Dr Friday's 2023 Budget Speech
Present his budget, and after three hours had gone, he said, “Well, you are halfway through.” I said to myself, “I think this is some scheme to give me this thing late, so when I get home I can’t have time to actually read the document over myself.” And it almost work. I remember some time ago when President Hugo Chavez came here and he had been speaking, I was supposed to catch a plane to go to Trinidad. And after two hours he said, “Yeah, we are just about halfway through.” And I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. And I expect it was the same thing last night.
Madam Speaker, good morning. And good morning to everyone who is listening. It’s good to be back in the House and I trust everyone had a good time over the Christmas season, spent some time with family and with friends. I know I did, and that’s what Christmas is for me. And reconnecting with friends and family and spending some time in a constituency and seeing people who hadn’t seen me for a while. And reassuring them that I’m still looking after their best interests even if I’m not as present among them as they’re used to seeing me. But still, it’s always good to be wanted. Madam Speaker, I am sorry to have heard yesterday about the passing of Senator Morgan’s mother in the USA, and I wanted to convey our condolences as members of this honorable House.
In the Christmas season, I presented a message to the nation and I spoke about hope. And I always hope that the good feeling and the charity of this season can carry through for the entire year, but alas, reality sets in and life creeps up on us and we get back into our old ways as we struggle to cope with the day-to-day challenges that we meet in our daily lives. And sometimes we feel less charitable towards our neighbors and our coworkers. And sometimes we are simply provoked into that, madam Speaker. And it’s harder to be charitable under the circumstance. And I must say, when I was listening to the budget that the minister presented last night, I felt somewhat like that, that I was listening and keeping an open mind, but feeling from time to time that this is not going the way that I think it should.
When the minister presented his budget, it took five hours thereabouts, and he seemed very pleased with himself. I don’t know how much of it he wrote because I know sometimes I heard him stumbling as he was reading certain sections, suggesting a bit of unfamiliarity with it. And he wouldn’t even entertain the simplest of questions from my colleague from West Kingstown to ask about which actuarial study that he was referring to at some point. But by and large, madam Speaker, he read it well, he read his script well. And as I went over it and I listened to him and very carefully, I took notes, copious notes, that’s the only way I get through it last night. And I listened and I said that the minister I noted called this budget many things, and he called it a jobs budget. But it is clear after listening that like many other things from this government, this is simply a case of a lot of promise or promises, there’s a lot of assumptions, but little, madam Speaker, in the way of actual delivery.
The minister, it seems to me he wants to get credit for his government, their intentions rather than for their actions. It is clear that when something good happens, and you have a positive piece of news that you want to brag about, you quickly take credit for it. When something negative happen, things ain’t going the right way, it’s a result of factors beyond their control. It’s never their policy, it’s never an error, it’s never a mistake, it’s never something that they could have done better. Madam Speaker, I live in the real world here in this country and I know what people are going through. I go about St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I meet people, I talk to them on the street. Some people say I’m too accessible.
And from that experience, the overwhelming issues, that I gather, faced in this country are the high cost of living, that’s the thing that people are most concerned about. The high unemployment, they cannot get jobs, you can’t get jobs so you can provide for your family. They can’t live on handouts whether it’s from government or remittances from abroad. And of course, the high crime. Yet the minister did not set out anything in his five hours of presentation that came close to any comprehensive plan for dealing with these critical issues going forward. Much about he said was things he spoke about in a previous budget. All announcements, reheated and dished out again. Some will say it’s a case of, a more common expression, old wine in new bottles.
Take for example, madam Speaker, let’s just say that I’m not talking just because it came to mind, it’s based on a reading of the budget presentation and listening to what the minister said yesterday. So the example, he said that there is going to be a national youth advisory council, in last year’s budget, which he called incidentally a youth budget. And if you look at page 39 of that budget, you will see. In fact, let me document it. At page 39 he said, this is in last year’s budget, 2022, “As is our practice.” I’m quoting him here, “The government has crafted budget 2022 as a youth budget.” And he goes on to say some of the things that he thinks are favorable to youth.
