Government initiates Employee Assistance Programme

The ruling New National Party (NNP) administration has announced plans to initiate an Employee Assistance Programme in which public workers will be given special attention in order to bring about increased productivity at the workplace.

The Employee Assistance Programme was launched last week by the Department of Public Administration (DPA).

In speaking to reporters at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Legal Affairs, Elvin Nimrod said this new initiative which will be done in collaboration with government and the Private Sector, will aid all government employees, providing a range of social services.

“The government of Grenada is very concerned about the value, welfare, well being of its employees and of course these measures will be put in place to help our system. For example, there would be counselling services available, there would be assistance given to persons who have work related challenges, whether emotional, social, psychological problems – of course we have trained professionals who will conduct those work,” Nimrod said.

According to Nimrod, government is hopeful that in the end employees will be more fortified in terms of their health and wellness on the job.

“We believe this is a very ambitious project and we of course (are) inviting the co-operation and assistance of all to make sure that this project becomes a success that all of us want it to be.

“….Of course obviously, there will be some challenges down the road because when it comes to mental health and other things like that some people will view this as something very personal and of course will not necessarily make themselves available for our services that might be available.

“… I am sure that you would agree with me that this is a step in the right direction and of course we do hope that the programme succeeds.

Details were not given about the financial cost involved in running the programme.

Madness!!!

I wish to make the point that despite the numerous letters over the years concerning the deplorable condition of the drains in St. George’s, very little has been done to correct the situation and there is always mere talk than action whenever a situation arises (Zika) causing someone to act (stink drain).

Some may think that this letter may be long and repetitive of matters published before, but about six weeks ago at a meeting of a group who met to discuss our future, the matter of the damages being caused by improper and broken drains along the entire Lucas Street, Woolwich Road, Villa area to the Carenage was raised along with the flooding in downtown St. George’s particularly at Granby Street.

I took the opportunity to inform the group of the numerous letters written on those matters over the years. As recent as a few days ago, I addressed a letter to the Manager of NAWASA, copied to Mr. Worme in the Ministry of Health and to the Engineer Sewerage, NAWASA.

As a result, a visit was made on June 16 with the view to arriving at a possible solution to the problems.

I wish to point out that in our talks the visitor mentioned the several broken drains along Lucas Street and that some people have connected their waste water lines to the sewer lines, which is not appropriate since the sewerage was/is not designed for such and as a result poses a problem.

I pointed out to him that NAWASA is part of the problem with drains as their workmen cut the drains to effect repairs, but do little or no repairs to the drains resulting in seepage.

Listening to the 7.00 p.m news on Saturday, June 18, I heard a gentleman advocating that waste water should be emptied in the sewer. Is that gentleman aware that the system does not cater for such?

Is he aware of the problems that NAWASA had over the years with inappropriate material being put into toilets and other foreign matter which got into broken chambers especially after the hurricanes of 2004/2005 causing the pumps to malfunction?

I also took the occasion to draw to the attention of NAWASA the several bits of road that were dug up to effect repairs to small water lines and the road is not repaired for long periods causing further damage.

I questioned why and was told it was due to inability to obtain small quantities of hot mix. If that is the problem why not retain some drums of pitch/cold mix and do repairs as was done in the days of Mr. Dewsbury, Mr. Tamar and the St. George’s District Board, for in so doing it will cost government a lot less and motorists will have a smoother ride.

Could someone/government tell us what plans they have to address these existing problems.

Simeon Green

Sen. Roberts voices concern over salary increase to press secretary

Trade unions representing public sector workers in Grenada are annoyed over the $12,000 a year salary increase granted the press secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister.

Labour Representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Raymond Roberts addressed the issue of the salary increase to Kisha Abba Alexander-Grant during Monday’s sitting of the Senate.

According to Sen. Roberts, a former Director of the Government Information Service (GIS) and executive member of the Public Workers Union (PWU), employees in the civil service feel betrayed by the action of government.

He drew the Senate’s attention to Vote 10 on page 107 of the 2016 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, which show that Alexander-Grant’s salary was moving in the New Year from $60,000 to $72,000 per annum.

