National Address by
Dr the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell
Prime Minister, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique
Fellow Grenadians, in recent weeks, Grenada entered another phase of the fight against Covid-19. After the early decision to close our borders in March and successfully managing to control the pandemic on our shores, Grenada has now reopened its borders to regional and international visitors. Although carefully considered, the decision brings with it, the risk of importing the virus.
The harsh reality, sisters and brothers, is that in an interconnected global economy, we cannot indefinitely isolate ourselves by keeping our borders closed. Grenada, like many other Caribbean countries, is highly dependent on tourism, and as such, any substantial recovery will depend on revived activity in that sector. Hence the need to reopen our borders and allow workers in all sectors to resume work. This is certainly not a matter of Government prioritising economic recovery over the health of citizens. In fact, it brings into sharp focus the need for Government and people to work hand in hand to achieve both outcomes. This is why we require the cooperation of all our citizens to continue to control this dreaded pandemic.
Government is fully aware that the consequences of reopening our borders can be quite alarming. We already see some countries experiencing a spike in the number of positive cases and in some instances, have to reimpose national lockdown or quarantine entire communities. Government is therefore of the view that the protocols must be strictly enforced and adhered to. However, we cannot do it alone. There is an equal and corresponding role that every citizen must play. In the absence of a Covid-19 vaccine, the recommended protocols must become part of our daily life.
While we may struggle to adjust, as by our very nature we are social beings, we must make a conscientious effort, as our lives depend on action or inaction.
At the regional level, the bubble that was created is intended to help restart regional air travel while at the same time, offer some measure of protection to Caribbean countries which have seen relatively low rates of infection. For this initiative to be successful, we must adopt a unified approach, with respect to surveillance, testing and contact tracing, and that includes the OECS and Barbados.
The classification of countries based on their risk levels is another important initiative as we attempt to restart the tourism industry, while continuing to maintain the required protocols and industry guidelines.
Sisters and brothers all, unfortunately, we had to forego our Carnival celebrations this year. We all know that mass gatherings could present a formidable threat in this health crisis.
Like you, I missed the revelry of the season; from the witty talent of our calypsonians and soca artistes at the various shows to the ole mas and jab-jab on J’ouvert morning; from the spectacular light displays in Monday night mas to the creative costumes showcased during the parade of mas bands on Carnival Tuesday.
Sisters and brothers all, when Government went to Parliament to legislate for the removal of the 2-day holidays that are usually carded for carnival this year, we did that only out of genuine concern for the health of the people of our country.
The Government has a fundamental responsibility to protect the citizens of this country. We took an oath to do so, and we cannot and will not shirk that responsibility, even if some of the decisions we make are unpopular in some circles, and may even result in the loss of some political support.
So Government sought to be lenient, understanding the people’s right to socialize, even in these very difficult times. But I was shocked to see despite all health warnings, people still assembled in droves, and did the complete opposite, flouting all protocols and regulations in the name of having a good time.
Sisters and brothers, as Prime Minister, I am very concerned about what transpired. Are we aware of the serious implications of our actions? Are we paying attention to what is happening in the outside world, even if we have been fortunate enough to keep the numbers down and avoid any deaths?
Sisters and brothers, this is not a joke… Look at what is now happening in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago, 10 people have died, 48 cases of Covid-19 were discovered from batch testing recently. The number of positive cases since the start of the virus in March is close to 500. The country is now virtually shut down by its announcements, again. Beaches and rivers are closed, all places of worship, all gyms and cinemas are closed, all contact sports have ceased. Authorised gatherings of people outside of homes will not be more than 5. Schools will be shut down for the rest of the year, and action will be taken against people who insist on not wearing masks in public. This is something I am very concerned about. Everywhere I go, I see people wearing no mask. Even in my own constituency, I have seen it. Sisters and brothers, can we really afford to go back to the stage where our freedom is restricted because of our own irresponsible actions?
We do not know everything about this virus, as I have constantly said, so where is our sense of responsibility? Our cultural ambassadors must also understand their fundamental responsibility to law and order, and they cannot be seen as breaking the law of the land, and if that is allowed, then we would have descended into a lawless state and as Prime Minister, I cannot condone such. I have to protect, and the Government has to protect this state, including all citizens and also the cultural ambassadors themselves.
Sisters and brothers, I must commend the religious community for its leadership role during this very difficult period. They are making every effort to lead their congregations, and manage religious activities. This is the example we all need to follow. It is important for leaders at all levels of this society; no matter what area to demonstrate serious leadership. The lives of our people are at stake. Keith Mitchell and this Government cannot do it alone, so we must ask ourselves are we doing enough to protect our country, or are we bent on selfish motives that will only hurt the country that belongs to all of us?
