by Caribbean News Now contributor
ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- Finance Minister Nazim Burke has refused to disclose where government sourced the money to pay Grenada’s public servants their August salaries.
State employees, including Prime Minister Tillman Thomas and other government ministers, were caught unawares of the late salary payment.
They only discovered that the money was not in their accounts after checking with their banks at the end of August. A subsequent written statement from the Ministry of Finance promised an “update” on the delivery of payment.
Workers received their salaries in early September, with top officials in the Ministry of Finance quoted as saying that the money – more than EC $20 million – was secured from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
Finance Minister Nazim Burke
In his first public comment on the late salary payment, Burke – who is also deputy leader of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) – refused to confirm or deny that government received a bailout from the NIS.
The Finance Minister, in an interview on Wednesday with veteran broadcaster Lew Smith, said he was not prepared to “give a running commentary” on the borrowings or other related financial matters of government.
Also, Burke did not specifically explain why the salary payments were late for the second time in three months.
Instead, as has become customary, he blamed the global economic crisis for Grenada’s economic difficulties that include an unemployment rate that is generally pegged at close to 40 percent.
Burke, in the radio interview on GBN’s “To the Point”, also identified the huge national debt left by the previous New National Party administration as a contributing factor in the country’s economic woes.
In addition, he admitted that lack of confidence in the current NDC administration might be a factor in the failure to attract foreign investors to the country. However, a bigger reason is the global economic crisis, Burke argued.
He also blamed Grenadian media workers, saying they have been reporting that Grenada is a “mess.”
“Grenadian journalists and media people (are) pushing that line throughout the Caribbean to ensure that they discredit the government,” Burke said. “But in the process of doing that, investors in the Caribbean are saying Grenada is not a place to put my money at the moment; not realizing that they hurting the country; not realizing that they are shooting themselves in the foot.”
Miami-based Grenadian journalist Hamlet, who regularly comments on Grenada issues on the internet site, Caribupdate News, took exception to Burke’s comments.
“Our job is not to be a bunch of nationalistic flag wavers,” Mark said in response to Burke. “Our job is to ask hard questions, raise real queries and report harsh realities.”
Mark, who worked on the NDC’s successful election campaign of 2008, advised Burke to “institute better economic policies; find creative ways to expand the Grenadian economy; encourage more foreign investments; and make sure public workers are paid on time. When that happens, the truth will be on your side. And we will have to report on those good truths, whether we like it or not.”
Burke, after outlining a series of proposed infrastructural projects aimed at job creation, told Smith that “things are looking good” for Grenada.
However, an executive member of the opposition New National Party has taken the finance minister to task for refusing, in her view, to come clean with people.
Delma Thomas, a likely opposition candidate in rural St Andrew’s, said it is amazing that Burke refuses to tell the nation from where the government borrowed money recently to pay salaries.
But Thomas said it is the nation’s business and people ought to know.
“We are amazed by the lack of candor by the Minister of Finance who refuses to tell the people of Grenada where he borrowed the money to pay public servants recently, and where he plans to borrow again for this month,” she said on Thursday.
“Nazim Burke continues to run the Ministry of Finance as if it is his own personal business,” Thomas complained.
But she said Burke’s attitude is consistent since “he has failed to report the parliament where he expected to get the money to finance the now busted budget.”
Thomas said: “Six months later Grenada is still waiting for that promised report.”
She said with the country’s parliament in recess, the lack of accountability by the government in St George’s is even more troubling.
With the government unable to pay its bills, some predict more borrowing again this month to meet current expenses.