And on page 40 of that same budget last year, again he goes on to say, “An important goal of Budget 2022 is the reinvigoration of the National Youth Council, an initiative that was derailed by the challenges of 2021. Similarly, relief coordination within the Ministry of Youth and Social Development negatively affected our ability to develop a revised national youth policy and establish a child and youth development management committee.” So these are all things they had in store. “These initiatives will take place in 2022.” So those are the things they had down for the youth in 2022. Further along it says, “Budget 2022 will seek to initiate a youth volunteerism advocacy campaign and develop a national youth service program.” And all of this is going to happen, or at least start in 2022. It’s a full package of things for youth that they were going to do. Was any of that done?
All of it was done? All of it has started. You wrote a letter to somebody? Did the government try to do any of this? I know this year they say in the current budget at page 32, I’m trying to find it here, madam Speaker. Yes. It says, “This year,” And I’m quoting at the bottom of page 32, “The government will launch a youth advisory council to ensure that the perspectives and experiences of young people are central to the creation and implementation of development.” He goes on to say he will be drawing from people nationwide, diverse backgrounds and skillsets. And the idea is that the members of the youth council would gain a fuller understanding of how policies and programs work. Again, very highfalutin kinds of expectations of what… That’s page 32, 33. The bottom of page 32, starting there.
And it seems all of this talk about the youth advisory council came about, it seems, after the Prime Minister went to Guyana and he engaged, this is what it says in the actual thing, I’ve got it down, that he engaged with the president’s youth advisory council in Guyana. So after that engagement, he comes back and suddenly we have a youth advisory council. All the other stuff, I’m going to mention about them in this budget, so I don’t know if that replaces everything. But I was thinking, madam Speaker, you go on from reinvigorating the well-known National Youth Council, which my colleague, the Honorable Senator Bruce I’m sure might have been able to provide some assistance because he’s had tremendous experience with that in his youth.
And I’m sure he will have something to say about it too, madam Speaker, this is something close to his heart. So you’re going from that which wasn’t done to now this high sounding notion of a youth advisory council with high ideals and noble goals. So as I said, it’s either this is old wine, the same old thing with a new face, new bottle, new label, new color maybe, so people think it’s something else. Are they the same thing? If it is the same thing then the way I have characterized it is accurate. But if it is different, madam Speaker, it means that the promises that were made by the minister in 2022 were promises that were not kept. And if he was going to continue with them, he should have mentioned here that in addition to this stuff that we said we would do last year, and we didn’t get to, we will add this new feature, the National Advisory Council because we think it’s good for young people. But it seems to me, it’s suggesting that they moved on.
Why should, therefore, madam Speaker, young people, anybody believe what the minister says there or anywhere else in the budget? And then I will point out again as we have done in the past where you have a financing gap in the budget, which has morphed now over the years into a credibility gap because there’s been no attempt to rectify the problem that has been pointed out. And I’ll go on to explain what I mean, and it’s related to the point I just made. Because I was at pains last year in my presentation, to indicate that as we’re coming out of a pandemic, a different state of mind, and people are looking at life and the world and things differently, that perhaps we could adapt a different approach in the way we deal with these things, meaning that we present them accurately and honestly.
So madam Speaker, my problem is, and I spoke about it many times, I said, even in the estimates debate earlier this last year in December, there are too many glib comments, too many empty promises, things that sound nice that has no bearing in reality. In fact, they are downright lies, madam Speaker, that are printed in the pages of the budget and the estimate. We spoke about, repeatedly in this House, since the Honorable Lambert Eustace was here, the failure to be honest about the capital revenue in the coming year, the year ahead, this has been repeated years and years by this government. And therefore, about the capital program that they intend to implement. In the estimates debate, I addressed it, so I won’t go into it in great detail here. But suffice it say that the capital program cannot be implemented because the minister has not shown that he has the money to do so.
