Between 25 April and 8 May 2019, a housekeeping mission comprising representatives from the IMF, the World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank visited Grenada and held meetings with key interest groups including government, the NDC as the main opposition party, trade unions, private sector and civil society organisations.
The NDC welcomed the interaction with the mission during which we were able to share some of our concerns with government’s current policy focus and give some insights into our own vision for Grenada.
In the press briefing that the mission held at the end of its assignment, Bogdan Lissovolik, the Head of Mission, indicated that projected growth for 2019 is 3.5%, not the previously projected 4.0% to 4.5%. Growth is expected to be centred on activity in the construction, education and tourism sectors. The mission expressed concerned that these areas of growth are not sustainable in the long term.
In its meeting with the NDC, we expressed concern and the mission acknowledged, that the construction sector only offers temporary, relatively low paying jobs. A construction spike is never sustained even in the best of economic climates. By nature, the construction industry is unpredictable and unstable. Therefore, an economy dependent on construction is very fragile. The mission made these concerns plain in its press briefing and we entirely agree.
The reference to education contributing to growth refers exclusively to the contribution of one institution, St George’s University (SGU). SGU accounts for almost one-quarter of Grenada’s GDP. Any negative adjustment in the operation of that entity could have devastating consequences for our economy. Yet, government has stubbornly refused to pursue the UWI Campus here, a project that the NDC was in the advanced stages of bringing to fruition.
Government has also decided not to pursue the construction of the teaching hospital. The UWI Campus and the teaching hospital would together be truly transformative and provide hundreds of permanent jobs, directly and indirectly. Both projects would buttress the contribution that education/SGU makes to the economy. Not to mention the long way the teaching hospital would go in improving healthcare for all our people.
Growth in tourism is welcome, but for all of the people to benefit from that growth, the focus must shift from the southern tip of the island to other areas. Indeed, the mission noted the lack of attention given to the rural areas of the country.
To us, it was embarrassing that the mission had to point out the obvious need to place more focus on agriculture. The NDC strongly advocates that government urgently attends to this and show that it is serious about providing for our people. Since the NDC left office, the Mirabeau Farm School and the farm labour support programme have collapsed. Mitchell is alleged to have once said that his father was a farmer and he died poor, so he is not interested in agriculture. However, the reality for many Grenadians is that the land has maintained their families for generations.
The mission urged that we must rebalance our economy and find more sustainable employment opportunities. The NDC maintains that agriculture is one of the tried and tested sectors that provide permanent employment. Government gave agriculture the smallest budgetary allocation in the 2018 Budget. The mission specifically pointed out the need to strengthen that sector and to create more direct links to the tourism industry. We trust that government will heed the mission’s urgings. It is now no longer a call from the NDC.
Then there is the oil and gas sector. Apart from the land, this is the only other available resource Grenada has with the potential for long term growth and prosperity, but everything about it, has been veiled in secrecy.
From government’s conduct so far, we know that there is no real interest in developing that sector. There is zero effort to train young men and women in professions related to the industry. This suggests that government already knows that no Grenadian jobs will be created in the sector. From the agreements signed with third parties, it appears that many jobs will be created in Trinidad and elsewhere from our resource.
Neither will there be revenues coming from the industry because our patrimony has already been given away in a deal that Bowen and Mitchell refuse to make public.
The utterances of the mission exposed the truth of what we have suspected all along. The boast economic growth is an empty one. The increased revenues are derived mainly from over taxation, that continues more than 2 years after the Structural Adjustment Programme has ended and the increased economic activity is based on unsustainable, unstable areas of economic activity.