President of the Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (CIWU), George Mason says Grenada’s debt situation is a political one.
In response to the national address delivered last week Wednesday night by Prime minister and Minister for Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell, Mason voiced his frustration over Grenada having to return to yet another structural adjustment/home-grown programme.
Prime Minister Mitchell told the nation that the latest homegrown programme will be for a period of three years – 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The last homegrown programme took place in 1990-95, under the Nicholas Brathwaite-led National Democratic Congress (NDC) Administration in which a Debt Service Levy (DSL) was a major cornerstone of the plan.
The last restructuring of the national debt took place under the New National Party (NNP) government of Dr. Mitchell following the passage of Hurricanes Ivan and Emily in 2004 and 2005.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference in St. George’s last Friday, Mason stated that it was the politics that was responsible for the current predicament of the country.
“Not even eight years later … we have to go back to another programme asking for debt restructuring”, he said,
“The message fellow Grenadians is clear: Is either we have a philosophical problem about how we go forward, we have an economic problem or we have a political problem, and I want to suggest, is a political problem”, he added.
Mason argued that if the country continues to accept short cuts measures for expediency and political posturing in dealing with the island’s fiscal problem then “we will continue to repeat what is happening now.”
He described as not “accidental” the measures being taken by the Mitchell government on what he referred to as the backs of the middle class.
“It is deliberate and pointedly so”…. said Mason whose union represents mainly white-collar workers in the country.
Speculation is rife that Prime Minister Mitchell is not levying income tax on the poor and disadvantaged in the country, widely suspected to be the main political support base of his NNP regime.
Mason also specifically addressed government’s plan to lower the income tax threshold to $36,000 per year, or $3,000 per month and reduce the income tax rate by half to 15% for persons earning less than $60,000 per year in addition to the rate of 30% remaining for persons earning more than $60,000 per year,
The CIWU President said that the trade union movement is concerned with the measures taken notwithstanding the fact that it is necessary.
He told the media that while he appreciates the fact that there is no easy way out for Grenada’s financial debacle, he believes that politicians should be honest, sincere and forthright with the people.
The trade unionist said that he is not convinced that the NNP administration is concerned about the interest of all persons in the country.
“When you talk about shared sacrifice, shared sacrifice to me means everyone paying their way too … but when you ask one section of people to bear the brunt with no identifiable path or roadmap it means we are giving the (political) directorate a blank cheque,” he added.
Dr. Mitchell repeatedly referred to the need for “shared sacrifice” in the national address.
According to Mason, the TUC as the only organisation in Grenada leading the struggles of workers, they are not opposed philosophically to the harsh measures being implemented “but we think we are 19 years late.”
“Had we used good sense and forget political expediency we would not have been in this position today”, quipped Mason.
Mason said the CIWU is very concerned for the work force as 10 companies they represent as the bargaining agents for employees, are already asking for wage freeze with no sign on the horizon that things are getting better while prices continue to increase.
“It is a journey that has just started and if we do not trod through the right gate with proper direction we may repeat where we are today, and it may even be worse, but this is not the time for blaming, time for complaining …”, he added.
“I hope that while we continue to pay the price for the economic morass, that the result doesn’t go to capitalists getting free work, free work by the Imanis”, he said.