Simply put, there is, and let me explain it, I’ve been in greater detail in the past. But madam Speaker, quite frankly, sometimes they say, “Well, you’re talking about that again.” Well, the reason we talk about it is because it’s relevant, it is important, and the government simply just ignores it because they feel that the people in the country are not paying attention to it. But we have a greater responsibility than that, if we understand the importance of it, to do it right, not because somebody may be able to get away with it. So simply put, there is an overall budget this year of $1.4 billion. If anybody had any doubt, yes, it is bigger this year than it was last year. That’s one of the features of the presentations of budgets in this government. And it should be funded by tax revenue, non-tax revenue grants, external loans, local loans, capital revenue, that is what they know of, and the other capital receipts. Other receipts, yes, other capital receipts.
The sinister part of this, madam Speaker, is the category of other receipts, which this year amounts to $226 million. Last year was 265 million. So this year, 226 million works out to about just over 15% of the total budget that they don’t know where the money comes from. The honorable members of Central Kingstown ask a question in the Parliament to try to discern where this largesse would suddenly appear from. To ask, well what has the government received in other receipts over the course of the past number of years? I can’t remember the number of years. In three years? But it was quite clear, madam Speaker, that what they receive is a pittance compared to what is stated that they would receive.
Remember when it’s put there, I know it’s put there as a balancing or some accounting figure to try and make the budget balance, you cannot present the budget that doesn’t balance. But, madam Speaker, it’s much more serious than that. I will never tire of speaking of it because I can’t imagine how you can know this, put it in there and then present it to the people and say, “Listen, this is what we’re going to implement.” When you know that $225 million are short and you’re going to have to cut certain things. He puts all these programs in and says it with such relish. You heard him me yesterday, he was talking about all these things they were going to do. Sounds impressive, when what he should be saying is, “We know that we will have to trim some of this stuff because really some of it is a wishlist. We would like to see it done but we don’t have the money for it.” That we have a shortfall of about 15% of the money that we need and this or that program might get cut.
Now we hope [inaudible 00:21:23] constituency, that’s not one of them that suffers. But if you look and you see what’s happening year to year, that you hear a promise, that something’s going to happen, they come and they measure and measure and measure. And then when they question and answer, next year you come back, you have to ask it in the parliament again. Anyway. So that is what he should be doing, madam Speaker, is to be honest, or your option, as I said in the estimates debate, is simply to present the budget that is $225 million less than what he presents as the budget now.
You shouldn’t have this falsehood that is being perpetuated year after year after year, and it make the budget process look so trivial, so unimportant that you could do something like that and not respond to the queries that are made by members on this side. So when people see all these things in the budget and they say, “Well boy, things going to get better.” And then they’re left to wonder why it didn’t come true and why their lives continue to be so hard. Managing the finances of the country is a solemn responsibility, madam Speaker. In your personal life, people only trust their most reliable relatives or friends with their money. You’re putting somebody name on your bank account, you want to make sure that that person ain’t going to take off with your money. That’s a trust relationship when it comes to money, the dealing with finances. It must be taken seriously.
So laws have been developed in the constitution, in the Finance Administration Act, the Audit Act to name a few, and practices have been developed here but also inherited from the UK over time, to keep the government in check. In previous discussions, I refer to these as guardrails that are put in place to make sure that you don’t go too far away from what is good acceptable practice and what is required by law. The government is therefore expected to adhere to them, either as a matter of law and in which case they have no choice, it must be done. But we have said repeatedly, and I’ll come to that, that it’s not being done. Or as a matter of best practices where that you would think that it’s not binding, but if they’re best practices then they should follow them because they’re in the interest of the country and in the interest of the minister himself, in the managing of the affairs of the finances of the country.
And we follow them to prevent easy decisions and convenient decisions and tempting scenarios that may lead us down a path where the country’s finances become messed up. We’ve seen this in other countries, you’ve seen it here. Over the years, this government has not been following the law and it has not been adhering to the proper accountability standards and good governance standards when it comes to the finances of the country. Take for example, the financial accounts prepared annually by the accountant general and audited by the director of audit in our department, they have not been done in a timely manner and presented to this Parliament in the way that is required by law. We’ve said this in the past, the country, when we explained it to them, understood.
