By Ian Francis
Parliamentary prorogation, a minority government and growing undemocratic practices by the Thomas junta continue to keep Grenadians alarmed and disturbed. The existing Thomas saga has created a very unified environment that the reasonable question being posed to Thomas and his inner circle is: When will Tilly and his junta throw in the towel? Unfortunately, given the inner circle's elusiveness, this question remains unanswered and, given Thomas's recent national radio address, he was quite adamant about his entitlement to be in political office for five years.
Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Given this unfortunate position, it is not difficult to assume that the recent decision to prorogue parliament is a clear strategy for political survival. This means that he will hang on to power until October 2013 and, knowing full well that he will face political oblivion, Thomas's stubbornness, arrogance and undemocratic conduct is a pattern of behaviour that Grenadians at home and in the Diaspora will have to live with for the next year. It is sad and unfortunate but this seems to be an integral part of the current political saga taking place in Grenada.
Added to the above are the rapid deteriorating state of the economic station and the apparent insensitivity of the ruling junta to the situation. For example, the recent retrenchment of telecommunication workers and the closure of La Souce Hotel have resulted in the loss of over 150 jobs. This loss of jobs will only add to the already existing high unemployment in the state.
The La Souce closure and jobs lost did not come as a total surprise, given the collapse of the tourist industry. In 2010, Grenada recorded about 56,000 visitors to its shores. The data does not provide adequate information that separates stay overs vs. cruise ship visitors. A closer scrutiny of the 2011 figures shows that there was a 5% decline in visitors, which no doubt would have spelt problems for the sector.
Staying on the La Souce closure, an ill-informed Dr Vincent, tourism minister, issued a comfort message to the jobless workers but at the same time indicated that that the sector remains very strong. Vincent's statement cannot be taken seriously, as the days for visitors flocking to the famous Grand Anse Beach is over. Potential visitors from Europe, North America and other parts of the global community now have many other competitive options to pursue as they plan a vacation. They are not only looking for nice white sand beaches, they are also looking for affordability and reliable transportation.
Unfortunately, the Thomas Junta has not been able to recognize the diverse competition and to ensure appropriate branding, new marketing strategies and working from a policy level to change the attitudes of sector stakeholders. Therefore, Vincent and his planners need to return to the drawing board and desist from pep-talks that give Grenadians the impression of a viable tourist industry. It does not exist and the junta is running out of time and energy to bring about changes.
There are many other troubling signs of economic trouble in Grenada. While these troubling signs are impacting heavily on the population, they seem not to affect laid off parliamentarians in the lower and upper house, who are currently on a long and extended vacation due to prorogation. Vincent, Thomas and others are drawing their salaries and perks and to hell with the suffering Grenadians.
A few months ago, Thomas and his inner clique told Grenadians that a pending visit to Qatar will likely yield economic benefits for Grenada. In a recent Carib Journal article, it now seems that Qatar is not in a position to accommodate the junta's leader given the Syrian conflict. Therefore, as media reports have indicated, Thomas and his entourage have now decided to head for the United Arab Emirates to attend the World Energy Congress. This is very interesting as his entourage seem to lack energy experts in favour of tourism experts. It will be interesting to see what the seven-day trip will yield.
At last year's World Energy Forum, which was held somewhere in the Middle East and attended by a Grenada delegation, readers must be reminded of the post follow up. Monies arrived and went into secret bank accounts for legal fees; monies were deposited in at least two commercial banks located in CARICOM nations and of course the now famous Thomas admission that $50,000 (US) was deposited in his account from a British Virgin Islands donor.
Given the lessons learned and the negative publicity which the regime received, most observers are hoping that any financial dealings between the UAE and Grenada will be used to strengthen the Grenada economy, there seems to be much apprehension that if money passes, it could end up in secret bank accounts and once again confirm allegations of corruption.
Therefore, Thomas is urged and advised to come clean with Grenadian voters. Upon his return from the UAE junket, report what went on; how much was received and what sector of the economy will benefit. In addition, he should strictly warn his delegation that he will not condone any corrupt behaviour. This is Thomas’s responsibility and will augur very well for transparency and accountability.
Most regional and political observers agree that Thomas's junket is not likely to alter the future of the outcomes of the next elections. While most regimes in their dying days have often opted to stay home and avoid such visits, Thomas and his entourage will be able to satisfy their exit wishes by saying “I visited the UAE".
It is extremely and unfortunate to see what has taken place in Grenada since the National Democratic Congress (NDC) took power in 2008. The glaring negatives include the destruction of the construction and trucking industries; deterioration of health care administration and services; late monthly payment of salaries to public servants and pensioners; late bond payments; increased crime and lawlessness; persistent All Fools jokes like the rebuilding of a new hospital; erection of a five-star hotel when it is evident that the Grenada tourism sector requires rebranding; the hiding of $600 million in project agreements, which could bring immediate relief to the suffering Grenadian population; 50 percent youth unemployment; state management through the undemocratic and irresponsible behaviour of "prorogation"; inability to pay VAT refunds; inability to pay vendors and suppliers and many more tomfooleries.
Two weeks ago, the opposition New National Party (NNP) held a very successful political rally in the Town of St George. It was encouraging to digest a ten-point development plan put forward by former Finance Minister Boatswain. In my view, the plan is achievable and will require the full participation of all sectors. Participation must be transparent and open; the population must be engaged and timely informed of developments.
Finally, to achieve the above, the incoming NNP administration within their first 60 days in office is obligated to:
• have a frank and open dialogue with Grenadians about the economic situation and solicit suggestions and input on the way forward;
• immediate restructuring of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. This ministry should be staffed by personnel who understand global affairs and could understand and articulate the government's national agenda. Restructuring must also include all foreign diplomatic and consular. They must be oriented and fully understand the government's national development needs.
• establishment of an international cooperation secretariat within the prime minister's office. The secretariat can be funded by an international agency.
• a meeting with all accredited diplomatic and consular representatives to apprise them about the economic situation and presentation of a framework for development assistance.
• maintain an open and transparent government. find creative and innovative ways to engage the population.
This is the way Grenadians expect Mitchell and his NNP to run the nation.