The Labour Senator indicated that the hike in salary of the press secretary comes at a time when the workers of the country reluctantly accepted a wage deferral.

He said the unions managed to get the workers to understand the economic crisis facing the country and got them to accept a “pay cut,” but now the Keith Mitchell-led government has ignored the sacrifices made by workers by “jacking up one person’s pay.”

Sen. Roberts also informed the Senate that the cash-strapped ruling New National Party (NNP) administration has not paid increments to teachers, police officers, and public servants since returning to office in February 2013.

He felt that Prime Minister Mitchell ought not to have singled out one person “for special delivery,” as the post of press secretary is not an essential one in the civil service.

He noted that the $12,000 a year increase given to Alexander-Grant is four times the salary of a debusher for an entire year.

The Labour Senator rejected the rationale given by Culture Minister, Sen. Brenda Hood for providing the press secretary with a salary increase.

Sen. Hood told Parliamentarians last week Friday that Alexander-Grant is doing “lots and lots of work” and deserved the pay hike.

“She is working seven days a week, 24 hours a day… and, therefore, she is entitled to whatever she gets,” she said.

Sen. Hood was annoyed that the pending pay hike for Alexander-Grant has been publicized in the world–at-large.

“We have technology these days, so the whole world knows it, that the Press Secretary now will not be making $5,000 a month, she will be making $6,000 a month. What is $6,000 when you are working seven days a week, and doing some long, long hours? That is not a lot of money,” she said.

However, Sen. Roberts hit back, saying that he considers the female Government Senator’s response as being “totally and highly irresponsible.”

“To defend that kind of behaviour, you would admit… it is totally irresponsible,” he said.

“I am profoundly shocked… and bewildered that a veteran Government Parliamentarian, a member of the Cabinet would use this floor to sit, and to defend what I consider a total abuse of the public purse,” he told the Upper House.

Sen. Roberts said he regrets that none of Dr. Mitchell’s Ministers had the intestinal fortitude to tell him that the salary increase for Alexander-Grant is wrong and bad, and that he should withdraw it.

“We – men and women, not brave enough to tell the Leader what he ought to do… Nobody is brave enough to say what is right.

“I want to strongly challenge you, Senators on the other side, go back to the $12,000 increase, let us tell our Leader to withdraw it. Tell him it is bad, it is bad, withdraw it, and that’s why I am saying we have to out that Labour recognises that every worker in the country deserves a salary increase due to the high cost of living while indicating that “this is an expensive country to live in.”

He stated that Dr. Mitchell’s “failed policies, reckless borrowing and spending for 13 years” have resulted in the economy becoming sluggish.

Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Simon Stiell rebuked Sen. Roberts for raising the issue of the salary increase to the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary.

According to Sen. Stiell, it is his understanding that Sen. Roberts first raised the issue through a press release.

“When I read the press release… ‘betrayal of the public sector, blatant abuse of the public purse,’ and then I hear Sen. Roberts contribution on the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the year 2016… and the only number in this entire (budget) book that you can pull out… the only number… that you can come up with is $1,000 per month allocation. Shame on you. Shame on you Sen. Roberts. Shame on you. That is the best that you can do,” Sen. Stiell said.

The Government Senator hinted that Sen. Roberts’ statement is politically motivated.

“We have to get away from the petty politics, we have to for all our sakes, and if… you’re seeking a political career, you can do better than that,” he remarked.

Sen. Stiell sought to justify the salary increase to be given to Alexander-Grant by comparing it with the salaries that were paid to the support staff of former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas during the 2008-13 period.

He informed the Senate that there were five persons including a press secretary as support staff to the former Prime Minister who were paid altogether $522,600 per annum.

According to Sen. Stiell, the NNP regime is now into its third year and the workload for the Press Secretary is rather excessive and she was deserving of the pay hike.

Mitchell’s NNP has been warned by the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) to significantly cut on expenditure to arrest a bad fiscal situation facing the country.

Government was forced to enter into a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) after the island was forced in April 2013 to default on millions of dollars owed mainly to U.S bondholders.

