by Brian Joseph
If you are vain and boastful and glorify the self you will be put to the test by the One who is greater than you, at some point.
In our Grenadian culture, many people look to the Minister of Finance to provide for their most basic needs. For public workers, basic needs include the payment of salaries on time and the payment of pension, especially gratuity. Recently, one Minister of Finance could not pay salaries on time and he was roundly condemned. Today, another Minister of Finance declares that he is unable to pay certain gratuities when due. So the boast that the NNP Government has paid ‘everything’ since 2013, has hit an air-pocket and there is turbulence! Alas, there is one thing it cannot pay! There is always one stone for Goliath!
The instinctive response is to condemn the Minister of Finance when he cannot pay, but will the thousands of eligible Public Officers and others be right to do so?
Begin by understanding who we are talking about in welfare terms. Public Officers are NOT among the better-paid workers in Grenada. The vast majority of them may be categorised as ‘near poor’ or ‘hand-to-mouth’; without savings! Bear in mind also that the majority of them are young people who joined the service post-1985.
The second factor to appreciate is that the receipt of a reasonable gratuity is both a financial right and a cultural expectation which generations of such workers have always relied upon. They have worked in the comforting belief, until now, that upon retirement they will get a lump sum of money (‘we go get sumting in we hand’) to settle the mortgage and other big debts. Therefore, gratuity goes to the heart of ‘ownership’ by the small man and is usually earmarked to provide for a new start in life. The sudden denial of such resources might well have devastating effects beyond the banks and credit unions! Thousands of Grenadian workers would now be unable to enjoy retirement, as a bare monthly pension means that all their debts will remain locked-in, presumably, until death! Therefore, the new policy will condemn them to be life-long debt-payers. To be in politics and have no respect for the culture of the people is simply self-pleasing.
The situation cries out for a responsible and fair solution. Propaganda warfare, smart videos, tongue-lashings, belligerence and court injunctions do nothing to aid in reaching a solution. In fact, the perpetuation of that mindset to the point where party supporters jump ‘hot and sweaty’ into the fray, supposedly in defense of something thought to be ‘owned’ by their party, sets up new theatres of dangerous conflict in the society.
In 1974, the fight was to prevent Independence under Gairy! In 1983, the fight was for ideology! In 2018, the fight is to keep “we party” in office! A nation cursed with fighting! Where are we going?
Hindsight often holds lessons for the future. Now is a good time to go there to learn something about our social predicament and the persistent fragility of the public finances. For 15 years, poor economic and fiscal policy choices, recklessness and worse, landed Grenada in 2 Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP). The knowledge to do better was available, but was deliberately ignored! When a regime gets into office and one of its earliest interests is the handover of Grenada’s ‘Negotiating Brief’ (secret strategy to protect and promote the national interest) for maritime boundaries delimitation with Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela to Grynberg (remember him?), then the die is cast!
The point here is that we have a regime whose attitude to running Grenada was not always the protection of the Treasury or the stability of the public finances. Come 2013, the Treasury is at rock bottom and the multilateral agencies say to the PM fix things or perish politically. So the driving motive for the SAP was as much about political survival as it was about fiscal stability.
The SAP is officially over, but sacrificing is not over! In fact, the regime appears to be prepared to sacrifice the Public Officers in defense of the praises it has stumbled upon …best Minister of Finance, fastest growing economy, best payer of debts, best payer of all salary increases, etc. Forget not that the ‘payer-of-all’ boast really rests on substantial increases in taxation, not on new production. Government is now hardpressed to tax to pay gratuity and this sends the Minister of Finance into panic mode. The eggshell is cracked!
Sobering up, it is clear that the ‘heavy hammer’ of fifteen seats cannot be used against the just cause of the workers for a lump sum gratuity. The fair struggle for pensions and gratuity ought not to be opposed by the fight to preserve the NNP’s food chain! The workers’ claim predates the Fiscal Responsibility Act and it must be unjust to ‘run them over’ with a law, just like the Breweries’ truck incident a few years ago! The law does not eat or own anything and certainly cannot vote! That apart, the prudent course of action must be to ‘step down’ the PR and propaganda warfare and to dedicate all efforts towards finding a solution. Otherwise, tensions will lead to crisis and crisis will produce direct and collateral damage to the economy and society.
Will the ‘Winner’ pass the test?