Peter David: “Historic and defining moment” is at hand

Peter David

Embattled Member of Parliament for the Town of St. George, Peter David has delivered a blistering attack on the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government that he once served under as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism.

David was at the time delivering an address at a Public Meeting
held last Thursday night at the St. George’s Anglican Senior School known as Hindsey School on Church Street in St. George’s to outline his political future.

His address came against the backdrop of clear signs that Prime Minister Tillman Thomas is proceeding with moves to exclude the MP and another of his close followers, sacked Minister of Foreign Trade and The Environment, Joseph Gilbert as Congress candidates in the upcoming general elections.

In his hour-long speech, David announced that he had informed Prime Minister Thomas earlier in the day that he would not contest his post of party General Secretary in a critical convention planned for September 30.

Party sources told this newspaper that David would have faced a challenge for his position from either the Treasurer, Bernard Isaac or former General Secretary, Livingston Nelson.

The MP for the Town told supporters that he intends to contest his seat but did not give indication whether it will be on an NDC ticket or as an independent candidate.

Education Minister, Franka Bernadine is said to be the most likely person that the NDC will select to contest the seat for congress in the upcoming general election.

As a public service, THE NEW TODAY reproduces an edited version of the self-styled “Town Hall meeting” that was held by the former Tourism Minister:

“My involvement in frontline politics in the last few years has strengthened my conviction that there are better ways to build our nation; ways that are better than what we have been practising in recent times.

The poisonous language and hateful tone of our current politics do not truly reflect the character of our people; nor do they genuinely represent the spirit of our nation. It is divisive.

That is why there is a great degree of disgust over politics in our society. It is leading us to fight battles we have already fought and already won.  Grenada deserves better than that.

The chattering noise of disagreeableness is getting in the way of a united sense of purpose – in aspiring; in advancing and in building a nation.

The time has come to stop the politics of exchange and genuinely begin the politics of real change.

The time has come to turn to each other and stop turning on each other. The time has come for us to cover the backs of our people rather than turn our backs on our people.

We cannot with each election cycle become more bitter, more cynical, more mean-spirited, more foulmouthed and at the end of the process change the personnel – only to continue with the same policies and same politics.

We cannot exchange a green meanness with a yellow meanness and call that change.

This government, Brothers and Sisters, of which I have been a part for most of the time, has fallen way short in its delivery of the change agenda.

And I cannot have been part of the team, and not take some personal responsibility for that. I do.

Inside of Cabinet I fought many battles, but did not win enough of them for the people. That is why earlier this year I resigned from the Cabinet of Grenada.

If I could not make the change people wanted from inside, then I needed to fight for it from the outside.

And let me tell you – fighting for people is not conspiracy. Fighting for a different economic policy that would have guaranteed workers’ salaries, influenced growth in the economy and secured our children’s future, is not one man’s wild personal ambitious agenda.

It is what the people demand. It is what they deserve. The allegiance I pledged was to the people of the Town of St George. And I am here to report tonight, Sisters and Brothers, that I’ve kept the faith.

My commitment is to the workers of this country, whose vote and support propelled us into office in 2008, only to have us turn our backs on critical aspects of their agenda.

So, in going forward we have to engage in real change; to a process that seeks to open up more and more opportunities for more and more of our people; while at the same time, reinforcing their dignity.

For us to begin the journey down that road we must change the language and tone of our politics.  We must be willing to listen to opinions and views that are not the same as ours.  We must be more tolerant of a view that is different.

Since leaving the Cabinet, I have had the great blessings to be able to spend more time among you. Only last week we had an open and frank constituency meeting.

I have been listening to the many advice and I have been deliberating on the many and different counsels. I have taken careful note of your views; I have heard your wishes.

For all those who have been wondering, let me make this abundantly clear: I am running once again to be the Member of Parliament for the Town of St George.

I am running again because of the trust and confidence you have shown in me. I am running again because too many of our people still do not have a decent job or a stable means of survival.

I am running again because our people must not lose their voice at the table and they must not lose hope. I will be running again because we must not give up on finding more opportunities for our people.

I will be running again because we should not yield to hate, spite and division! I will be running again because we cannot continue to be buying time for solutions to our economic and social problems without providing solutions.

We have to go forward and make progress, not as NDCites or NNPites – but as Grenadians.

My history and commitment to a bipartisan, non-party approach to solving problems is clear in the Town of St George. In my two terms as MP I have worked closely with people of every political stripe to bring benefit to the Town of St George.