And in fact, madam Speaker, it became a matter of discussion in the public domain when after I had a press conference, more than one, to bring the issue to the people to say, “Well, listen, this is what the law says, this is what the government is doing. They’re not following it.” In fact, so popular it became that there was a song, you guys remember there was a song about it? Accountability… I can’t sing. That’s how it went. The song’s called, Accountability is What we Want, Accountability is What we Need. It’s a pretty popular song that came out from it because it caught the public imagination. But the problem continues because we see that even after we’ve been complaining about this for the past five years, that the most recent report of the director of audit on the public accounts is for the year 2017. 2017. The law requires it to placed, the report to the parliament, I believe it’s six months after the end of the financial year of the previous year. So instead of six months behind, we have six years will be this year.
The analysis and the insights, madam Speaker, that are in that report to the director of audit, is critically important to understanding the state of the finances of the country. It’s a very important document. I know on my team, the honorable member for Central Kingstown looks forward to getting them, almost like a Christmas card. And he opens it up and he goes through it. So it is something that needs to be done, and it’s still not being done. I don’t know what is preventing the director of audit or the audit department from becoming up to date in the presentation of these reports, so that we can then have an up to date, not as state of affairs in the country in the last government, even if it’s the same party but it’s the last government, previous government.
And why I say that the analysis and the insights in that report are important. I’ll give you an example. And it’s another area where the government has fallen short in its financial management, and that is the statement of the overdraft of the current account of the government. And if we look at the audit report, madam Speaker, page 52, this is the one for 2017. Well, what is this? Let me just summarize the problem. The government states the overdraft and the current account as one figure, and the statement or the certificate that the bank gives as to what it is states the figure different. So there’s a lack of reconciliation between what the government says is the overdraft and what the bank says it is.
And over the years, this has persisted. And between 2010 and 2017, now the most up to date figure, that accumulated amount that the bank says is on the current account of the bank, and the overdraft as is stated by the government. So what happened in 2010 that the difference between the two was $13 million? 2014 was a particularly bad year, it was $28.7 million. And all of those years when the government said it was one thing and the bank said it was another, the difference accumulated between 2010 and 2017 to over $132.4 million. This is what the director of audit says. This is how it’s presented in the report. And I’ll read it, madam Speaker.
It says, “A statement of assets and liabilities has shown a bank overdraft of $9.2 million on the current account.” That’s what the government says. “Whereas the certificate of balances issued by the Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as of December 31st, 2017 reflects an overdraft of $27 million, a difference of 18.4 million.” And this is what the director of audit says, “In the absence of a bank reconciliation, it could not be determined what contributed to the difference.” And then she says the overdraft’s limit was $50 million. So if, in the auditor statement, you don’t know what accounted for that difference, how can we be satisfied, madam Speaker, that those funds were properly used? Where did it go? What accounts for it? It can’t be a clerical error. You can’t make a clerical error every year. What is the state of the situation now in 2023? Or let’s say 2022, does that problem persist? So that is another area, madam Speaker, that I said that the government is not following proper financial procedures and the law as required, in managing the finances of this country. And finally-
And finally, and I say this again probably more briefly than the two because again, I’ve repeated it over the years, the way in which the government has managed to overdraft facility itself that is provided with by parliament. There’s a $50 million limit, but over the years, the government has gone way over that limit. You know there’s a resolution that comes to parliament at the end of the debate of the estimates and it’s voted upon, you said they set the limit in this, and you can borrow this to address liquidity problems, I think that’s the term it uses, in the actual document.
In the year, so it’s to meet short-term liquidity problems of the government in a financial year, a budget year. When the expected money that you voted already comes in, it is supposed to go back to put it back, to pay back the money that you used from the overdraft. Not to then use that as well and then the overdraft now becomes a continuing loan that was not approved by parliament. So that by the end of the year, view overdraft should be down and should be close to zero if not there because the money, hopefully, will have come in, that you use it to cover off a shortfall. When it comes, you put it back and so forth and you don’t go on paying those high-interest rates of whatever the government pays, 10% and 11% or possibly more. That is what the law requires. That is what the resolution that we passed in this honor of the house requires.
