Grenadians will most likely be using this weekend and the coming days to reflect on the 2017 Budget that was presented on Friday by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell.
It will most likely be the final budget to be presented by the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration before the next general election.
And that is primarily why THE NEW TODAY newspaper will consider the 2017 Budget as an Election Budget by the Prime Minister.
With general election campaign due to start in the country in the next few months, the government would be mindful of the need to start “softening” the ground politically with vote-catching in mind given the austerity measures of the past three to four years.
Persons and interest groups will definitely be looking for “goodies” in this election year budget.
However, the government might be mindful of the fact that the budget has to be done against the backdrop of those things that were agreed upon by the watchdog of the Structural Adjustment Programme – the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“Stay the course” – that’s what the IMF has been preaching to the NNP government with all those measures that have been rolled out to deal with Grenada’s fiscal problems including high debts.
The message from the IMF on its last visit was the following:
“….The policy resolve demonstrated so far will be needed to safeguard fiscal progress to date and achieve the country’s medium term debt reduction goals. The government agreed with staff that the 2017 budget should adhere to the parameters set in the FRA (Fiscal Responsibility Act), including the ceiling on the public wage bill. In support of this goal, the authorities are undertaking discussions to prepare and implement a strategy that will keep the wage bill within the limit set by law and agreed under the Fund-supported program while ensuring fair compensation for public servants. The strategy should include a timetable for consultations with stakeholders and cover key reforms needed to ensure sustainable management of the public wage bill. Follow-through on this important reform would be critical to safeguard the progress made in recent years”.
It is as straight forward as one can get it. The IMF will be watching carefully to see if the government might roll back and to deviate from the current course in order to set its sails on winning the upcoming general election.
Public officers will be looking forward to the budget to see if there is anything positive in it for them in light of the critical pension issue.
As it currently stands, hundreds of civil servants who will be going home in the next few years due to retirement are still affected by the 1983 law passed by the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) on establishing the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) that ruled them out of their government pension.
There is a great deal of grumbling especially among police officers,
nurses and other rank and file members of the public service who have left the service in recent months and cannot see their way financially due to the pittance given by NIS at this point in time.
This pension issue should also occupy the attention of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) which is vying to replace NNP in office in the upcoming election.
Congress will also have to be mindful of the fact that as a major political party it has to put forward positive proposals on the table on the Pension issue and not nice-sounding and catchy phrases.
It is time for this issue to be laid to rest permanently in light of the court ruling in the Armstrong case in which a high court judge said that the action of the PRG to remove the pension was “null and void”.
This Election Year Budget is being presented against the backdrop of the recent results in the country’s first Referendum on Constitutional Changes in which all seven bills were rejected by the electorate.
The outcome must be playing on the mind of PM Mitchell who is the only person by law to set the date for the national poll.
There is widespread perception in the country that the three bills that seemingly got the nod of approval from the NNP administration also received a hammering from the people.
If the Referendum vote on November 24 was a “Protest Vote” it is only logical that the powers-that-be would not be sure if that trend might extend into a national election.
The NNP has not delivered on its 2013 promises to provide thousands of jobs, build a new economy for the country, five 5-star hotels among others.
What the people got instead was a barrage of taxes from a Structural Adjustment Programme that had to be introduced in order to deal with the NNP’s own mismanagement of the economy especially its massive borrowing and spending spree on a number of loss-making projects over the years.
This newspaper suspects that one of the issues that will spill over from the Referendum into the national elections is the “Rights and Freedom” bill that was supported by all the 15 NNP MP’s in the Lower House.
The likes of Roland Bhola, Emmalin Pierre, Delma Thomas, Oliver Joseph, Alexandra Otway-Noel and others will have to explain to constituents their vote in Parliament to support a bill that cuts deep into the moral fabric of the Grenadian society when it comes to same sex relationships.
Over the years, Grenadians have accepted the closet relationships of gays and lesbians but it is a horse of a different colour when it comes to suspicion that the State is seeking to give legality to “the thing”.