Under an agreement reached, Grenada is expected to start making payments to the bondholders around the middle of next year.

Ralph Gonsalves: a history making fourth term

SAUNDERSDr Ralph Gonsalves is set to make history in St Vincent and the Grenadines as he starts a fourth term in office as Prime Minister.  Having already completed fourteen years as Head of Government, within three years of the term to which he was elected on December 9, Gonsalves will overtake the record of former Prime Minister Sir James ‘Son’ Mitchell who served sixteen years from 1984 to 2000.

Securing re-election to a fourth term as leader of a political party and Head of Government is no easy task as the closeness of the elections shows.  Indeed, in many cases a leader and Prime Minister in office for fourteen years becomes a liability in general elections as the instinctive urge of the people, particularly younger voters, is for change.   In this context, therefore, Gonsalves’ re-election is all the more significant.  Clearly, the majority of the voting public regard him as the person in whose hands the stewardship of their affairs best resides.

There are many reasons for the ULP’s victory over the NDP which has been headed by Arnhim Eustace since 2000, when Sir James Mitchell stepped down and virtually anointed him as leader.  But, undoubtedly, the sheer force of Dr Gonsalves personality is a major factor in the country’s politics. He is charismatic; he regards himself as a man of the people, reflected in his insistence on being called ‘Comrade Ralph’; and he has a natural capacity for endearing himself to people of all classes, races and religions. Even his worst detractors have a grudging respect for his ability to charm.

Beyond his interpersonal skills, Gonsalves is a hard worker who pays considerable attention to detail in the governance of the country. Despite a lack of sufficiently trained persons in the country’s public service, Gonsalves has managed the economy well. Inheriting an economy whose mainstay – the export of bananas – was severely weakened when preferential access to the European Union market was removed based on a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling, he has had to be inventive in maintaining employment and diversifying the economy. He also had to pursue aid and funding beyond the country’s traditional sources.

There was much method in what seemed to be madness in seeking financial help from Libya under Muammar Gaddafi and from developing economic relations with Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro – these events cushioned the economy’s fall.  Significantly, in establishing these new relations, Gonsalves did not alienate customary trade, economic and political links to the United States, Canada and the European Union. If anything, he displayed astute footwork in tip-toeing between the rain drops of contending foreign interests.

A great deal of political capital both domestically and internationally has been invested in the construction of an International Airport in St Vincent.  Completing this facility and making it economically viable will be a major challenge for Dr Gonsalves in his fourth term of office.  The Airport is regarded as the key to opening-up the tourism potential of the main island, St Vincent, and further exploiting the already established allure of the Grenadines.

However, operating it will be costly and its viability will depend on how quickly new hotels and resorts can be constructed to bring in an optimum number of airplanes and tourists.  Since this Airport is Dr Gonsalves ‘child’ and will be part of his legacy, it is expected that the early part of his fourth term as Prime Minister will focus on making sure the tourism industry develops rapidly – a tough task given existing competition.

Gonsalves, is also a man of scholarship.  A review of his speeches and writings during his period as Prime Minister, reveals careful research and well-reasoned argument.  He has seldom made public statements in the Caribbean and international spheres that serve a purely political purpose.  The great majority of his speeches and writings has been erudite and persuasive.

With regard to the Caribbean, he has been an unrelenting champion of integration, eschewing the fallacy that national insularity can bring success and debunking the notion that any country in the region has the capacity to bargain effectively on its own in the international community. In this regard, he ranks with the giants of Caribbean advocacy such as PJ Patterson, Shridath Ramphal, William Demas, Alister McIntyre and Norman Girvan.

As a sitting Prime Minister over the last fourteen years, he has shown remarkable courage – born of his credentials as a scholar and former University lecturer – in criticising his colleague Heads of Government for the slow pace of integration.  And, he has been dogged in keeping alive the flame of Caribbean unity as the basis for advancing the collective interest of the Caribbean people.

