“I want our people to understand that we are not going to be irresponsible with taxpayers’ resources.”
Those were the words of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, as he reported to a recent sitting of the Lower House of Parliament, a decision by his government to assist cash-strapped regional air carrier LIAT.
Despite claims that Grenada’s Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) will not allow government to pay the 25% gratuity to public servants, PM Mitchell who is also the Minister of Finance announced at last week Tuesday’s post-Cabinet press briefing that Grenada was asked to provide financial assistance to LIAT in a one-off payment of EC$1.3m.
The Prime Minister defended the decision to financially assist LIAT stating that the EC$1.3m will not go against the FRA, that came as part of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) supported, 3-year Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) adding that “whatever we do, we must be able to do it in the context of the fiscal responsibility law.”
Addressing the sitting of the House of Representatives, PM Mitchell said if LIAT goes under it can have a devastating impact on regional economies.
“I don’t share the view of some persons that we should let it (LIAT) go under…it would have (a) devastating impact on the economy of Grenada and many countries”, he told the Lower House.
“I want our people to understand that we are not going to be irresponsible with taxpayers’ resources because people would then say well oh you’re going to subsidise LIAT, why didn’t you subsidise and pay the teachers the money…we are not going to be irresponsible with the taxpayers resources”, he remarked.
Three public sector unions and two staff association bargaining for police and prison officers are currently at loggerheads with government on demands for a 25% gratuity and pension payment for their members.
The Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) has instructed teachers to engage in a ‘work to rule’ concept, brought on by the decision taken by government to dock their salaries following strike action in November in connection with the 25% issue.
This action by GUT has led to the cancellation of the 2019 Intercollegiate games (INTERCOL), resulting in the staging of the National Secondary School Games by the government in direct response to the refusal by the Principals Association to stage sporting events in the country.
The Prime Minister accused the GUT of trying to hurt the nation’s student athletes by their action.
“I just need to make one point”, Dr. Mitchell said, adding that “the children of the country, they are hurting, government is not being helped, its image is not being helped (and) the teachers union, they also looking bad”.
“We have to accept that – the unions looking bad, the government (is) looking bad, everybody is looking bad – the government, the teachers.
So what we need is resolution, not further deterioration and arrogance – that doesn’t help”, he said.
“What we need is a coming to terms that our children are being hurt (and) when our children are being hurt, none of us should take a position to continue this…this concept of, you are having sports for children and people telling them don’t run (it’s) nonsense…some sports scholarship could have gone down the drain because of my attitude or somebody else’s attitude. So, I am calling on people (to) come to terms. Let us stop this”, he added.
The Prime Minister urged the unions to get away from “this perception that if I do this then I would force the government to do something”.
“… You cannot blackmail a government (and) I cannot blackmail the trade union movement to accept my position (because) if I do that there will never be a solution and no one should expect they could blackmail the government.
“You cannot force the government to do something which you know is not necessarily the best….let us sit and talk, let us compromise, let us work together….our children comes first.
PM Mitchell also used the opportunity to express hope that there could be a “different atmosphere” depending on the outcome of the recent PWU election for a new executive.
Speculation was rife in some quarters that the Grenadian leader was backing Brian Grimes to defeat the incumbent Rachel Roberts who was returned for a 2nd two-year term at the helm of PWU.
Days before the election, Dr. Mitchell had addressed a ceremony for retiring former PWU President, Adrian Francis who is now on pre-retirement leave as a senior public officer when he cast some negative remarks about the Presidency of Roberts who was also in attendance at the function.