By Arthur Kallick
In a surprise move, the government of Grenada announced that it will pursue a “home grown” program of structural reform and fiscal adjustment with support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This concept was first introduced by the NDC administration led by Nicholas Braithwaite with the late George Brizan being the chief architect.
Arthur Kallick was born in Trinidad and lived in Grenada until he moved to Canada in the late 1980s after completing secondary school. He has a Master’s in family counselling and child physiology from the University of Toronto. He is now a freelance writer and has been living in Grenada for the past six years, and at present works with Caribbean Family Planning unit as a counsellor
Mr Brizan assembled a team of local technocrats (which included the present Minister of Education Anthony Boatswain) together with notable regional economists to include Prof Crompton Bourne to draw up a detailed plan to address the country’s economic problems. Grenada then was un-creditworthy, the result of many years of poor fiscal management and failed economic policies pursued by the New National Party (NNP).
It took a considerable amount of political will and resolve to achieve the success which Mr Brizan piloted. The present administration has enormous limitations. The present NNP is largely to blame for our predicament. Their reckless accumulation of debt based on commercial terms (high interest rates) during their tenure during 1995-2008 bears testimony to this. Debt items of over $700 million, which are reflected in appendix F of the estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2013, is the core of the nation’s financial woes.
The political will required has been affected by the fact that only six months ago, the NNP won national elections anchored on a slogan that “We will deliver”. That slogan was bandied about as the medicine required to solve our problems. As it stands, delivery and cutbacks do not sit comfortably with each other.
Grenada has been under an IMF program for the last seven years. The fact that this period includes the latter days of the previous NNP administration tells us that they must be acutely aware of the nation’s problems. It is obvious that, during their recent stint in opposition, they did not use the time to develop a serious plan to address the situation. Instead, it appears that they are gambling on divine intervention as the call for debt forgiveness is backed by extracts from the Scriptures.
Mr Boatswain’s skills and experience seems more relevant to education, as the prime minister has determined by his appointment as minister of education. Recent reports also suggest that Dr Patrick Antoine has been sidelined. The limited skills base of the ministry of finance is insufficient to address this complex situation.
Prime Minister Mitchell is a renowned spendthrift. Fiscal discipline has not been one of his strong attributes. Do we believe that Dr Mitchell will be guarding the public purse like a “hawk”? Most Grenadians don’t think so. We don’t expect the permanent secretary to be the enforcer of discipline when he is duty bound to carry out government policy and dictates.
Given the scope of this national crisis, a national consensus is a necessary prerequisite for success. The NNP and its leader are notoriously unable or incapable of realizing this goal. The divisive nature of NNP politics make it nearly impossible to achieve. While the social partners are trying their utmost to defend the people’s interest, there are many practical impediments in their way. They will shy away from apportioning blame where it is due and they are mortally afraid of being branded as political.
The regime has shown clearly that they intend to shield themselves from public criticism. The media control strategy help to limit the public discourse on the crisis. Prime time news is submitted to “suggestions” as to what should or should not be aired. This they hope will reduce the political cost of an unfortunate and painful adjustment in the standard of living of most Grenadians. The government and its apologists are saying that Grenadians should unite to build the country. Forget the past, they say, and don’t ask hard questions. The lack of transparency, stifling of public discourse, the absence of forthrightness and attempts to scapegoat the NDC will not make the situation any better.
The last thing that the nation wants is public protest, as our history over the last 40 years shows that we have not done a good job in managing such situations. Any home grown solution must start with reduction in ministers’ pay by 10%; other politically inspired programs that do not give value for money must be scrapped. A rule based system on the Port and Inland Revenue will go a long way in curbing revenue leakages.
That will just be a start.