The six-month-old administration of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell says that the former National Democratic Congress (NDC) government of Tillman Thomas raked in more than $26 million from the sale of national assets during its four-year term in office.
Addressing the media during the weekly post Cabinet briefing last week Tuesday, Minister of Economic Development, Trade, Planning and Cooperatives, Oliver Joseph, said that the sale of the assets primarily to the state-run National Insurance Scheme (NIS) by the previous Congress government was not “a sustainable decision”.
He said that the New National Party (NNP) which won the elections in February intends to repurchase some of the properties that were sold by Congress to NIS.
According to Minister Joseph, a total of 11 properties were sold by Thomas’ government to pay the salaries of public officers and to meet recurrent expenditure.
“As you know if you are going to sell assets to meet recurrent expenditure that is not a sustainable position. It is the worst position you could reach in where you actually have to sell what you have to pay your bills simple as it is,” he said.
He charged that the NDC administration was forced to turn to the sale of national assets after the Prorogation of Parliament amidst a political squabble between Prime Minister Thomas and a rebel faction led by his former Foreign Affairs Minister Peter David.
Joseph said the prorogation meant that the government could not get authorisation from Parliament to borrow or extend overdraft facilities with local banks to meet monthly commitments.
“The total sale of all the properties amounted to $26, 902,400.00. So the government sold these properties in order to pay wages and salaries,” he added.
The senior government minister stated that his government was surprised to discover that several properties which they believed had remained in the name of the Grenadian Government was sold by the Congress administration.
The properties listed as sold by the senior government minister are: the old St. James Hotel on Grand Etang Road in St. George’s, the former Electoral Office on Woolwich Road, St George, the former TV Station in Morne Jaloux, the former Radio Station on Scott Street, former Doctor House in Maran, St John, former Hamilton Home on Lucas Street, former Doctor’s resident in Thebaide, Drill Yard on Young Street that once served as the office for the Ministry of Works, Sandino Plant, Mt Hartman, Hotel California in Morne Rouge, and the former Doctor’s Quarters in La Digue.
Joseph disclosed that the sale agreement signed with NIS allows government to repurchase the properties within seven years at full market value.
The senior minister said they are looking into the sale of these properties as investors have expressed interest in purchasing them.
He said the NNP’s intention is to seek private investors to develop some of the properties.
“We as a government felt it was not the right policy to pursue the selling assets to meet recurrent expenditure and we found it very strange that the government resorted to that to raise money to meet their recurrent expenditure and so it’s of grave concern…”, he said.
“…The cabinet is currently looking (to) see which of the properties that can be repurchased or the properties that private investors may be interested to (buy) so they can develop it,” he told the media.
In December last year, the then acting Cabinet Secretary, Gemma Bain-Thomas disclosed that as a means of meeting its recurrent expenditure, Cabinet took a strategic decision during the month of September to consider the revenue collection of the State by utilising some State assets.
Bain-Thomas said government had compiled a list of existing State assets with a total value of $10m that could be sold to NIS in order to obtain the necessary revenue.
“These things (government assets) are being transferred to another State entity, and so the people of Grenada are not loosing their assets. They are in another State entity,” she explained.
Bain-Thomas also announced that 4.5 million of the 11 million government shares in Cable and Wireless with a net value of $15m were sold to NIS.
Government shares of less than one million dollars in the Grenada Breweries Limited were also sold in order to raise revenue.