Some of my closest allies in the many tasks we have undertaken in the last four years did not even vote for me in 2008. But my development agenda knows no colour. It never did, and it never will.

I may have campaigned under the banner of NDC; but I chose to represent people under the colourless banner of unity. The times we are living in are too critical; too challenging for us to continue with the same old politics of divide and rule!

If, for a moment, we underestimate the gravity of this historic and defining moment in our nation’s history, we need not look back too far.

Only this past week, public servants were not sure, for the second time in three months, of when and if they will be paid. Our country is at the edge of a fiscal cliff. The economy is tottering on the brink of collapse.

While the global economic problems made things bad, we have made it worse by bad economic policies and unenlightened politics that’s a throwback to bygone days.

So what is the current state of our economy? Currently we have a 35 percent rate of unemployment; and, among youth those between 15 and 24 years, it is as high as 42 percent.

In addition, around 2,000 youth enter the workforce every year with little prospect of finding a full time job in eighteen months. This dark picture is aggravated by the fact that approximately 64 percent of those who are working earn less than $1,250 per month – or less than EC$42 per day.

Indeed, 31.5 percent of those employed are classified as being poor; that is, they make less than $487 per month; we have a large working poor population.

At the same time, only 6.4 percent of our working people earn more than three and a half thousand dollars per month or just over $120 a day; and only 2.0 percent makes more than EC$5,000 per month and pay income tax.

Further to this is the fact that 38 percent of our population lives in poverty while another 15 percent runs the risk of falling into poverty; they are classified as what we call vulnerable.

With that situation our biggest national task is the creation of jobs for our people. But how can we create jobs? Sustained job creation is through investment. But where will the investment come from?

Well, it can come from our private sector; it can come from the government; or, it can come from foreign investors.  But, there is only so much our domestic private sector can invest and the government’s investment cannot come from the revenue it generates.

In fact, the revenue collected cannot even pay public servants in many cases and we have to be repeatedly borrowing from the commercial banks in the form of overdraft or borrowing workers money (from the NIS) to pay workers.

So, for our government to be able to invest it would have to get grants from friendly countries and donor agencies or it will have to borrow.  But, at this stage, we are up to our necks with debt so our prospect of getting loans for investment is non-existent.

Our debt stands at about 85 percent of GDP; meaning that if we are to clear our debt now we will have to use $85 of every EC$100 we produce. That’s Impossible to do! To do it requires our entire population to live on $15 a year of every EC$100 we produce in the year.

No one can possibly live on $15 a year. We will all starve or it will be a case of the law of the jungle where the fittest of the fittest will survive.  And even if they survive they will not survive for long.

Our only best option for investment to generate employment is from foreign sources.  So our next option for investment is foreign investment. Once we recognise this, then it should be quite clear that a great deal of our efforts should be directed at wooing foreign investors to our country and building stronger relations with diverse countries and organizations in order to mobilize financing for investment.

Our budget cannot drive our economy as there is little in it by way of money for investment to create employment to get our people back to work.

Let us look as the recent 2012 budget. Total expenditure was said to be just over one billion dollars; the so-called billion dollar budget.  So the government said it will spend that amount of money in 2012.

It said it will spend nearly half a billion to cover current expenditure, and raise a little bit more for a surplus of $1.5M. But what it did not say is that the government already has $50.0M in unpaid claims sitting in the Treasury; people it is already owing and cannot pay.  So we would not have a surplus but we will have a deficit of $48.5M.

Since then the government’s unpaid claims have now risen to $82.0M. Unfortunately the government has not given an honest account and is governing badly on this score.

This government has also promised to spend EC$235 million on capital projects.  But it identified only $66.5M to do that.  Where was the rest of money to come from?  The government did not say.

To date we have not seen even half of that amount spent and we are already in September.  Four months from now the year will end.

With the non-transparent numbers, the government said that its overall budget deficit will be EC$167 million.  What the government did not include in its budget numbers is debt repayment of $330.0M.  If it said that to us, we would have known that the true overall budget deficit would be nearly half a billion dollars.

The government gave little indication as to how – and from where -it will get the money to cover that deficit. This state of affairs, Brothers and Sisters, is a dark, gray poster for bad governance.

And, that is why we find ourselves in this economic disorder that we are in today. But what can we do?  I will just mention a few things that we may do.

