Former Finance Minister, Nazim Burke has accused Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell of not fulfilling his 2013 election campaign promise of hope to Grenadians that saw his party end up with a clean sweep of all fifteen seats in its whitewash of the then governing National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Addressing reporters at the first press conference held by Congress for the new year, Burke pointed to a number of promises that were made about job creation and the influx of several investors.
He made specific mention of an interview that the Prime Minister conducted on May 31, 2013, with Baptist Minister and political activist, Stanford Simon, one of the several persons who was expelled as a member of NDC in 2012.
Speculation is rife that the religious figure is offering tacit support to Mitchell’s ruling New National Party (NNP) under the so-called “Project Grenada” bandwagon.
Burke, the new Political Leader of NDC, recalled PM Mitchell telling Pastor Simon that within the next 6 months from the date of the interview work will start on the new Parliament building for Grenada, as well as on a new Prison Complex, new Police headquarters, and the Governor General’s residence that was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan 10 years ago.
The ex-government minister also recalled the statement made by the Prime Minister in the interview that two new hotels will start construction, as well as on a manufacturing plant in Grenville.
“He (Mitchell) was so confident about the commencement of work in these areas that he told the interviewer (Pastor Simon) everybody knows me I’m a man of my word and if I tell you I will do something and I don’t do it or I can’t do it, I will quit the job”, said Burke.
“We are still waiting patiently for the Prime Minister to quit his job. So when we hear these promises we must take them with a grain of salt,” he told reporters.
Burke who was hammered by the NNP in the election campaign for his handling of the economy in the 2008-13 rule of Congress, called on the near two year old Mitchell government to inform the nation about the projects that are in the making to stimulate economic growth in the country and to give real meaningful hope to the people of Grenada.
He made a plea to the administration to come forward with a credible plan and road map for dealing with the tottering economy of this country.
According to the NDC Leader, two of the most burning issues affecting Grenada are unemployment especially among the youth and poverty but not enough is being done by Government to tackle the situation.
Burke told reporters: “The Prime Minister said that 29.5% of the people are unemployed, he said that 45% of the young people in this country, the people he loves so much and the people that according to them NDC hate so much … forty five percent of these young persons are without work at this moment.
“…We have in our country over 23 thousand young persons and 45% of them have no jobs and of course adults, people who are in their 30s and 40s and 50s who have no job as well,” he said.
Highlighting poverty as a major deterrent for positive growth in the country, Burke said in 2008 poverty was reduced to 37.7% but he believes that it has now gotten worst.
“We have no doubt that with the recession that has ensued since 2008, persons who were not yet poor, may now well be poor. In other words their conditions would’ve deteriorated in some circumstances and the percentage of persons who are poor or living in poverty could be as high as 40% at this particular point in time,” he said.
The NDC Political Leader also put forward the argument that the number of taxes brought on by the Mitchell government as part of its Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is also not helping the economic situation in Grenada.
“Since the presentation of the 2014 budget a number of taxes, levies, charges, fees, duties had been imposed on the population, about 23 or 24 of them, taking significant sums of money out of the pockets of ordinary Grenadians, reducing their disposable income and making it much more difficult for them to survive and to support their families,” he remarked.
Burke stated that the “hope” that was offered by PM Mitchell is not in sync with anything that he has done in recent times.
He said: “Having listened to the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance very carefully in the Budget presentation and having listened to him again two nights ago on Beyond the Headlines, we must and I’m forced to ask the question – where is the hope? What is it that this Government really promising the people of this country? What can we reasonably look forward to as a nation? What can the young people look forward to in terms of jobs? What can the farmers look forward to?
What can the fishermen look forward to? What can the tourism industry look forward to? All of these are critical questions that must be raised but perhaps most importantly the question of young people and jobs”.
The Congress leader addressed the jobs that are expected to be created when construction work starts in the first half of 2015 on the Silver Sands hotel along the Grand Anse beach involving a billionaire investor from Egypt.
According to Burke, the promise is 150 jobs on the Silver Sands investment but that is not enough to curb the problem of unemployment in the country.
“If there are 21 or 22 thousand unemployed people in this country, the majority of whom are young people and the Government has found one project that would create 150 jobs, the question must be posed – what happens to the remaining 21,000 people.
“…In other words, 150 jobs while it is good for those who get the job, is not even a drop in the bucket in terms of the kind of job creation that is needed in this country and we must hold the Government to its promise that there will be jobs, jobs and more jobs.
Burke chided PM Mitchell for trying to play cheap politics by seeking to blame Congress for the high unemployment by saying that when NNP came into office unemployment was over 40%.
He called on the Grenadian leader to bring the hard statistical evidence to back up his claim.
“We have challenged this Mathematician (PM Mitchell), we have challenge this Statistician, we have challenged this Prime Minister, we have challenged this Minister of Finance, this former Doctor in Statistics to put forward the statistical evidence to support the claim that unemployment was over 40% when he came into office.
“…As an Economist, as a Minister, the Prime Minister must recognise that the indicators of the economy are measurable targets, they can be quantified, they can be measured and we do not expect the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, we do not expect the Statistician to come to us and saying about 45, approximately 15 thousand, just over 40 and so on – these are things that can be measured.
“There is a Ministry, there is a staff, a technical staff quantified in numbers, quantify the situation and bring the numbers to us, so if he has information showing that unemployment was over 40 percent, we challenge him to bring it forward.
Burke accused PM Mitchell of only engaging in empty promises and statements to the Grenadian people and it is time for action on the part of the Grenadian leader.
“What we are hearing is a number of ball statements saying that this project will start and that project will start but we know that we cannot simply take the Prime Minister at his word. I am not questioning his character, I am simply saying that over the last 15 years, the Prime Minister has been making a number of promises about projects that he is going to initiate, projects that are going to start and every single time the nation is disappointed”, he said.
Burke added that Grenada as a nation is embarrassed because the Prime Minister and his government are unable to deliver on the promises made to the electorate two years ago.