Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell has once again defended the decision of his nearly one-year old New National Party (NNP) government to spend in excess of six million E.C dollars on the Imani programme for youngsters on the island since returning to office in the February 2013 general elections.
Speaking at a ceremony held Friday night by the operators of Sandals/La Source to recognise the contributions by local businesses especially in the construction sector to facilitate the opening of the multi-million dollar hotel in December, the Prime Minister cautioned his critics to refrain from openly attacking the project involving the nation’s young people.
He said the programme was crafted in response to the high unemployment situation involving young people in the country.
“We cannot have a situation where we have thousands of bright young people with no hope and no opportunity”, he told the gathering that included some of the leading private sector and tourism officials in Grenada.
According to Prime Minister Mitchell, the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration had no choice on assuming office nearly a year ago than to create the programme for the young people despite the acute economic and financial situation facing the country.
“Despite all the economic problems that we have, despite the fiscal situation, we have no choice but to invest in the human capital of our land, and therefore, the institution of the Imani programme is meant to precisely do this”, he said.
The Prime Minister pointed out that the government is hopeful that through the Imani programme, “the young people will feel … “that opportunities will come their way”.
“So I do caution anyone of us that attempt to make them scapegoats of our present fiscal situation, I say again it’s definitely not fair”, he added.
The President of the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), Lydon Lewis has called for a review of the programme to ensure that the country gets value for money with the millions invested in the initiative.
Trade union representative in the Senate, Raymond Roberts has pointed to monies being wasted in the programme and referred to the case of 25 young persons working as Imanis on the Grand Anse beach in the capacity as Wardens.
“There is really little for these youngsters to do on the beach and every day people are just laughing at what is happening on the beach”, Roberts is quoted as saying.
The former General Secretary of the Grenada Trade Union Council (GTUC) would like to see the Mitchell government correct the weaknesses in the programme and to provide more gainful employment for the youngsters.
In responding to his critics, Dr. Mitchell said that the nation’s leaders have a responsibility to “the youths of our land”, adding that, “if we don’t provide hope and opportunities, we therefore, won’t have a country”.
“So whatever problems exist, we will deal with the weaknesses but we must not use them as a scapegoat for our fiscal situation. Our young people must be given opportunities”, he said.
The cash-strapped Mitchell government has been forced to approach the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance with its self-styled homegrown Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to deal with a financial crisis facing the island.
An official of the fund has branded the Grenada government as financially “bankrupt”.
Since taking office in February 2013, the Mitchell administration has stopped making payments on the national debt of EC$2.4 billion to creditors and is seeking support of the IMF to engage in negotiations with a host of lending agencies and organizations on restructuring the debt.