There have been other areas in which he has demonstrated a Caribbean commitment and a capacity for action that belies the smallness of his country.   I well remember sitting with him in a coffee shop in St Vincent in 2012 when former West Indies fast bowler and then cricket commentator Ian Bishop passed by. Gonsalves sent an aide to invite Bishop over and a conversation took place that led to negotiations with the West Indies Cricket Board, the recall of Chris Gayle to the West Indian cricket team and to Gayle’s flaying of England’s bowlers in the test series that year.

Gonsalves is that kind of man. He acts intuitively and purposefully for the causes and principles in which he shares the care and pride of the Caribbean people.

In this fourth term of office, a great deal of hope of the peoples of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean reside in his unrelenting championship of their social, political and economic development. History can be made in more than the achievement of four terms in office.  Dr Gonsalves knows that well.

(Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States.  He is also Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College, University of Toronto.  The views expressed are his own).

NDC forecasts tough Christmas Season

The Leadership of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) does not believe that the people of Grenada would have an enjoyable Christmas Season due to the continued depressed economy.

Party officials voiced their concerns about a possible bleak Christmas for the people during a public meeting held last week Wednesday at Byelands, St. Andrew’s.

Congress General Secretary, Patrick Simmons who recognised that the country is now into the Christmas Season said it is important for the people of Grenada to be aware of what is happening around them.

Simmons said even if he uses the opportunity “to say to all of you Merry Christmas and a productive 2016,” the people still have to remember the one-Billion Dollar Budget that was just presented by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr. Keith Mitchell, and the process of Constitution reform.

“Notwithstanding that we want to have a productive 2016, the budget will not allow us to have it,” he told the gathering.

With the Parish of St. Andrew’s viewed as the “bread basket” of the country, Simmons said he was not satisfied with the allocation of $42.2M given in the budget for agriculture and fisheries.

He felt more should have been given for agriculture, which is still considered as one of the leading sectors for growth of the island’s economy.

“They (the government) are saying to us, that they don’t want us to have a productive 2016,” he said.

Simmons also expressed his dissatisfaction over the $500,000 that is allocated to the farm labour support programme.

“I must say to you still, Merry Christmas and a Productive 2016 notwithstanding up to this present time our government doesn’t see it fit to open the abattoir… after it was constructed so many years ago by the NDC Administration,” he remarked.

Simmons, a former Minister of Youth and Sports in the 2008-13 Congress government of Tillman Thomas, took issue with the budgetary allocation of $1,000 as an increase in the salary to be given next year to Press Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Kisha Alexander-Grant.

He noted that this is being done at a time when the NNP Administration has imposed a three-year wage freeze on the salaries of public servants as part of the Structural Adjustment Programme.

Alexander-Grant is the only high profile member of government within the civil service to be granted a sizeable increase in wages in Fiscal 2016.

Former Minister of Social Services, Sylvester Quarless who joined his colleague in indicating that it would be a “tough Christmas Season,” told the people they can no longer go forward on their knees.

Quarless spoke with disappointment about the announcement of no back pay to nutmeg farmers this Christmas Season.

“We are looking forward for the back-pay because we know what the social impact, apart from the economic impact, that this back pay has on our community,” he said.

Quarless implored the people to be prepared “to battle” the Mitchell Administration during the next General Elections that are constitutionally due in 2018.

“We might be looking docile, but the time will come, and we’re waiting to ‘X’ them out of office anytime that election is called,” he said.

The former Representative for St. Andrew’s South West encouraged the people to get registered so that they will be able to exercise their civic duty in participating in the electoral process.

He said that as the country goes forward into a new year, the people should ensure that those who are willing to have the current administration changed are registered to vote.
Mitchell’s NNP has control of all 15 seats in the lower house of Parliament following its clean sweep at the polls in general elections held in February 2013.

Quarless also took a swipe at the projects that were announced in the budget by Dr. Mitchell.
The former Government Minister indicated that 21 of the 29 projects referred to by the Prime Minister have been recycled from since 2013.

Quarless who is a businessman operating a fleet of gas stations around the island believes that there would be another increase in the petrol tax while the price on the international market is being reduced.

He pointed to a recent BBC News report, which indicated that very soon the price of a barrel of oil on the international market will be within the region of US $20.00.

The former NDC Government Minister said when Congress was in government, it was very open to the people.

