From the very outset the theme of the 2013 Budget Presentation was going to lead us down a blind alley. “Restoring Hope” reminds me of the former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas saying “Help is on the way”.
But then of course this is not surprising since the same technocrats who prepared the Tillman Thomas pronouncements are the ones who prepared this 2013 Budget presentation.
The ordinary dictionary meaning of hope is ‘a chance that something good will happen; to want and expect something to happen or be true’.
Our diet has changed from a bowl of transparency and tea in the morning to a plate of hope and coffee.
At this point, I must issue a loud and resounding disclaimer for the avoidance of doubt that my comments are made as a citizen of Grenada without fear or favour and that the day I am not allowed to do so I will quite willingly change my citizenship. I sometimes dream of Nelson Mandela and South Africa.
There are several matters that we as a nation have been procrastinating on for several years of successive governments and it is now time that we put these issues into motion and discontinue the hope.
I have taken the liberty to examine the Budget presentation and to differ with the stance taken therein on several critical issues. The matters I raise below are the more significant ones.
Tinkering with the Value Added Tax is not a solution. The tax should be scrapped immediately and replaced with a genuine sales tax at a lower level, across the board and without exemptions. This should be complemented by making the appropriate adjustments at the point of entry to other taxes and charges. The huge VAT administration structure now in place will be redundant.
It is instructive that the presentation refers to consultation with the private sector on the matter of the VAT and its impact with no reference being made to consultation with the main sufferers, the public.
A programme for immediate WiFi at government buildings and at strategic points around the country does not have to wait on the World Bank Loan under the Caribbean Communications Infrastructure Programme (CARCIP) to commence.
Funds are currently available under other programmes and avenues for the rolling out of WiFi. Once this is done, public officers’ data plans can be restricted to the use of WiFi to save costs.
At the same time negotiations can commence with the existing telecommunications providers for the implementation of Voice Over (VOIP) protocols throughout government which would immediately cut 75% off existing bills with more calls being made.
In the restoration of government buildings the contractor should use solar panels for power as far as is possible. The construction should involve the trapping of rain water for watering lawns, flowers, vegetable gardens, washing vehicles, cleaning the yard and a host of other purposes.
With regard to youth development and the Imani programme, I had an extremely sad experience a few months ago. I had agreed to take in two young ladies from the youth development programme, by what-ever name it’s called, for on the job training. My nightmare commenced when I discovered that they had spent several months in training but none were trained in areas of benefit to my organization.
A limited and unscientific survey informed me that I was not the only employer with that problem. These young people are not being trained for the areas of work that will become available in the new economy.
Here are four examples:
(1). Film making and movie and documentary production;
(2). Computerized graphics editing and design in television;
(3). Fashion designing and clothes production with individual design styles; and
(4). Repairs and maintenance of electric and hybrid vehicles.
The other side of this heart wrenching story is that there are several youths who have spent more than two years in training with no avenues created for them upon completion. Government must lead the way in facilitating ventures into these new, modern productivity areas so as to ensure the natural upward progression of these youths and not a stagnation exercise.
Government should insist that all vehicles bought for its use this year should be green vehicles. Today hybrids, electric, clean diesel and solar powered vehicles are widely available and highly efficient.
There is no reason why the vehicle that runs errands around the town between ministries should not be solar or battery powered. This will immediately reduce the fuel bill.
The effort of the government to implement tablets to replace textbook was mentioned en-passant without much conviction and as an issue to be dealt within the distant future. Other Caribbean countries are way ahead of us in that regard. These countries are in discussions with
e-content providers and hardware manufacturers regarding a phased roll-out.
Now is the time to undertake an urgent review of scholarships being accepted and to match these with the needs of the economy. Retooling must be an essential basis for the new economy.
On housing, care must be taken to take on board the views of the potential occupants for the future developments. The fact that these people are poor and dispossessed does not strip them of pride and ideas. A lack of buy-in and consideration for the living quarters will only lead to ghettoization and rapid dilapidation of the new facilities.
Several countries in Europe have paid dearly for the policy decision to “stack ’em tight and high” only to discover later that widespread demolition of sick buildings is the only solution for monstrosities where nobody wants to live.
Why not share some responsibility from the start? Why is it that the potential occupants were not given title to the property on the condition that they take a small loan to put in their utilities while the government finances the common grounds prior to their occupation?
Clearly it is not too late. My colleagues can still swallow their pride and prejudice and seek to immediately put in place some of the measures that I have suggested with minimum effort within the context
of the 2013 budget and at tremendous cost saving to the people of Grenada.
Garvey Louison FCCA
Charted Certified Accountant