ST GEORGE'S, Grenada (GIS) – Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Grenada have come out in full support of a move by the Keith Mitchell administration to restructure the country’s national debt.
The Grenada Conference of Churches, the Grenada Private Sector Organisation, the Grenada Trade Union Council and the Inter-agency Group of Development Organisations have all voiced their support for the government’s plan.
Representatives of these organizations were speaking as panelists during the first in a series of social partners’ forums on Tuesday night to debate issues of national concern.
“Do we support a comprehensive work out of the debt and the answer is yes, and that was the first point we made to the government in May,” declared Father Sean Doggett, who made biblical reference to strengthen his argument.
“Our concern is that what happens … the poorest and most vulnerable. We are also concern that the poor and marginalized must benefit from any program… their interest should be to the front.”
The debt restructuring is a key component of a home grown programme Grenada is discussing with the International Monitory Fund (IMF).
Kenny James, representing labour unions on the island, said while they support debt restructuring they are opposed to any move to retrench workers.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell has made it clear that the IMF has not requested sending home workers as part of any deal.
James said the unions will instead favour a redeployment of workers, measures to enhance government’s revenue collection, a cell phone levy, a financial transaction tax as well as a review of the current income tax threshold.
“No retrenchment of workers,” James said. “In an economy where the unemployment rate is forty percent, any further loss of jobs can have catastrophic socio- economic consequences on our society”.
While agreeing with the moot, Judy Williams, representing development groups, said the country’s debt management strategy has been poor.
Williams said in moving forward the country must first examine the process that would have led to the current economic problems.
”We also want to say that the poor management is also a reflection of the broader issue of governance and accountability,” said Williams. “We feel compelled to ask for an examination of the process which led us to the current reality.”
The panelist representing government, a member of the stakeholders group, was permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Timothy Antoine, who stressed that public debt is a matter for all Grenada.
He said the benefits of an emerging programme will result in significant reductions in the national debt, about US$300 million in debt relief, substantial grant aid and technical support including in tax collection.
“Grenada has the potential to be the strongest economy in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). But we must take some important decisions… some tough decisions starting with the simple proposition of spending no more than we earn,” said Antoine.
“To convince our creditors that we not only need help but that we have learnt our lesson, we must make important sacrifices.”
The second national social partners’ forum will focus on jobs and is planned for 15th October at a venue to be announced.
Mitchell is due to visit Washington around the middle of this month to continue talks and has promised to continue the national dialogue.
He has been meeting which various groups to solicit feedback and has been outlining the various issues being discussed with the IMF, whose board members meet in December for decision on Grenada’s home grown programme.