by Norris Mitchell
“There are lies, damn lies, and statistics”
– Sir Alister McIntyre
Since “independence” in 1974, Grenadians have become all too familiar with the old colonial vestige of the throne speech, written by the government – which states its general development policy and financial projection for the coming year, and read in parliament by the queen’s representative – the Governor-General.
The throne speech is then later recast into “the budget” and presented by the minister of finance, who in this case is the recently reshuffled Gregory Bowen, who presented it on 2 December 2020 – as the usual estimates of revenue and expenditure for the ensuing year (2021).
What makes Sir Alister’s statement so pertinent is the “recurring decimal” syndrome; where year after year the “same old same old” statistics and projects are presented, which never seem to see the light of day – referred to as the “implementation deficit” – a phenomenon which plagues our development process due to victimisation and the placing of square pegs in round holes.
But these are not the only factors in the implementation deficit scenario. Take for example some of our developers who appear to be hand-picked for their corrupt practices, as there seem to be always some conflict/ controversy as to their financial and personal integrity – as too often project after project fall through the cracks – where guarantee after guarantee is dishonoured and taxpayers’ money disappears without any investigation as to its demise and how to prevent its reoccurrence. The new normal.
So, what is different with this pandemic budget? For starters – let’s begin with the critical sector of agriculture. This ministry is now headed by an individual that talks a lot but never delivers, and (he) would find it difficult to rescue an almost dead sector which has been abandoned by the government over the years, with over a billion dollars and rising annual food import bill and no serious plans for Grenada’s food security. A glaring example of this minister’s lack of performance is reflected in the physical state of his constituency – the Capital City of Pure Grenada, in which he is unable or as some say, is not permitted after so many years (his third 5-year term) to restore York House and to repair the Public Library buildings, not to mention the River Road Flood mitigation project where funds were secured by the NDC government, but has been put on hold by the NNP for the past 10–12 years. We must also not forget the Market Square disfigurement and Fort George as other “recurring decimals”.
We now have a new Farmers’ Representative in the Senate, who seems to be pro-active with a pragmatic approach which we hope would make a difference in 2021, despite the paltry budget allocation of EC$15.5 million for this ailing and neglected sector combined with praedial larceny’s continued negative effect on the farmers’ return on their production – for which the government has no remedy.
The next critical items in the budget are health and infrastructure, followed by education. There is no denying that the coronavirus pandemic has radically changed the dynamics of a health system that is nearing collapse, but kudos must however be given to the coronavirus team in their relentless effort to successfully manage the pandemic with few cases and no deaths. That was however, before the recent Sandals fiasco which has brought the government’s protocol for Sandals into serious disrepute and the health of the local population at serious risk.
In my view – the most interesting one is “infrastructure” which has been allocated a massive sum of well over EC$100 million. The rationale behind this allocation is to provide jobs in the construction industry in order to stimulate an ailing economy due to the coronavirus pandemic – resulting in approximately 50% reduced tax collection. It is, however, the general speculation that this sum mainly for capital projects – would be mostly CBI dollars to accommodate foreign tax evaders looking for cheap labour in a sweatshop environment, facilitated by a black colonial government, where Grenadians have become second class citizens in their own country.
What however is a bit confusing even alarming at this time is a Chinese loan facility nearing EC$$200 million to upgrade the airport which, according to the experts, does not require upgrading but routine maintenance to comply with international aviation requirements in this pandemic era of grossly reduced air traffic for a long time to come. Whereas funds to restore the Western Corridor main transportation highway – in the massive collapse of the Molinere Public Road caused by the arrogance and ineptitude of the government which have not been mentioned or forthcoming. The observation by economist Lennox Andrews that the Chinese loan would increase the national debt above 100% of GDP has been refuted unconvincingly by Minister Oliver Joseph on the budget analysis on the GBN Beyond the Headlines programme. This perception is on account of the secretive nature of our governance, resulting in speculation that part of the loan is for the coming NNP general election pool.
The priorities of the government is a continuing dilemma, so much so that in another recent GBN Beyond the Headlines programme, citizen Nazim Burke had to make a subtle suggestion/recommendation to the Minister of Finance that it would be a good gesture to give the EC$3 million to the teachers instead of using it to repair defective traffic lights, which in any case would not make any positive change to the traffic chaos on the city roads, caused by the increasing number of vehicles on a road network that it was not designed to serve.
The budget has been described by some as a WISH LIST, which unfortunately is dependent on imponderables (uncertainties) such as grants, improved tax collection and the elusive “implementation deficit” factor, which in keeping with the existing construct of the public service – now in the image of the NNP – would be a continuing dilemma/challenge for the government in achieving its expected development target for 2021 and beyond.
The target therefore, of a +6% growth in 2021 coming out of a recession of –12% in 2020 according to economist Lennox Andrews is not only unrealistic, but given the above scenario, is well nigh impossible. If the purpose of this projection is to give hope to Grenadians, the Minister of Finance needs to wheel and come again – as the saying goes – as this projection in an era of the pandemic and the implementation deficit factor does not make any sense to the average intelligent Grenadian.
And finally, EDUCATION. The biggest wish list of all, with so many schools scheduled to be repaired and to be refurbished (over 50), according to the Minister, plus a few new schools to be constructed and those at the design stage; given the implementation deficit dilemma in this pandemic year – appears hard to rationalise.
This is therefore a clarion call to WE THE PEOPLE, and more especially the YOUTH to come to the rescue of our country from the evils of a black colonial government, and to initiate with urgency the passing parade, in order to usher in a new dispensation which empowers our people in an equitable and just society.
Merry Christmas and a healthy New Year to all our readers and well-wishers.