ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- Veteran Grenada trade unionist, Senator Chester Humphrey, said that the labour movement has no problem with government borrowing money from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) in exchange for “convertible assets”.
Senator Chester Humphrey
“Grenada is facing a crisis that requires the reconvening of parliament,” Humphrey is quoted as saying in the October edition of the monthly Barnacle newspaper.
The cash-strapped government, which was late in paying public servants’ salaries in June and August, is said to be considering selling its shares in businesses such as the Grenada Electricity Company, LIME and the Grenada Breweries Limited.
Part of government’s plan to raise money is through the NIS, whose board of directors includes two representatives from the Grenada Trades’ Union Council (TUC).
There are also two directors representing employers and another two are government appointees.
Humphrey, who is labour’s representative in the Upper House of Parliament, said the TUC is opposed to the NIS trading cash for “paper” such as government treasury bonds.
“We would no longer be buying government paper,” said Humphrey who also heads the powerful Technical and Allied Workers’ Union (TAWU).
“We made it absolutely clear that we’re in the business of investing the workers’ money so it could return a profit and be healthy and could pay workers pensions and other benefits that they’re entitled to.”
If government wants to borrow more NIS money, Humphrey told Barnacle, it must “come with convertible assets; and convertible assets are things like GRENLEC shares. There are other things that the government could sell and I believe that the NIS should buy. I believe Grand Anse is a good asset to have. So, sell us the freehold; let the workers of Grenada own it. When you sell it to the NIS, we are retaining the sovereignty of it as a people. I have no difficulty with that.”
Humphrey noted that “government needs to pay salaries; the workers we represent need to be paid; and if the government has something that it wants to convert into cash, I say do a deal. Buy it at a good price and make money available so that the workers that we represent can take care of their families.”
According to the senator, there is nothing immoral with such a transaction.
“There is nothing obscene about it,” he added. “What would be obscene is if we took it and sold it to a foreigner for peanuts.”
Humphrey said the country is confronting an “emergency,” with government unable to meet its current expenses, including the payment of monthly salaries.
“If this is not a crisis, I don’t know what is,” said Humphrey who has called for the reconvening of parliament which has been prorogued.
“Given the emergency,” he said, “Parliament should be reconvened just to deal with those issues.”
Humphrey said the political survival of the government appears to be taking precedence over the need to account to the nation through their representatives in parliament.
“Parliament is the body to which you account,” Humphrey emphasized.
“I have already determined that those declarations, that seem to be so sanctimoniously made, are hollow declarations; and that the prime minister is just like any other politician, fighting for his survival and compromising whatever principles he had pronounced.”
Humphrey claims that the current financial woes are the results of “unrealistic projections” made in the 2012 budget by finance minister, Nazim Burke.
“The genius of Mr Burke has landed us in a place where the government can’t pay its employees,” he charged.
“Mr Burke’s unrealistic projections when he presented the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure have revealed what it was: It was an empty budget; totally misdirected; totally hairy-fairy; but, of course, brilliant people do brilliant things.”
What has now happened, Humphrey said, is that “the chickens have come home to roost and Mr Burke can’t find the money which should have come from the budget that he designed.”
The TAWU leader said Burke “could blame the international economic situation; he could blame everybody else. That’s a matter for him; he’s the minister of finance; I’m not. But what I do know is we would want the workers that we represent to be paid because the human side of this is that workers have children and families to care of.”