Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell and other members of Cabinet have agreed to forgo their 6% salary increases and gratuities.
In the face of massive protests islandwide, Dr. Mitchell told the media during a post-Cabinet briefing on Tuesday, that he has instructed the Ministry of Finance that he wants no such increase.
The Grenadian leader also informed reporters that he has also decided to forego his gratuity earned for the past five years and that this would save the country in excess of $30,000.00.
Dr. Mitchell reported that 90% of his ministers also decided to forego the increase as the public outcry against this move could negatively impact the soon to come on stream home-grown Structural Adjustment Programme to be instituted with support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“If any issue gets in the way of this programme and our future, I say that issue must take second position,” he said.
Prime Minister Mitchell declined to give the names of those ministers who decided to hold onto their six percent increase in salaries.
Despite his decision to forego both payments, Dr. Mitchell said he was in support of those government ministers who took the decision to accept the 6% increase as well as their gratuity payments .
The Prime Minister also addressed concerns raised in some quarters that public sector unions negotiate wage increases for their members and ministers are not entitled to receive them.
He said that historically government ministers receive increases in line with public officers and that has been the norm with successive governments.
President of the Grenada Trade Union Council (GTUC), Madonna Harford has stated publicly that ministers are not entitled to receive increases as paid to civil servants and the practice was only started during the 1984-90 reign of late Prime Minister, Herbert Blaize.
According to PM Mitchell, despite public outcry against the actions of his government and ministers on the salaries issue, Grenadians need to be mindful that it is the people who elected Ministers and Parliamentary Representatives to represent them and control the affairs of the State and as a result they (MP’s and Ministers) take up this responsibility through lots of personal sacrifices.
He noted that while a debate is taking place in the country on the 6% increase for government ministers, there is never that level of debate when senior public servants such as Permanent Secretaries receive increases on their salaries that already exceed those paid to government ministers.
According to a senior official in the public service, the ministers end up with more monies than Permanent Secretaries since they also get “top up” in their salaries through entertainment allowances, gas bills and 100% duty free concessions on vehicle purchases.
Dr. Mitchell charged that it is morally bankrupt to say that government ministers do not deserve the 6% increase and if by saying so this will cost him a few votes then so be it.
He believes the ministers who made the decision to forego their increases and gratuity payments at this time made the “right political call.”
Dr. Mitchell said that the amount given up by his Cabinet of Ministers is substantially more than the 6% increase being debated in the country.
The Prime Minister also directed a few words to members of the ex-National Democratic Congress (NDC) led government.
Dr. Mitchell called on “those moralists” to show their patriotism by informing the accountant general in the Ministry of Finance that they want to forego their gratuities earned over the past five years in the interest of shared sacrifice.
“I would not rest until I receive letters to forego these gratuities,” the Grenadian leader said while also issuing a call to parliamentary representatives who were not government ministers in the last five years to also forego their gratuities as well.
There was an immediate reaction to the charge directed at NDC members to forego their gratuity payments as part of the “sacrifice” needed in the country to deal with the current severe financial situation.
According to Congress leader, Tillman Thomas, the Prime Minister’s proposal could be considered by his party members once Dr. Mitchell and his family members repay the millions owed to the Treasury in the failed Call Centre deal.
In addition, Thomas said he has no problem in giving up his gratuity payments if the current Prime Minister can ensure that the Treasury gets all the monies from the sale of the plane that was owned by Grenada Airways in the 1980’s.
As the line Minister of Communications and Works, Dr. Mitchell was given the responsibility by late Prime Minister Blaize to find a buyer for the sole plane owned by the failed airline.
The plane was sold but no monies reached the Consolidated Fund.
Prime Minister Mitchell told reporters that if the NDC members are prepared to forego the payments due to them that could save the country an estimated $1 million.
The hotly debated issue of salary increase comes at a time when the Mitchell-led government is asking Grenadians to make more sacrifices which includes a pending increase and lowering of the income tax threshold.
The controversial 6% increase was also addressed by Minister for Health, Dr. Clarice Modeste-Curwen who told the media that the issue cannot be one of money as the take home pay from the 6% increase will be $45.00 per month for ministers.
“ The issue is not a few dollars”, she said, and this is known by former Finance Minister, Nazim Burke, the deputy political leader of Congress.
Dr. Modeste-Curwen reiterated the anomaly between ministers’ salaries and that of other senior government officers.
She believes that this issue must be addressed or soon no one will be interested in becoming a government minister.
The female government minister believes that it is laughable for a government minister to earn substantially less than public officers, an embarrassing situation compared to other government ministers in the region.
“This is not about NNP, it is about justice,” she said as she called on members of the former administration to “help us pay our debts and clean up the mess that you created”.
When the first NDC government of sir Nicholas Brathwaite left office in June 1995, the national debt was estimated at only EC$373.5 million.
In its 13 years in office from 1995 to 2008, Mitchell’s NNP had increased the debt stock of Grenada to EC$1.7 billion as it engaged in a massive borrowing and spending spree.
Last week, members of the former Congress government announced that they would not accept any back pay due to them as outlined by the Mitchell regime since they felt they were not entitled to it.
According to former Prime Minister Thomas, his NDC ministers took a 5% cut in salaries while in office but it was put back on the salaries of ministers as soon as Prime Minister Mitchell took office back in February.
Word also leaked out of the Ministry of Finance last week that cheques were made out to the present Cabinet Ministers for another 6% increase in their salaries in keeping with the agreement reached with public sector unions for increases for their members.
The NDC in a prepared statement made on the decision not to accept the back pay said, : “We have taken this decision as a demonstration of our readiness to make sacrifices for the betterment of our country, our commitment to doing what is necessary for the collective good of Grenada and our sensitivity to the plight of the thousands of Grenadians who are living in poverty and without jobs to support their families at this time”.