And I recall in the last December, when we were debating, we don’t normally debate the resolution but because I’ve raised this issue and it has not been addressed properly, I have last December in the previous year brought it to the minister’s attention to say this is how an overdraft is supposed to be operated. This is what the law requires, this is what the resolution says. He told me that he agreed with that view. He had the same view of what view of a draft was and how it functions.
So the question is whether having that view, he applies it or he continues to flaunt it. If he does the latter, then it means that he’s not conforming to best practices and the legal framework, and it gets us into trouble because you know what happens, Madam Speaker? When that time when the overdraft, I can’t remember exactly the year, but I think the overdraft that accumulated to about $19 million and there was no way to get it back down. So what the government did is had a negotiation with the bank or some discussion with the Bank of Saint Vincent & the Grenadines and they cut off $40 million of thereabouts of that overdraft and made it into a long-term loan.
Unauthorized by parliament but more importantly, paying an interest at 8% or 7%, that is expensive borrowing for government. And again, borrowing that was unauthorized by the parliament. So that is the consequence. It’s not just something that you’re saying, oh it’s technical, you have to comply. If you don’t comply, you can run into the problem that I just pointed off and then to deal with it, instead of saying you can bring the overdraft back into the range that it’s supposed to operate under because that is what the law requires. You have to go and cut off a piece of it without parliamentary approval. And the way we found out, it was listed right in the bottom of one of the estimates, almost like a footnote when in fact, they were borrowing an extra $40 million at a rate of 8%. That costs us money, it costs taxpayers money because they have to pay for it.
And what that results in, Madam Speaker, is a growth in international debt. You heard the minister presented that yesterday and he spoke about, “Yes, the debt has increased but it is soft loans, concessionary lending and it’s invested in productive activity.” Madam Speaker, I supported some of them loans for the port because that is how you bring about development. We don’t criticize for secret criticizing. It is a large chunk, but when you have an important infrastructure project to do and you can see that it will or may properly manage, contribute to national development, then you can justify that. But not in this situation, $40 million… Well, let me see what the overdraft loan actually is.
Do you have a copy of the estimates? Let me see. I just want to see, Madam Speaker, because it’s important for people who listen and take this stuff seriously, are able to understand why I get so walked up about it. 18 of the estimates it says the accountant general overdraft loan at the Bank of Saint Vincent & the Grenadines in the amount of $35.8 million, so it’s still very high, and the interest rate being paid, and it is 7%. And then you have a second loan that’s accountant general overdraft loan number two, this one is $10.4 million and the interest rate is even higher, 8%. So we have about $46 million that we borrowed without authorization from parliament. And basically, to bring the overdraft down into manageable limits and the cost for us as a country is that we’re paying between 7% and 8% interest and $46 million in loans. That, Madam Speaker, is a consequence. This is why the [inaudible 00:41:07] are so important, and this is why the minister must do better going forward.
And I don’t know whether to take him out his word or not, but it’s the best we have when he said that he understands the nature of the overdraft and that he would, first of all, not exceed the limit of $50 million that the parliament voted and secondly, that it will not stay persistently high, that the money when they come in will go to bring it down because the interest in that is very expensive.
These wasteful practices, Madam Speaker, add to our debt servicing so that now we have a situation where 37 cents out of every dollar goes to pay for the debt that we have accumulated. And the debt now, I believe, is 200 and… The debt service, what to pay annually this year is $282 million, about 283 million or 37% of the current revenue. And this is up, just 12 years ago, it was 25 cents out of the every dollar that was used to service the debt. Now, it’s going up to 37 cents and I think at one time, it was as high as 41 cents. And what that means, Madam Speaker, if you are collecting money in taxes and non-tax revenue, that’s more than a third of it has gone before you even collected it. And then you have to pay salaries and light bills and so forth and then you have very little left in order to invest or to put towards investment in capital projects or to expand in the services that people expect from government.