“We said times (are) tough, things are hard. We said we were in a bad economic position, we were going through a financial meltdown and Grenada will not be spared, and we will have to be prepared to mitigate against this crisis”, he said.

‘We were not listened to, instead we had a man… dispensing promises after promises, as the saviour and economic miracle-maker,” he added.

Mitchell’s NNP had campaigned to win the election on a promise of thousands of new jobs, an influx of foreign investors and the building of a new economy for Grenada.

NDC Caretaker for the St. Andrew’s North East Constituency, Terry Hillaire is bringing Christmas cheer to children in St. Andrew’s, beginning tomorrow (Saturday, December 19).

Hillaire who also addressed the NDC public meeting at Byelands threw out an invitation to parents in the area and the wider St. Andrew’s North West Constituency who cannot afford to buy toys for their children to have them come to the Cocoa at Paradise, St. Andrew’s where they would receive a gift.

Another Christmas tree lighting is also planned by Hillaire to take place on December 23 at Tivoli playing field.

Temporary License to be given to nurses

The Lower House of Parliament has given government authorisation to bring into the public service a number of nurses who have completed their formal training while awaiting regional certification.

Health Minister Nickolas Steele who tabled the Nurses and Midwives Registration (Amendment) Bill 2015 said government is seeking to maintain the highest standard of nursing in the country.

The Health Minister told Parliament that the amendment of the Bill seeks to allow the trained individuals, mainly those who have studied in Cuba, to be able to operate as nurses.

According to Minister Steele between 2013 and 2015, 20 Grenadians were trained as nurses in Cuba, and out of that number five are currently unemployed.

He said the other 15 are practising their profession in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago without regional certification.

The Health Minister recalled that those nurses went off to Cuba, studied, passed the exams there, and returned ready, willing and able to work in the local system.

He added that the quality of health care provided and taught in the Spanish-speaking country cannot be questioned.

Minister Steele said the previous Nurses and Midwives Registration Bill frames the way by which the Nursing Council can operate.

He stressed that the previous Bill is prohibitive in having government move forward with the improvement of health care, and that the Nursing Council has the right to decide whether it accepts or rejects a certificate of qualification from an individual who is trained outside of Grenada or outside of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Previously nurses had to first take a regional qualifying exam through the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) upon completion of their formal training before being certified to practice their profession.

Through the amendment, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) is charged with the responsibility to issue a temporary license to the nurses based on the conditions of health care and the need of health care in general for a period not exceeding 12 months.

Minister Steele indicated that the amendment also allows the Nursing Council to permit the nurses at an appropriate time within the period of them having the temporary license, to take the CXC Nursing Exam, and once being successful, they can be officially and permanently registered as nurses in Grenada.

“What I seek to do… is level the playing field to allow us to give our Grenadian-trained nurses the opportunity to stay in Grenada and practise what they learnt in Cuba,” he said.

Former Health Minister Clarice Modeste-Curwen who supported the amendment to the Bill said it seeks “to remedy or provide a temporary solution for an agony that has been going on far too long among our nurses.”

“This is an honourable move to right a wrong,” added the female government minister.

The ruling New National Party (NNP) administration has been under public fire to improve the island’s healthcare system.

Sen. Stiell accused of misinforming Senate

A fellow Senator in the House has accused leader of Government Business in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Simon Stiell of misinforming the Senate.

Farmer’s Representative, Sen. Keith Clouden who made the accusation during his contribution to the debate on the 2016 budget, was referring to lands at Laura Estate in St. David’s that have been given to a non-national.

“Why is it the Leader of Government Business always try to provide this House with misinformation?” Sen. Keith Clouden asked as he displayed pictures of destroyed productive cocoa trees, which he said, are from the Laura Estate.

In a previous sitting of the Senate earlier this year, Sen. Stiell who was at the time a Junior Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, said, while replying to questions asked by Sen. Clouden, that the Ministry of Agriculture is not aware that 25 fully bearing cocoa trees were cut down in order to accommodate the construction of a private dwelling house to an individual whose name has been given in the Senate as “Miss Douglas” on the Laura Estate.
Sen. Clouden, last Friday, told a meeting of the Senate, while displaying pictures, he knew that what Sen. Stiell said on that occasion was definitely not true.