We need to urgently link the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Ministry of Finance to mobilize foreign investment and grants, or very soft loans, that would allow government to invest and create jobs.  In short, our foreign policy approach should be deeply rooted in the need to provide jobs for our people.

Part of the problem we face today, Brothers and Sisters, is our refusal to develop a more nationalistic foreign policy. We repeatedly warned about this – in government and out of government.

As foreign minister the policy I advocated was based on the national interest of Grenada – not ideology or personal fancy.

My government – our government – has since dropped the ball. There is also an urgent need to adopt a more friendly posture toward foreign direct investment and foreign investors to increase our prospect of job creation. We need to restore confidence and create a better investment climate.

We need to redirect our Development Bank so as to increase access to finance for micro-enterprises.  There are many of our people who can help themselves once they are given an initial start.  In many cases the start requires a minimal amount of seed money.  But, they are excluded from access to finance. Government needs to address this issue.

Also, crucially in going forward, we need to develop an income policy agreement with the government, employees and employers reaching a mutual understanding as regards the best choices for the economy in terms of economic growth and productivity.

We need to repair our relationship with organized labour, which played a critical role to get us into government. This critical moment calls for a more caring and enlightened leadership. We must explore new alliances and consider new configurations that will propel us forward.

The failure to pay salaries on time in recent days has brought home the fact that the debate on the economic state and direction of the country cannot be put off for another day.

The people have long gone back to work after the carnival. As MPs we must also go back to work.

It bothers me that some of our politicians are only concerned about their own survival, rather than the survival of the nation.

It bothers me that for political convenience we rather close down the parliament, rather than open up the debate. The slogan of our party is: “Let the People’s Voices Be Heard’’.

One of the best ways to do that is the chance for the people they elected to be able to debate the real issues of the day.

In this regard it is my view that the motion presently before the parliament should be given the opportunity to be debated in the House of Representatives. While I have not had a chance to view the motion, it is my understanding that it focuses on the economy.

Some people might argue that maybe we have all lost that authority to speak for people.  So then if this is the case, let us all seek a new mandate.

We cannot continue to have the nation on hold; hanging on a thread of low confidence and high hopelessness.  It is not fair to the people of this country.

This cannot be played as a game where our good moral sense gives way to the fancy of strategists more concerned about saving their jobs, while most of our people languish in hopelessness and despair.

The cancer within our movement has unfortunately grown; and the forces that, from the beginning, have been beating the drums of tribalism, division and hate, have derailed the train of change. Instead the workers of Grenada have been short changed.

There are two sets of people now left outside of this charade: People who could have made a difference but decided to remain quiet and did nothing; and those of us who have spoken out and paid the price of having all kinds of handles attached to us.

As General Secretary of the party, I have no doubt whatever that we can mobilise the rank and file of the party so as to obtain a positive result at the upcoming convention.

But, Brothers and Sisters, there are forces in the party that we have seen vividly throughout the year, that won’t give in to democracy.

And so you ask yourself the big question – should we go to the convention floor and have a bruising battle that we may win, but the scars might be too deep to propel this nation forward? Should we do that?

Or should we speak to a broader narrative, and be consistent to what I have been talking about – a new politics of love, inclusion and reasonableness?

Given what has gone before us these past two years, there are legitimate questions as to whether this current vehicle as presently constituted can transport the people of Grenada to a destination of prosperity.

What I am clear about is that I – Charles Peter David – don’t want any part of tearing this nation further apart.   People are hurting too much.  So our mission going forward is for us to invest in unity; not division.

September 30, Brothers and Sisters, will do nothing to advance the cause for unity.  As we saw last year, I am satisfied that success on the convention floor won’t guarantee unity but continued tribalism.

And so I informed the political leader today that I will not be offering myself again for the position of General Secretary or any other position on the executive of the party for that matter.

I am satisfied with my work as General Secretary. When I was given the mandate in 2001, along with some very hardworking comrades, the party had no seats in the parliament. We quickly moved from zero to seven and then to 11 in 2008.

Under my tenure the NDC achieved its biggest growth and had its most successful parliamentary run in its history. In fact prior to 2008, NDC had never won an election on its own. That is the legacy I proudly leave behind. So, today I informed the political leader of my decision.

Finally, I want to let you know that I will be having a series of meetings in the Town of St. George.

I’ll be attending meetings in other constituencies only where I’m invited. But it does not mean I will not be visiting all parts of the country. I will”.

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