Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell has launched another vicious attack on the new Political Leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Nazim Burke who is now serving as a Senator in the Upper House of Parliament.
Burke and all fourteen Congress candidates lost their seats in the clean 15-0 sweep of the polls by Mitchell’s NNP in the February 2013 general elections.
Prime Minister Mitchell delivered a tirade on Burke as he contributed to the debate in the Lower House on Government’s move to cut by 50% the exemptions and concessions granted to statutory bodies on the payment of Custom Duties and taxes.
The Prime Minister once again brought to centre stage an accusation leveled at Burke when he was the Minister of Finance under Congress on an issue relating to monies for his son who was granted a scholarship by the State.
PM Mitchell slammed Burke for his role in getting the Treasury to finance his son’s education from the Treasury and virtually destroying the country by selling off national assets to meet salary payments to government employees.
“…They took the government money and gave it to their son, when other people’s children could not get and when you talk about it they say you are attacking their son.
“How on earth if you take the government money that other people cannot get and you give it to your son to study it is not the son (that) is the problem, it is you (who) are the problem.
Dr. Mitchell ignored Burke’s explanation about his son’s financial package as an Island Scholar under a previous NNP-led government in 2007 under the leadership of the current Prime Minister.
Dr. Mitchell continued to insist that Burke as Minister of Finance under Congress secured cheques amounting to $67,000.00 a year for his son to study abroad.
Burke’s son, Mikhail Burke was granted a scholarship as an Island Scholar under a 2007 NNP government.
In his contribution to the 2014 Budget Debate, the ex-Finance Minister told the Senate that his son had received a letter from former Education Minister Claris Charles of the NNP government informing him that following a Cabinet conclusion he was granted a scholarship as Island Scholar which entitled him to $65,000.00 per year in financial assistance.
Burke’s son applied to the University of Toronto to pursue studies in Biomedical Engineering, was accepted and the Ministry of Education was notified.
In addition, Burke said that a letter of confirmation for the scholarship from the Ministry was sent to the University for a period of three years.
The Congress leader pointed out that due to the education programme undertaken by his son, it was for four years, and the Tillman Thomas-led Congress government was approached to provide further financial support for his son to complete the additional one-year of the programme.
According to Burke, the proposal was discussed by Cabinet in his absence and approved the additional $65,000.00 that was needed.
Dr. Mitchell used the last sitting of Parliament to attack Burke for some remarks the NDC leader made at a recent sitting of the Senate allegedly against the Prime Minister and his own family members.
Burke told the sitting that he was sure about the paternity of his son and cast doubts about “the son” of the Grenadian leader.
Saying that “people’s private life should be sacred”, Dr. Mitchell said: “They come in another house and attack my son and my family. What a low blow! Nasty. For 30 years we’ve been around in this Parliament and no one could say this and I will never stand here and support the attack on anyone’s family, son or daughter or wife of whoever…”.
“But when you take taxpayers money and give your son we must talk about it and if we don’t talk about it we would have abrogated our fundamental responsibility to the country”, he added.
“Mr. Speaker … that’s the level of these people. Instead of dealing with the facts they transcend into attacks, vicious attacks on the character of people’s family. It tells you they have lost the battle. They are desperate. They are like voices in the wilderness and therefore it makes us better, that we have clearly gotten to them, we wish they continue on that path so the nation can see them”.
Dr. Mitchell’s vicious attack on Burke transcended to allegations about a private home that he constructed in the Westerhall Point area during his tenure as Finance Minister.
The Prime Minister accused Burke of benefiting financially in the construction of the house due to a decision taken by Congress to lower taxes on certain construction items like cement and steel rods.
“Some people should never open their mouths. Because in a time when the country was reeling, they were building their house, reducing VAT on materials – that should disqualify anyone from political activities in the future”, he said.
PM Mitchell also chided the members of the 2008-2013 Congress administration of Tillman Thomas of lacking the political fortitude to implement a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) like what the NNP is now doing.
He said a search of past Cabinet documents indicate that Congress had discussed a SAP programme for the island but got “cold feet” over fears that they would end up in serious political problems.
“…They (Congress) were ready to move and the talk was if we (do) that we dead politically … well better they (did) it because they were still dead politically. Had they done it, people would have credited them for having some fortitude,” Dr. Mitchell told Parliament.
According to the Grenadian leader, this is undoubtedly the toughest time for him in politics as the tax increases implemented by the NNP since the February 2013 general elections go against his own fundamental philosophy.
However, PM Mitchell described it as “a temporary measure” and that this period of his service in government is not about him but about putting Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique along the right path.
“In a way the Structural Adjustment Programme maybe its God’s will telling us to get our acts together,” he said.
Prime Minister Mitchell suggested that some of the austerity measures implemented by his government as part of the self-imposed SAP with support from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) may be removed before the completion of the three-year cycle of the programme.
Within weeks of returning to office in February 2013, the Mitchell government announced that it was defaulting on payments to international creditors of the island’s massive national debt of EC$2.4 billion.
Most of the debts were incurred by previous Mitchell governments between June 1995 and July 2008 as the island’s debt stock moved from EC$373 million to EC$1.8 billion in the 13 year period.