Former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Brian Francis says the seven-month old government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell seems to be “bankrupt of ideas” in dealing with the economic and financial problems plaguing the country.
Dr. Francis, a senior Lecturer in Economics at the Cave Hall Campus in Barbados of the University of the West Indies (UWI) made the charge against the backdrop of reports that the island is bankrupt and uncreditworthy.
Economist with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF), Aliona Cebotari told members of the Social Partners at a meeting that the Grenada government cannot pay its bills nor borrow money and the fund had come to its rescue by lending it money.
According to Francis, there is need for a complete reconfiguration of the Ministry of Finance in order to put the island in a better position to grapple with the myriad of problems confronting the economy.
He believes that some of the important departments in the ministry have to be revamped in order to respond to the urgency of the “crisis” that the country faces.
Francis who appeared on the weekly “Sundays With George Grant Programme” said it is clear that there is a problem in the Ministry of Finance.
“That ministry has no leadership, there is no management taking place in that ministry,” he told the programme host.
The UWI Lecturer cited the need for skilled people in economics, finance, taxation and managerial accounting to be urgently brought into the Ministry of Finance.
Francis said the authorities have failed miserably to tap into the skills of qualified and experienced Economists and other technical people since some public servants are more interested in “kingdom-building.”
He cited the case of the government’s own Chief Policy Advisor, Dr. Patrick Antoine who is believed to be slighted by current Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Timothy Antoine.
He believes that Dr. Antoine has a major role to play in bringing a level of stability in the economy but noted that the Policy Advisor who promoted the so-called “New Economy” on the NNP Platform for the February campaign for the elections has gone silent.
Antoine is said to be unhappy with his contract that mandates him to report to the PS Finance since he considers himself to be more technically equipped to handle the island’s economic problems than the Permanent Secretary.
Francis spoke of having a good working relationship with Antoine over the years and is adamant that “Dr. Antoine does have solutions” to deal with the problems plaguing the island’s economy.
“…So to get the problems that we have in Grenada resolved, to get us out of this mess, we need people with the technical capacity to do so and he (Dr. Antoine) has that capacity,” he said.
Francis claimed that the Ministry of Finance does not have the technical capacity to carry the country through the economic nightmare that it now faced with an IMF austerity package on the cards.
He said it hurts him when Dr. Antoine is available with his expertise and is now being marginalised.
The former Permanent Secretary also took a look at the current economic malaise in which Grenada has found itself.
He recalled that on assuming Office in 1995, the then Government of the New National Party (NNP) of Dr. Mitchell went on a “borrowing and spending spree,” and 13 years later the country was left with an economy in total shambles – low economic growth rate, lofty and unsustainable fiscal deficits and public debt, relatively high inflation and soaring unemployment.
The current unemployment rate is placed at just over 40 percent.
Dr. Francis believes that Grenada is facing a major economic crisis and said he would be very surprised if the Washington-based IMF does not call for retrenchment of public servants as part of its austerity measures.
“With unemployment already in excess of 40 percent, it is virtually inconceivable to imagine a government agreeing to put more and more people on the breadline, but if you are going to beg you should beg with something in your hand. If you are begging with an empty hand then chances are you will be forced to accept pills that you probably know will eventually kill you. Given the huge level of public expenditure… retrenchment becomes a viable economic option,” he said.
The former public servant also blamed the NNP Government for creating “a mentality of handout” and suggested that people have to be prepared to work hard.
Francis described his stint at the Ministry of Finance as being “very rocky.”
He gave the host of the programme a brief account of his experience under Dr. Mitchell who was the Finance Minister at the time.
The former Permanent Secretary said Dr. Mitchell brought him into Grenada on the basis that he was coming there to assist him in reconfiguring the Grenada economy.
He said a problem surfaced between himself and the Prime Minister when he refused to sign off on some questionable bonds and promissory notes in the sum of US $100M involving some Germans.
According to him, he decided not to get involved in that matter as there was no Cabinet Conclusion nor Parliamentary approval for the then Mitchell government to engage in the deal.
“I told Dr. Mitchell quite clearly I would not sign any such document. Based on my experienced it seemed clear to me he brought me there (Ministry of Finance) to do his bidding and I was not prepared for that,” the Fontenoy resident said.
“I could never have allowed Dr. Mitchell to get me into anything that was unsavory, anything that was illegal, anything that was unethical,” he added.
Dr. Francis said as far as he is concerned the main role of a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance is to “protect the public purse” at all times.