, given the fact that they have added to the deficit, they are not the principal architects and draftsmen of the debt.
The previous administration inherited a country in decline where the GDP to debt was around 110%.
There may be a need for the government, political parties and major social partners, including the trade unions, to sit together with a few economic experts and develop a ten-year economic plan for Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
Throughout the years, too many grand and unrealistic promises have been made, geared at winning national elections. This model is just not working to the benefit of the country and its people.
With an agreed ten to fifteen years economic plan, a change of government won’t necessarily affect the country, since any new administration will be obligated to the plan. Any changes to the plan based on changing economic trends will be facilitated. With such a model the blame game and divisions within society will be reduced.
Apart from this change, there is also a need for a change in attitude of the politicians and the people. There is a need for a paradigm shift.
The idea that my government is in power now, I can do anything, must be a thing of the past. The idea that an opposition works overnight to ensure a government fails, that too must change. The opposition should be engaged in constructive criticism and present a clear alternative to government.
Grenada needs a sustained period of accountability, transparency and good governance. Former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas is right when he tried to promote those noble principles. Had there been greater accountability, transparency and good governance between 1995 -2008, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique would be in a much stronger economic situation today.
The electorate too must take some blame for the island’s economic situation because they have failed to hold the politicians accountable. Let’s hope that this period will be much different, although it appears not to be so.
With the media, NGOs and trade unions seemingly in collusion with the new administration, it leaves one to think will there be a serious critical analysis of the
government’s actions and policies?
In the 2013 Estimate of Revenues and Expenditures, 41% of our national budget is allocated to debt repayment. This is an admission by the government that the fiscal policies of the past have failed and failed miserably.
Grenada’s main obstacle to economic growth is its huge deficit and, as such, the party and government that incurred this deficit must take responsibility for the state of the economy. No attempt must be made to sugar coat or divert blame to another political organisation.
If the economic model of 1995-2008 was effective and did promote sustainable economic growth, then there is no need for the so-called new economy.
As the old Russian proverb goes, “if it works, why fix it.” It didn’t work and so there is now the need for a new economy. An economy based on solid and sustainable fiscal policies. One based on productivity.
However, if this new economy is to be successful, then the masses will have to be integrally involved and buy into the process. If one is to judge from the early indicators, it appears that the majority of people are just laid back, waiting patiently for the delivery truck promised during the election campaign.
If that remains the attitude of the people, then they are in for a very long wait and a rough ride indeed.
Finally, I would like to extend my condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Ian Francis, a noted commentator on the Caribbean News Now website. His writings will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.