“I have the evidence here, Mr. President, of cocoa trees that were cut down, fully bearing cocoa trees… that were cut down on the Laura Estate”, the Farmer’s representative kept repeating while Sen. Stiell looked on rather bemused.

According to Sen. Clouden, while students who have graduated from the Farm School in Mirabeau, St. Andrew’s are looking for lands, government has made available ten acres of land on Laura Estate to a non-national.

He also said the same non-national is associated with a fast-food business in St. George’s, and is refusing to purchase local poultry although being approached by poultry farmers.

Sen. Stiell who was clearly upset by the charges laid against him said he stands by the answers he had previously provided to the Senate.

“The answers to these questions have already been provided – if he (Sen. Clouden) has an issue with the answers, and I stand by what was previously provided to this Honourable House, and that position still stands, if the Senator on the other side wants to challenge that, I suggest he do(es) it in another forum, and the information that he is providing is contrary to what has already been answered formally in this House,” he added.

It is not the first time that Senators have accused the Leader of Government Business in the upper house of not giving truthful information in Parliament.

Scotiabank named Bank of the Year in Grenada

Scotiabank is celebrating its second win of the prestigious Bank Of The Year – Grenada award.

The recognition comes from The Banker Magazine, which is published by the London-based Financial Times.

The Banker also named Scotiabank Bank Of The Year in Barbados, Belize and the British Virgin Islands.

The announcement was made at a black-tie reception in London on December 2 where Scotiabank Caribbean East Managing Director David Noel collected the Bracken Awards on behalf of the bank.

Scotiabank Country Manager Roger Archer said, “this award is a real tribute to the hard work of our staff”, who have been committed “to excellent service, looking for new ways to help our customers achieve their financial goals and still taking time to serve the community beyond the branch.”

The banker selects winners based on their ability to gain strategic advantage and deliver shareholder returns.

The magazine is the world’s longest running international banking magazine, recognized as a leading source of information on finance and investment around the globe.

Scotiabank’s Caribbean operations have been recognised with numerous awards this year for their strength and stability as well as products and services, including:

*Best Digital Bank in 21 countries across the Caribbean including Grenada by Global Finance along with regional recognitions in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean;

*For the second year in a row, Scotiabank was also named one of the World’s Best Multinational Workplaces by the Great Place to Work® Institute.

NDC Leader questions budget figures

Lead Opposition Member in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Nazim Burke has questioned the authenticity of some of the figures presented in the 2016 billion-dollar budget presented by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell.

Sen. Burke who is the Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) indicated that on page seven of the budget statement Dr. Mitchell said that at the end of the year he expects the total revenues collected to be $550.4M as compared to the $545.4M that was budgeted.

In making his contribution to the debate on the 2016 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, the Congress Leader noted that from pages 18 to 19 of the budget statement, Dr. Mitchell said recurrent revenues for 2016 are estimated to be $574.6M or approximately 9.5 percent more than expected collections in 2015.

“When I multiply $550.4M by 1.095, I get $602.68M,” he said. According to Sen. Burke, the numbers presented by the Prime Minister, a mathematician and statistician by training are wrong, as it does not amount to $574.6M.

“The recurrent revenue number of $574 is wrong and, therefore, the estimates of all the surpluses, current surplus… primary surplus, overall surplus are all-wrong,” he said.

“Never before in the history of this country has somebody come, a minister of finance came and presented a budget where the basic summary numbers don’t add up,” he added.
Sen. Burke accused Prime Minister Mitchell of trying to paint a rosy picture of solid economic growth in the country since his ruling New National Party (NNP) came back to power in February 2013.

However, the NDC leader stressed that in evaluating the strength of the budget, and the character and credibility, there are three things that are worth mentioning.

He said out of a targeted sum of $214M in grants, government only received $72M, and $199M of the $313M budgeted was used as capital expenditure, and the revenue collected from the National Transformation Fund through the Citizenship By Investment (CBI) Programme amounted to $12M of the projected $124.9M.

