Politics NNP style is about winning the next elections. Grenada's prime minister and minister of finance Dr Keith Mitchell will do anything the win the next elections when he believes that he has an overwhelming advantage over the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Their calculation is that with over 11,000 registered voter refusing to cast their ballot in the last elections , the youth vote remains critical for any re-election prospect of the NNP.
With over 6 % of the voting population this bloc of swing voters can determine whether the NNP win or loses the next general election. It is in this context that Dr Mitchell and the NNP has decided as a matter of policy to increase taxes on the middle class to pay the wages of the 3,000 Imani 'workers' his administration aims to employ by the end of February 2014.
Youth unemployment is approximately 55% and no one can deny the urgency in ensuing that these young persons gain some form of sustainable employment. The negative social impact of these young persons on their respective societies would be serious if they are not provided with sustainable employment. The ill- conceived Imani program however is not serving the long term of the young people. This program is too political, with very little emphasis on the program providing the young people with the necessary skills to work in the productive sectors of the economy. The Imani isn't serving the real interest of the young people. It is however serving the political interest of Dr Mitchell and the NNP, hence the reason he is prepared to tax the middle class to pay for the program.
The Imani wage bill is millions of dollars. The minister of finance complained to the trade union movement that the success of his structural adjustment program depends on controlling the wage bill yet he is prepared to increase it further.
3,000 people paid an average of $700 per month amounting to $2.1 million per month and $25.2 million per year. Many of the Imani's workers are however paid $1,000 and therefore the wage bill is much higher. Despite this wage bill the country isn't getting value for money. Many of the young people in the program are being paid for doing very little or no productive work. They themselves are critical of the program. Ministers of youth Hon Emmalin Pierre and Sen Sheldon Scott seem disengaged within their own ministries, having lost focus on the real problems facing the youths engaging in NNP politicking.
Dr Mitchell is using the plight of the youths to engage in "political adventurism" and "class warfare". He is prepared to use the youths as pawns and bargaining chips in his political fight with the opposition and trade union movement. The prime minister is attempting to create a rift between the youths, trade union movement and the opposition. His aim is to paint these two groups as anti-young people for his own selfish political aspirations.
The trade union movement and opposition must remain vigilant and support these young people fully through public education. Ignorance can only be defeated by education. The young people must be educated so that they can see the real intent of the program. The removal of the educational component of the Youth Empowerment Program should have raised a red flag in the minds of the youths. Imagine your government denying the young people the opportunity to acquire CXC accreditations in a very competitive global environment. Who is fooling who?
Prime Minister and minister of finance Dr Keith Mitchell and his permanent secretary Timothy Antoine are not committed to the structural adjustment program (SAP). Dr Mitchell knows that increased taxation in any form will have an adverse effect on his re-election prospect. The areas of taxation implemented by the his NNP administration are aimed primarily at the bloc of voters he perceived as pro NDC . He is therefore prepared to take this political risk by increasing their taxes and using the acquired resources to provide the thousands of young people with short term employment through the "early retirement" Imani Program.
Chester Humphrey, president general of the technical and allied workers union (TAWU) and Madonna Harford, the leader of the Public Workers Union, must be also mindful of the political intent of the program. These two unions runs the risk of losing hundreds of new recruits since the "Imani workers" will provide a source of cheap labour to major business institutions, including government, outside of the control of the unions.
Humphrey is a strong advocate of the policies of the NNP and seems prepared to sacrifice the jobs of the workers in his union so that his horse can win the political race. The rider is closely affiliated to Mitchell’s NNP and only recently accompanied him to the CELAC summit in Communist Cuba . Humphrey and Mitchell seem to have signed a truce as the NNP seeks to solicit campaign financing from the business community.
In the serious economic times, businesses are looking for cheap source of stable labour. NNP is using state power, influence and resources to provide this. Workers need to assess the unfolding events very seriously and take the necessary actions to secure their short and long term interest .
The GUT leader Mr Lewis is taking the right position on this issue. Mr Lewis has filled the void created when the other union elders saw fit to be in bed with NNP. Lewis’s position is non political and in the best interest of the workers who put their trust and confidence in him. His hand is strengthened by the fact that, if government seeks to retrench workers, teachers are virtually immune . Government would not be morally fit to govern if they embarked on retrenching the nation's teachers.
In a case of "voodoo economics "and a time of economic recession, the state is made to finance the private sector. The private sector should be the engine of economic growth but they have become the recipient of unskilled and inexperienced labour, resulting in minimal productivity, production and economic growth. It is therefore not a surprise that many business are engaged in retrenchment. With the economic policies of the Dr Mitchell-led NNP in complete disarray, government may also have to retrench public workers in an effort to maintain the current level of "Imani voters". In any close elections these voters are critical.
Dr Mitchell and the NNP are engaged in a very dangerous game of "cat and mouse" with the workers of the country and the young people. Having ridden to victory on the unsuspecting backs of the youths, he is now prepared to tax the workers mercilessly to provide a small stipend to a small percentage of young people, especially the children and grandchildren of his supporters. Dr Mitchell is now the "de facto" minister of youth and sports. He has effectively sidelined Hon Emallin Pierre and Hon Sheldon Scott. In 2008, the minister with a budget of over $16 million failed to win her seat.
The structural adjustment program has failed even before the government received its first allotment of income tax from the workers, yet the prime minister indicated that a further 1,000 Imani will be added to the wage bill. Where the money is coming from to pay these persons is anybody’s guess . The unions are very suspicious of the intent of Dr Mitchell and the NNP
The recent pronouncement of the IMF on Grenada' s failure to implement plan programs between 2006-11 is an indication of the mistrust that financial institutions have for the NNP administration. Under the NNP, the country has failed to make good use of over $30 million.
Dr Mitchell's recent announcement that Grenada will become a full member of ALBA is a very interesting one. Has he given up on the $100 million he anticipated getting from the IMF and World Bank following the implementation of his structural adjustment program? Is he looking at ALBA to provide his cash strapped administration with the necessary additional resources to pay the Imani workers and for public projects. Venezuela the primary sponsor of ALBA funds is suffering from a lack of basic items, including toilet paper. It will be left to see how much assistance ALBA can provide to Grenada.
The weeks, months and years will be serious and interesting times for the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. The battle for the use of the nation’s scarce resources will continue. As the NDC prepares to elect a new political leader and national executive, let’s hope that the people will have a strong alternative when the change comes! The main focus of the new political leader of the NDC is to unite the party and the people around a common vision. The nation's current path is unsustainable and leading the country on o path of total collapse and destruction.