With respect to the Covid Bill, it is clear to me and the Government that there were well-placed concerns by some people in our country. But we are painfully aware that there were also those with ulterior motives; some political, personal and otherwise, whose sole interest was to create problems for the Government as they believe and their own country.
The narrative was to make the Government look dictatorial, uncaring and oppressive, when in fact the Government has stated time and time again that its main concern is the health of the population and every citizen. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from this Government attempting to be oppressive.
Having failed in their efforts because of the withdrawal of the Covid Bill, the other narrative by those with their own selfish interests was to create the impression that the country is ungovernable and lawless, for which the Government is again being held responsible; so you do, you are blamed, you don’t do, you are also blamed.
This is why we are saying there is clearly an attempt by those who are encouraging others to disobey the law of the land and to just enjoy themselves at the expense of their own health and that of the stability of the country.
It must be made clear that we have received reports from many concerned citizens throughout the length and breadth of this country. People from all strata of the society, who were very alarmed by the type of behaviour we saw displayed recently.
It was brought to our attention that we cannot be seen as allowing that image of the country to prevail. The Government has a fundamental responsibility to protect the people’s lives, while at the same time recognizing the right of the people to socialize and enjoy themselves. That right, sisters and brothers, is not something Government will ever try to take away from anyone. So the police and the Ministry of National Security, in their better judgement, understood that and therefore, common sense prevailed recently.
We need to also consider sisters and brothers, that as a nation, we have lost so much productive time due to the lockdown that was instituted in March. We have to capitalise on every opportunity to restart and rebuild our economy and our country. The cancellation of Carnival celebrations, therefore, might not have been the most popular decision we have made, but in the long-term interest of this country and its overall development, we ought to see the tremendous value in foregoing the carnival holidays and instead using that time productively.
Foregoing Spicemas 2020 does not mean we are any less emancipated; we earned that right 182 years ago. Foregoing carnival means that in the midst of a global pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives worldwide, we are prioritising our own health and safety and being considerate of those that we love. By the time August 2021 rolls around therefore and hopefully, Spicemas is in full effect, this year’s sacrifice could be a distant memory.
Sisters and brothers all, in the event that a vaccine is found between now and year-end, chances are that we might be able to enjoy a very good Carnival season in Carriacou next year.
But I want to stress here, this can only be done assuming we have a vaccine that protects all of us by then. The point I am making here, therefore, sisters and brothers, is that we want people to enjoy themselves and to continue to socialize.
In the meantime, restrictions on mass gatherings remain in place and it is quite disheartening to see the many examples of open defiance being demonstrated by some people. In my view, therefore, is there any way to equate momentary pleasures or enjoyment with a threat to one’s own health or that of your loved ones?
The critical takeaway here is that we cannot allow complacency to creep in. We must also dispel the notion that some of us are immune to the virus. The harsh reality is that the threat of Covid-19 remains very real, it affects everyone, and letting our guard down can bring disastrous consequences to our families, our friends and our entire country.
Sisters and brothers, the magnitude of the impact of Covid-19 continues to manifest itself in different ways. Government has now revised downwards, revenue initially proposed in the 2020 budget, given the projected 40% or more in reduction on average in revenue collected by both the Inland Revenue and Customs Department and other areas of revenue generation. The Ministry of Finance has now projected that based on the present revenue collections, we will collect $181 million less than what was projected and expected if we did not have Covid-19.
Accordingly, 2020 expenditure must be brought in line. This means that the budgets of most ministries will have to be adjusted to deal with the revenue reduction, and measures such as streamlining discretionary recurrent expenditure, stricter manpower management and waste reduction initiatives must be implemented.
Sisters and brothers, to help create jobs and stimulate the economy, Government will place significant emphasis on aggressively implementing capital projects that are funded by external grants and loans. The Ministry of Implementation and the Department of Economic and Technical Cooperation in the Ministry of Finance will continue to collaborate to ensure an improved rate of project implementation across the entire country. The contract valued at $46.8 million was recently awarded for 11 agriculture feeder roads. Other capital projects already underway or to come on stream shortly, include improvement of the St Patrick’s road network, the Western Main Road Corridor upgrade, the SDA Comprehensive School, Bishops’ College, Presentation Brothers’ College, the General Hospital refurbishment Phase 2 project, the Extreme Rainfall Project which seeks to stabilize six slopes on the western corridor, the extension of the Brothers’ Bridge and the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Project. Collectively, these projects represent an investment of close to $250 million and will create at least 800 jobs.