Sen. Burke told the Senate meeting that government had projected that some $100.9M from the CBI Programme was going to finance the $313M as outlined in the capital programme.

He also took a swipe at Dr. Mitchell for continuing to blame Congress for the state of the economy.

“In the more than two-hour presentation in which the Prime Minister is expected to tell the nation what are his plans and programmes for getting our country growing and keeping it growing, for creating jobs for the thousands of unemployed persons who have finished school with their certification, in many cases, have nothing to do, for getting small businesses up and running, for attracting foreign investors, for reviving our agriculture and tourism sectors, for reducing the cost of energy, those kinds of issues, he spends his time blaming the NDC for his failures and his inability to deliver”, he said.

The Congress Leader stated that Dr. Mitchell blamed the previous administration 14 times throughout his two-hour budget presentation.

In defence of the stewardship of the former Tillman Thomas-led Congress Administration, Burke said the problem is not that of the previous administration, but it is a capacity problem with Dr. Mitchell not understanding the fundamentals of economic management.

He indicated that when Mitchell’s NNP was voted out of Office in 2008 the country was overwhelmed by economic and social mismanagement, illegal and corrupt practices, and a lack of transparency and accountability.

The former Finance Minister said Grenada’s credit rating was the lowest of any sovereign nation in the Caribbean, and the public debt was $1.7BN.

Sen. Burke claimed that although Dr. Mitchell said the budget contains no new tax, based on what Congress has seen and heard, the people of Grenada can expect a further hike in the petrol tax by an additional fifty cents.

“It is the ordinary people who are feeling this… and those who are feeling it understand what this government has done is deny the Grenadian people an opportunity to pay lower prices for the gas at the pumps, and to live better, considering all the taxes that they are already facing,” he live better, considering all the taxes that they are already facing,” he said.

Sen. Burke was also critical of the move made by the Mitchell administration to lower the income tax threshold from $60,000 to $36,000 per annum.

He charged that it has done “severe damage” to a number of people in the country.

He said that people who took loans from the commercial bank on the strength of their disposable income are now finding it difficult to service the loan.

He added that on top of all of the new taxes that have been imposed by the Mitchell administration, the price of goods has also increased.

The NDC boss also took issue with the budgetary allocation on the capital side of $11,927,086 for the Prime Minister’s Ministry.

“What is the Prime Minister’s Ministry producing? How is it creating jobs? In what key sector of the economy is the Prime Minister’s Ministry stimulating growth?” he asked.

Sen. Burke observed that there is an allocation of $7M for special projects in the Prime Minister’s Ministry although there is a Ministry of Works and Community Development, a scholarship programme being administered from inside the Prime Minister’s Ministry for $750,000, and a needy assistance programme of $1.25M although there is a Ministry of Social Development.

“Why are we taking all this money and throwing it inside the Prime Minister’s Ministry? What is the purpose, what is intended by this?” he further asked.

Sen. Burke said that at a time when the economies of Carriacou and Petit Martinique are disadvantaged by varying issues, a capital allocation of $4.575M is given to the ward islands, which amounts to a mere 38 percent of the capital budget set aside for the Prime Minister’s Ministry.

The NDC Political Leader also took issue with the $1.8M allocation for Parliamentarians, through the “Strengthening Parliamentary Representation Provision,” that is now placed in the Prime Minister’s Ministry.

Last year, that provision was within the Parliament, however, this year it is taken out of the Vote of the Parliament.

“The decision flies in the face of the separation of powers, the business of the Parliament cannot be run out of the Office of the Prime Minister,” said Sen. Burke.

He pointed out that unless safeguards are built to protect the integrity of the system, it will be abused by those seeking to promote their narrow political self-interest.

Speculation is rife that the NNP is putting systems in place both at the government and party level to prepare for the next general election, which could be held within the first six months of 2016.

Meanwhile, Private Sector Representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Christopher DeAllie joined his colleague opposition Senator Nazim Burke in criticising the move made by the Mitchell Administration to place funds from Parliament to the Prime Minister’s Ministry.

