Selling national assets

Late Prime Minister Herbert Augustus Blaize must be feeling a sense of vindication with the current happenings in Grenada.

The “Old Man” was toppled as Political Leader in 1989 by the young turk, Dr. Keith Mitchell who until this day remains the defacto boss in the New National Party (NNP), the party that has won the most general elections in the history of the country.

The then young and energetic Grenadian with doctorates in both Mathematics and Statistics from an American University sold himself with the catch phrase: “If is work you want is work you go get”.

Since his advent as Prime Minister of the country in 1995, Dr. Mitchell and the successful administrations that he led over the years, have used the state-owned bodies especially Gravel & Concrete Production Corporation as the “happy hunting ground” for supporters who were in need of money and employment.

H.A Blaize sensed that something was wrong with the operations of many statutory bodies that were put under Mitchell’s watch as Minister of Communications and Works in the first NNP administration of 1984-90.

He launched two inquiries into the statutory bodies – the first was known as the Clyde Belizaire Commission and the second was done by retired high court judge of Barbados, Lindsay Worrell.

The Belizaire report pointed a straight finger into the face of Dr. Mitchell and accused him of meddling in the affairs of these state-owned bodies that were supposed to be run by a Chairman and a Board of Directors.

One specific charge that was laid in the report is that Dr. Mitchell used his influence as Minister of Works to re-open the bidding process for the importation of Bitumen into the country in order to facilitate a bid that was made by the famous Habid Hadeed, regarded as a major financier of the newlook NNP.

Political interference in the operations of the state-bodies has been the order of the day of successive governments and moreso by the NNP that has been in charge of the nation’s affairs for most of the time in the past 25 years.

The 2008-13 National Democratic Congress (NDC) of Tillman Thomas was chastised by Dr. Mitchell during its last few months in office for selling national assets to the state-owned National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to grapple with a cash flow problem that affected the Treasury especially when it attempted to meet its monthly salary obligations to public officers.

The NDC was voted out of office after one term as NNP returned to power under another catch phrase: “We will deliver” on thousands of jobs and will bring in a host of foreign investors to put Grenada back to work.

Sadly, history has a way of repeating itself. Today the Mitchell-led NNP administration is staring down the same barrel of the gun like the NDC – the prospects of having to sell-off state assets like Gravel & Concrete, the Marketing and National Importing Board (MNIB) and the Housing Authority of Grenada (HAG) and possible some aspects of the operations of the Grenada Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) to deal with a financial crisis situation facing many state-owned bodies.

Mitchell’s NNP regime has its back against the wall with the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) since it has to rely heavily on the continued support and endorsement of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Can the two-year old government afford to resist the recommendations being put forward by CARTAC, an arm of the IMF to get rid of a number of loss-making statutory bodies by selling assets?

Would resistance by the regime result in the IMF pulling the financial plug on this cash-strapped government that is saddled with a burdensome national debt of EC$2.4 billion?

What other options are available to the government other than those currently being advanced by the IMF?

This is not the time for even Congress to be gloating over the current predicament of Dr. Mitchell and NNP as the livelihoods of hundreds of persons are at stake due to the predicament facing these loss-making state-owned bodies.

What possible solutions can be advanced to the current government by those mostly pushing the Project Grenada initiative such as Trade Unionist, Chester Humphrey and the new entrant into the NNP, Peter David, the former General Secretary of Congress?

Would Sen. Humphrey look after the interest of the workers that his union represents within the state bodies or the government as part of his promotion of “Project Grenada” or play jack on both sides?

Isn’t it ironic that Dr. Mitchell is back as head of the government to tackle head-on a problem that started with these state-owned bodies as far back as the 1984-1990 period when he occupied the seat as Minister of Communication and Works?

The current predicament with these state corporations is best summed up by former Accountant-General in the Ministry of Finance, Garvey Louison in a letter that has attracted not only local but regional attention on the heels of an advertisement put out that borders on the possible sale of assets belonging to Gravel & Concrete.

Mr. Louison said: “It has become the norm to assign persons of dubious intellect and mental tenacity – notwithstanding their paper qualifications – to hold high end management positions within this corporation with little or no regard for their ability to perform the functions required and in most cases with no evidence of their track record in the operational control of a corporation.

“Further, what exactly is the government selling? This organisation has only two assets. A selection of clapped-out, knackered plant and equipment and an unvalued stock of God’s gravel and stones. Since no one would be interested in purchasing the obsolete plant and equipment that leaves the gravel and stones. Is the government of Grenada seriously proposing to sell the stock of gravel and stones given unto us by God and which we have been living by since the end of slavery? This cannot be a serious proposition.

“This organisation (Gravel & Concrete) has only one problem, that is, a political problem. Successive governments have used it as their backyard, dumping all and sundry into the mix without due regard for their ability to function within the scope of the operations. The result is several years of abuse of political power culminating in a sorry excuse for a state corporation, which the current government lacks the cojones to deal with properly”.

The late H.A Blaize must be laughing as he ponders on his prophetic words, “What goes around comes around”, in light of the vehement opposition of Dr. Mitchell to NDC’s selling of assets to deal with a fiscal crisis that started as far back as the first NNP regime of 1984.

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