Sisters and brothers, as we prepare to move aggressively on our Public Sector Investment Programme, we anticipate significant activity in the private sector. The initial stages of work on the $350 million hotel project by Range Developments in St David and the over $1 billion Grenada National Resort Project in St Patrick are now underway. Both projects are expected to transform the rural economy, creating hundreds of jobs both during construction and upon completion. In addition, JDC 2, the company that constructed the 5-star Silversands Resort in Grenada, has plans to construct a first-class luxury hotel at Port Louis, together with other ancillary, leisure, retail and hospitality-related facilities. The company also has plans to develop a 5-star Eco spa resort project at the Tufton Hall plantation in the mountains above Victoria; two major project activities that will be undertaken by this developer and others will also follow.
Even as we see several glimmers of hope sisters and brothers, I am painfully aware that this unprecedented crisis has left many feeling hopeless and frustrated. Government, through the Ministry of Social Development, is committed to helping our citizens to deal with psychosocial issues. The Ministry has extended the operation of its Psycho-Social Unit and is now offering 24-hour service online to provide counselling for persons dealing with stress and depression. Several individuals have also been volunteering their services to help augment its offering to all Grenadians, to help them in this special period. We thank them for this noble and patriotic service.
Sisters and brothers, what is quite troubling to me is the developing situation where violence seems to be the first option for settling disputes. My friends, we must endeavour to exercise more restraint when faced with disputes. Since the start of 2020, Grenada has recorded 13 homicides which is above average and a source of major concern. One violent death is one too many. Today, therefore, I implore upon all to walk away from situations in which you will be tempted to react violently. Think for a moment about the long-term impact of your actions on you personally, on your family, even your own community. Be the one to change the course of someone’s life in a positive way. Spare a child from the pain of losing a parent, a mother from the anguish of losing a child, a partner from being denied a future they dreamt about.
Fellow Grenadians, sisters and brothers all, there are countless persons who have contributed in one way or another as we tackled Covid-19. Firstly, I must commend, as I usually do, our frontline workers, whether in health care, policing, environmental protection, security services and all other areas, who have consistently played their role in getting us through this crisis so far. Many of you have made immense sacrifices and for that, we applaud, and thank you, and appreciate you. Thank you all for your service to this beautiful country.
Specific mention must also be made of the Covid-19 Cabinet Sub-Committee which was tasked with advising the Government as it attempted to execute the herculean task and mandate of protecting the citizens of this country from this invisible enemy. Members of this committee met daily from the inception of this crisis through to the expiration of their mandate on July 31. Words cannot even begin to express the gratitude we all feel for their dedicated service to the Government and people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. We recognise too that it came at the expense of quality time with their respective families during a period of great uncertainty, and for that, we are even more grateful for those noble sacrifices made.
To the various sub-committees which served as part of the National Task Force for Rebuilding the Grenada Economy, I also take this opportunity to say thank you for your work. We had a limited timeframe within which to execute our mandate and I hereby confirm that you have certainly delivered. The recommendations contained in the reports submitted are currently being reviewed. Thank you for the generosity of your time in serving the Government and people of this country.
I must also recognise the work of the Covid-19 Economic Support Secretariat in the Ministry of Finance. The small team of dedicated public officers assigned to the Secretariat has performed a task that at times, seemed insurmountable. They worked around the clock to ensure that applications for support were processed and beneficiaries received their payments in a timely manner. Despite the many criticisms about delayed payments and some problems which went beyond their control, they must be commended for a job well done.
I know that one day, we will look back on this period of history and be thankful for the experience, for the lessons it taught us all, and as we go through the challenges now, it may be difficult to visualise a post-COVID world. Believe that it is coming, but know that in the meantime, we must continue to be responsible citizens and be our brother’s keeper.
My friends, sisters and brothers all, I know many have been waiting with bated breath for details about impending Cabinet changes. Those who are well familiar with my style of leadership would know that about midway through any term of office, I usually opt to make some portfolio changes. Ideally, these would have been announced a few months ago but the fight against COVID-19 took precedence, and it was therefore delayed. As we look ahead to this new phase, that announcement will be made very soon. I know that there are expectations, and there is also much speculation. I have heard of specific portfolios being assigned to certain Ministers, but even I don’t know the final decision yet, since this is still a work in progress. When the decision is finalized, I will make an announcement, and I assure you, it will be very soon.
The portfolio changes, sisters and brothers, are intended to give Ministers an opportunity to broaden their experience while also helping to bring a new perspective to another area of Government service. Creating such opportunities is particularly important as I prepare to hand over the reins of leadership as any serious leader must be prepared to do. In my view, the true value of any leader does not necessarily lie in the actions he takes while leading but most times, and oftentimes, a leader’s worth is determined by the soundness of his succession plan, how he prepares the next generation of leaders to take up the mantle of leadership of this beautiful land.
I thank you all, and may God continue to bless us all.