For example, putting medicines in the hospital and fixing the potholes around Kingstown. And so, that people don’t come and blame the member of the Central Kingstown for a pothole in Heritage Square when the government is at fault or in Georgetown, or in Cedars, or in Bequia, or in Canouan. Their potholes all over. There are some potholes, Madam Speaker, that results from this lack of having fundings that I remember one time, I was going to Montreal Gardens and the driver was very generous to take us because he said the road up there bad, but he went. And when he saw the pothole he say, “Well, that one is not a pothole, that one is a swimming pool.”
But I see in the estimates, and this is just by a side, that there is a reference here to fixing the road to Montreal Gardens. So that, Madam Speaker, I hope that, again, is not one of the things that is cut because of the $225 million shortfall, that they actually do fix it because that is a very good tourism site and it is also… Yeah, I think it’s in the constituents of the Minister of Health, my old school friend. So it’s good if they could fix that and make sure that that facility can stay open and the taxi drivers… I heard the minister talking as well yesterday about, “You have to develop tourism sites because you need for the tourists to have places to go to take taxi that is worth it.” Because taxi fares in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is expensive. So that it’s worth it to go the distance to see this facility and the taxi drivers, for them that is worth it because they don’t have to fix their shocks when they come back.
So those are so many consequences, Madam Speaker. So the national debt now has gone up and the 37 cents out of every dollar goes just to pay that debt this year. And we hope, Madam Speaker, of course, that the investments that the minister mentioned because he added to the debt this year, I think it was 18%, that is something that will bring the return that we anticipate because the major component attach in, Madam Speaker, is the port down in Kingstown, West Kingstown, Bottom Town/Rose Place. That is something that the government has presented as almost as an article of faith because it’s a large project. I remember when this was first conceived, it wasn’t anywhere near the 600-and-something million dollars you’re talking about.
So it’s a huge project and when we consider what we export now, we don’t even export bananas. What are the commodities that we are going to be sending out there? Normally, when you develop these large facilities, it’s not just because the one you have is derelict and rusted and cannot function, which seems to be the case here now. But it’s because the users have outgrown the facility that’s there because business is bright, lot of trading going on. That’s not the case here. The export functions have actually been very slow, and we haven’t replaced bananas as a commodity that would be of that value and volume on a weekly basis.
So when I say it’s an [inaudible 00:47:06], it is on the projection that there will come a time, perhaps we have to wait till the NDP is in office, but there will come a time when the productive sectors of this country will be firing again, that the Minister of Agriculture will have a concerted and systematic plan for the development of agriculture, not a Monday morning announcement. And so, that we will have a facility that can accommodate those things in any event, Madame Speaker.
I really do hope for the sake of the country that it pays off. So I just want to, Madam Speaker, before I go into deal with some of the sectoral analysis or presentation of the minister, I want to look a little bit at the context. So there’s an understanding that we appreciate what the context is that we’re operating in in this country, that myself, my colleagues, that we are fully aware of the domestic international context so that we can situate our own condition within that and properly assess the modalities and the possibilities, the opportunities, and the pitfalls, and how and where we go.
So we have heard from the minister the context you have, it’s post-pandemic, everybody knows that. It’s post-Soufriere. Well, post-pandemic maybe because the COVID virus isn’t gone, it’s around. They make a return in a way that will be harmful. We don’t know, let’s hope not. But we are in a state where we are moving forward, but there have been very serious weaknesses in our economy. Before that, we’ve been at pains to point this out. COVID and the eruption of La Soufriere did not start the economic problems in this country. We know that there was high unemployment before that.