Sen. DeAllie told the Senate he takes “a dim view of the movements of funds from Parliament to the Prime Minister’s Office,” which he said is contrary to international best practice.

“The major independence issue for Parliament is having funds separated. The Parliament must administer (its) own funds as (it) sees it fit,” he remarked.

“This thing about bringing it back under (the) Prime Minister’s Ministry… and taking it out as a Vote, cannot be a positive move. That is a negative move… You cannot have the funds for Parliament being dictated by Central Government,” he said.

The Private Sector Representative who normally gives full support to the Mitchell government felt that “this is one of the worst things in the budget.”

‘Joy, peace and abundant life’

The following is the Christmas message from the Conference of Churches of Grenada

Peace to you and Grace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The Conference of Churches Grenada takes this opportunity to extend Christmas greetings to all, as we celebrate the Christ-Event.

A survey of the contemporary thoughts surrounding the celebration of this Christian Festival raises grave concerns for the Conference. As one peruses the many facets of the media, the various understandings of Christmas demonstrate a disconnect with the Christ-Event.

One hears opinions like “Christmas is all about the children, the giving of gifts and making them happy”. There are those who speak about putting back Christ in the celebration and with the same breath will speak about “happy holiday” as appose to “happy Christmas or merry Christmas” or, even “joyous Christmas”.

Even when some speak about “getting in the spirit of Christmas” or “catching the spirit of Christmas” they are really advocating getting into a celebratory mode for the consumption (or should I say, the over-consumption) of food and drink and robust merrymaking, with little or no God reference.

What then should be a means to an end, has become an end in itself – the merry making, the giving of gifts, the getting together of families and friends, the joyful exchange of compliments for the season and even church attendance by some.

It’s no mystery therefore why some people of goodwill at this time, shortly after become people of ill-will. They totally miss the relevance of God’s eschatological self-disclosure in the Christ Event – His Righteousness, His act of Salvation.

The Conference therefore feels it necessary that, as a Christian nation, we must once again recapture the essence and meaning of the Christmas celebration.

We recognise and acknowledge that it is our duty and responsibility to proclaim the Good News of God’s unspeakable gift of Salvation to all people, who are the object of His favour in Christ and, to encourage and to challenge all of us to embrace this gift of atonement, of returning to the original relationship with God, living in His presence as man first did initially in the Genesis.

As individuals, as families and as a Nation let us be reminded that we were created to live all of life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, by the Word of God and, to the Glory of God.

We were created to live all of life before the face of God, knowing that nothing in our lives is secular or separated from the sight of God because all of life is sacred. To do otherwise is sacrilege.

This season should remind us forcefully that, while we were yet estranged from God, He reached out to us in reconciling compassion through the mystery of the Incarnation. He gave his only Son so that whosoever believes in him may have life in all its fullness.

The reminder of this gift – while highlighting the freedom of choice – also underscores the consequences of choice. Thus the season of Christmas recalls not just the birth of Jesus Christ but also his second coming – when he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

Many persons have forgotten the judgment or have simply dismissed it as nothing more than a fairy tale for the unlearned. In fact, for many God is recreated according to their dictates and is relegated to nothing more than an impotent puppet fulfilling their wants and fancies, on their own terms. Yet Holy Scripture has repeatedly affirmed God to be otherwise.

Both Scripture and experience have shown God to be a God who acts according to HIS will, fulfilling His promises and keeping His word. His word speaks of a Judgment and an eternal death and destruction that hang over the head of all. However, eternal death and destruction is not the last word of God.

The good news is that there is Eternal Life in the Christ-Event inaugurated by the birth of Jesus the Christ. And that is what we joyfully celebrate every Christmas – the putting into action God’s plan of eternal life for all, an alternative to eternal death and destruction.

The Conference therefore believes it prudent that, as a nation, we should contemplate eternity and be guided by it in all our activities, not only at this time but, throughout our lives.

We wish you the joy, peace and abundant life which the Christ offers through redemption and may we all celebrate the Christ-Event, accepting the gift of Eternal Life and receive God’s blessings as one Family, one Nation.

May God bless us all!