By Caribupdate Weekly, Editorial
The New National Party (NNP) government, just twelve weeks away from celebrating the anniversary of its 2013 general election victory, has presented a blueprint on how it intends to administer the economic affairs of the country over the next fiscal year. Officially, the blueprint is known by the unwieldy title of, “The Annual Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure’’. But, generally and simply, it’s referred to as “the budget’’.
The budget, presented on November 26, has pushed Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell’s recent cabinet reshuffle off the radar; the budget has become the major focal point of discussion on the streets, in the rum-shops, and over the radio and television airwaves. In the predictable and circular debate that pops up on almost every local issue — from the most innocuous to the most serious — both the applause and condemnation of the budget have been emanating from familiar and well-known places and voices.
Dr Mitchell, in his capacity as Minister of Finance, presented a budget of more one billion dollars; not the first time we’ve had a billion-dollar budget. Nazim Burke presented our “historic’’ first billion dollar-budget when he was Finance Minister in the NDC administration.
Among the highlights of last week’s budget presentation was the projection that about 3,500 would be created nationwide over the next year. Even Senator Ray Roberts, a frequent critic of Prime Minister Mitchell and his government, gave grudging, wait-and-see approval to the projection. None of us could be so bitter or hostile to a government or a person that we wouldn’t want to see jobs created so that more of our relatives, friends and neighbours could have an opportunity to earn a livelihood.
One of the main avenues for job creation, according to the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, will be in construction through projects financed by government, the Basic Needs Trust Fund, the World Bank and private sector investors.
At this point, none of us knows how much of the budget — whether it’s some, all or nothing — will be achieved as the government sets out on the implementation phase of the document. We expect government and NNP supporters — and the few who genuinely could be considered politically independent and who only has the best interest of the country at heart — will be wanting the best and wishing Mitchell every success. We expect sentiments to be quite different from others, including Burke, who now heads the National Democratic Congress.
Burke, for example, is critical of government’s heavy reliance on private sector projects for creating jobs. “We have no faith, frankly, that the government is going to realize on them (job projections),” Burke said following the budget presentation by Mitchell. “The reality is, this is nothing but a pronouncement.’’
However, if Mitchell translates ten percent of his pronouncements into jobs and other tangible benefits for Grenadians, he would have done infinitely better than Burke did as Finance Minister from 2008–2013. None of Burke’s four budgets and various financial updates is memorable for their actual deliverables; not on the delivery of jobs; not on his 2012 budget announcement that “Grenada will have its first international 5–star resort at Mt. Hartman/Hog Island’’, because the NDC government had “accessed’’ millions of dollars from Exim Bank of China.
That 2012 budget included a financing gap of $167 million. Burke said funding to close the gap was being negotiated. He could not disclose details, he explained, because of the “sensitive” nature of the talks. Burke promised an update within three months. It’s approaching three years since that promise. Small wonder that in an interview with Burke, one television reporter told him that the 2012 document was a “busted budget’’. Of course, he disagreed with her.
Misery likes company; and, no doubt, Burke would welcome Mitchell joining him in the infamous “busted budget’’ category. Government’s only escape from such infamy is to ensure that structures and personnel — including ministers and senior public servants such as permanent secretaries — are in place and up to the task of implementing.
It will be Mitchell’s responsibility, as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, to closely monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of public officers, who are tasked with implementing the programs outlined in the budget. Those incapable of meeting expectations should be quickly reassigned to handle tasks that are within their capacity.
Too much is riding on the budget for the government not to succeed because of incompetent or unwilling public officers. More jobs are urgently needed; and so are more and better services in health, housing and education for the nation’s people.
The budget, presented on November 26 in parliament, is the guide and the roadmap for delivering on those services and in the creation of jobs for lowering unemployment across Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
Implementation and monitoring are key to the budget’s success.