The IMF said so in this 2014 and this 2017 Article IV Consultations that youth unemployment was somewhere around 46%. Unemployment among women around 30% and the overall unemployment rate of close 26%. So we had those problems before. And in 2019, if you will recall, the growth in this country, gross rate in Saint Vincent and the Grenadine was a mere… Well, it didn’t grow, 0.4%. Over the course, quite frankly, of the ULP government in office, the average growth rate was somewhere around 2%. By comparison in his 17 and a half years at the end of he was in office, there was an average growth rate of over 4% during that period. Twice what this government, this boastful government has achieved.
And the remarkable thing is it did so while at the same time generating a surplus and current account that you could use to reinvest and keeping the debt in manageable proportions. Other problems with the economy before COVID and since continues, that is high unemployment as I mentioned, low diversity in the economy. I mean one of the things, one of the challenges I recall that the NDP had an office, that’s James. In the many conversations I had with him, he talked about how do you diversify the economy away and around, away from bananas but around agriculture and other areas. And that is what the Ottley Hall shipyard and Marina was intended to be part of that process, a diversification of the economy of the country.
It was such an important plank in the developmental thrust of the government and the country. But I’ll say more about that. There’s also the problem of growing poverty in the country. Remember the poverty study that was done in 2018 that the government seems to disown Kairi Consultant, I don’t know one before, I don’t know. They used to praise that one up and talk about it all the time or how they reduce indigent to 2% and so forth. Never mind, part of that period that they were talking about several years were on the NDP administration as well. In any event, Madam Speaker, they seem to have disowned this new poverty study and I don’t think [inaudible 00:52:47] city light up there because it sounds like somehow by publishing the figures preliminarily, it has contaminated the scientific process by which you can continue this study.
I don’t know how that makes sense to anybody, but that is the explanation that I heard or something to that effect coming from government. But it costs money to do them reports and more than that, the information, the reason they do it, the information is vitally important to planning for social programs and for economic programs. Take for example, in the last report as compared to the one that was prepared, that was published in 2008, the poverty situation in Northern Grenadines was better in the earlier report, then it was a deteriorated by over 15 percentage points, I believe, in the 2018 report. In [inaudible 00:53:59], there are some areas there where the figures were terrible. The only constituency and this is again in the 28th report, North Central Winward fared very poorly, I think it was the poorest constituency based on that report. But in 2018 report, it was the only one where the figures actually improved.
Now, I don’t say that that is a bad thing, it’s a good thing if poverty improves or the situation regarding poverty improves in any part of the country, but the tide should rise, raise all the ships, and the people in all the constituency should benefit. And what’s more, Madam Speaker, and it comes back to what I said at the outset, the honesty I lack thereof in letting people know the State of Affairs in the country. That report is very, very important for us to know that. The census, I don’t know how it is that we have had so much difficulty publishing and preparing a census as was the one that was supposed to be done in 2010. All of those information are important for planning going forward. It’s important not just to Saint Vincent but for multilateral agencies as well of which we are a part, who take those studies and the data that is presented there seriously in categorizing our country and in recommending things that might benefit us.
Madam Speaker, we know as well that the context in which we operate is we have very poor health services in this country. I will say more about that as well and I know my honorable friend from West Kingstown will speak on it too. We have also a situation of high crime and frightening crime in this country. Gun-related violence that scares ordinary people here and I think frightens away people who might be considering us as a safe place to invest. We have an ineffective and unreliable criminal justice system where sometimes results come out that mystifies the public. People are still asking, for example, who shot Cornelius John, I heard that interview the other day on the radio where that was one of the big topics and how it is that he has not found justice.
Then we have of course, a very important other point is that this government, this European government, I heard they’re talking about private sector partnership and so forth with government, but historically, they have been hostile to a private sector and they have been hostile to private businesses, especially local businesses. One of the things, Madam Speaker, that so many local businesses are complaining about is the fact that they feel, local business people, small business people are trying to make it, they feel like they’re being squeezed out of the economy and they complain that… They feel that they are not being favored and that others are being more highly favored. Some from abroad than they are, and they’re frustrated, Madam Speaker. Some in the tourism sector, in the restaurant and entertainment sector, but tourism one of the areas.
