As Grenada continues to face tough economic challenges, it is anticipated that a huge number of workers may likely face retrenchment, according to Senator Nazim Burke, the former Finance Minister in the Tillman Thomas-led National Democratic Congress (NDC) Government.
Sen. Burke who was speaking on the weekly “NDC Heartbeat” radio programme of the Congress party, said that the country can expect some retrenchment taking place under the new Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) administration.
He told the host of the programme that as many as 63 workers at the state-owned Gravel Concrete and Emulsion Corporation will loose their jobs, as well as other employees in a number of other state-owned enterprises.
The former Finance Minister said while he does not want to sound unnecessary alarm bells, the people should be made aware that the worse has not yet come.
According to Burke, the debt-restructuring programme that government has agreed to undertake will involve an austerity programme with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).
He believes the IMF will insist that the Keith Mitchell Government should lower the income tax threshold. Persons earning $60,000.00 per annum currently pay income tax.
Sen. Burke is anticipating that thousands of persons who are presently not required to pay income tax would be called upon to do so as part of an austerity programme under the Mitchell government.
“Their disposable income is going to be reduced and it will increase the hardship in this economic crisis,” he said.
Sen. Burke also believes that the IMF will also insist that many of the items that are zero-rated from the fifteen percent Value Added Tax (VAT) will have to be put on the list.
He said another possibility is that the items continue to be zero-rated and the VAT will be raised by the Mitchell government to twenty percent.
Prime Minister Mitchell has already hinted that any “medicine” to deal with the island’s troublesome economic and financial problems will be done by his administration and not by the dictates of the IMF.
In March, Grenada’s cash-strapped government saw its credit rating lowered to SD by Standard & Poors after the island defaulted on a payment of EC$19 million dollars to its U.S bondholders.
Sen. Burke who is a lawyer by profession and with some training in Economics said the NDC is concerned about what it sees as the tightening of the economic pressure that is being brought on the average Grenadian person.
“We are witnessing a tightening of the economic situation around the necks of the Grenadian people,” he told the host of the programme.
Burke recalled that in opposition, the NNP claimed that within the first one hundred days of being put in government, one thousand construction jobs would be created for persons seeking employment.
“As far as we know not a single construction job was created in the first hundred days,” he said.
Sen. Burke, the Deputy Political Leader of NDC, took issue with Dr. Mitchell’s claim in his recent National Address that work has begun on the Farm Roads Project that is to be undertaken by Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC).
Sen. Burke said based on what is being heard, the project may not likely start until the month of October and it is evident to everyone that the CCC work has not begun as stated by the Prime Minister.
The former Finance Minister also alleged that the fifteen hundred young people who were engaged under Congress’ Youth Empowerment Programme have been sent home and no longer have an income.
“Some of the streams of income that were available to the average Grenadian during the NDC Administration have now dried up, and people around the country are extremely disappointed, are extremely disenchanted, are extremely angry,” he said.
Checks made with the Ministry of Youth and Sports indicate that the revamped Imani programme for youngsters in the country is now back on stream.
An official in the ministry could not give a definite figure on the amount of persons enrolled in the programme.
However, THE NEW TODAY was told that the new Imani recruits were currently receiving training at centers scattered around the island.
Sen. Burke also addressed the situation with those persons who received housing assistance from the NDC Government in the form of grants that are now being taken away by the new rulers.
He charged that those who received the housing material in the sum of $6,000.00 per family are being forced to sign documents stipulating that it was a loan and not a grant they received from government.
During the campaign for the February 19 General Elections, Dr. Mitchell told Party Supporters at a public meeting that the world economic crisis had nothing to do with the state of Grenada’s economy but the hardship being experienced was due to bad management by the Congress administration.
Sen. Burke viewed the statement as being part of a deliberate plan to deceive the Grenadian people into believing that once the NNP was put back at the helm of government that everything will be well once again.
He said the NDC had warned that during the first year of the NNP in government, the Mitchell regime will use the time to try and wiggle out of the promise made to the electorate to deliver.
The Number two man in the NDC said that as an opposition political party it is their business to tell the people that they must hold the NNP administration to its promises.