And we need, Madam Speaker, to understand how these things situate us so that we could plan, can’t just go ad hoc every Monday morning, make an announcement, they say this is what you’re going to do and you change it the next Monday, and so forth. You have to plan going forward and stick to it. We know as well that the world economy is in an uncertain state. The war in the Ukraine, which was caused by the Russian invasion may yet escalate. This creates more uncertainty. I am happy to see and that the minister have acknowledged that the worst days of COVID crisis are over. He said this at page 36 of his budget speech, and that we are reclaiming our lives and our livelihoods. But we can go back to the old ways, Madam Speaker.
All over a year ago, you have people telling you, they don’t see life the same way again. Friends of mine I went to law school with who were driven to do things in a certain way and so forth, this and then, haven’t taken that little hiatus there, there’s more to life than that. I knew that a long time ago, Madam Speaker. But the thing is, we have this opportunity to think differently, to even take a chance as to how we are going to envision, reimagine affairs in our country and the possibilities for us as a people going forward.
We can’t go back to doing things the way as we did before, we cannot go back to that old mindset. And hopefully, Madam Speaker, we can see that the future in this country can be bright if we plan well for it and we give all of our people the opportunity, the chance to help themselves and to help their country. All, not just some.
The minister in this presentation spoke about being the past, the worst of the COVID pandemic and he said that his government, this is why they like [inaudible 01:01:13], the opposition with the wrong brush resisted and I quote him here, that they resisted that page five of the budget address. Let me see if I find it. Let me read it from where it is. He said at page five, “This government kept the country open when others were locking down. Resisted draconian and economic crippling Chinese-style restrictions advocated by the opposition.” When did the opposition ever advocate any Chinese-style restrictions?
But they like to put things in a way that press certain buttons. And it goes on to say that faced with low vaccine uptake nonetheless ensured that near 100% vaccination among frontline workers. What you didn’t say is that near 100% wasn’t a voluntary near 100%. People had to choose between the body and the bread, and they made that difficult choice. Yet it was this government, Madam Speaker, who went from one extreme to the other. They said they ain’t shutting down. In fact, they reduced some of the most ridiculous thing. They reduce the airport tax so that people could come here even though airplanes weren’t flying. When everybody else is saying, “You know what? Stay home.” Let me get past this thing. Let me try and understand what happening. Saint Vincent said, “No, come, come. Let me reduce your airport tax or surcharge by 50% so you could come to Saint Vincent.”
But they went from that extreme, Madam Speaker. When I came to this house, I advocated that we should encourage people to wear masks. This was not so long ago. One of the members in the other side ridiculed me because I said I had to go out to take off the mask so that I could breathe better. I didn’t say I enjoyed it. You said it was useful, it was protective. But then this is the same government that went from that extreme to the one of firing teachers, and public servants, and police officers who did not or could not, in their own conscience, take the vaccine.
We, in the opposition, didn’t advocate that, and that is the most… We oppose it, actually. Because even though in principles a party, we did not reject vaccination, we oppose forcing it upon people in the way that the government did. No other country in region did that, fired people. Only SVG, only this government. And even though that we are passed, he said, “We are passed the worst of the pandemic.” And even though in the schools, the only pain lip service to the protocols now because they’re not following them strictly.
The government still will not end this policy of mandating the vaccination for these teachers. Can you imagine that? It still would not end its policy where it says the teachers either take the vaccine or you lose your work. Some people are still whom I know, a couple of them in my own constituency, and they want to go back to work. These experienced teachers. The parents want them to go back to work, teach their children. And they would not admit that they were wrong in implementing the vaccine mandate and causing so much hardship and pain, which continue today. And it will not reverse course and reinstate all of those who were fired or give them that option and bring them back with the benefits.
Madam Speaker, I heard a minister of finance last night, he was singing praises to the healthcare workers. I looked for it. At page 36, and I want to read it because I don’t think everybody might have picked it up last night. This is what the minister said about the heroic nurses and doctors. And I’m quoting here at page 36, he said, “For the moment, at least, the worst of COVID is behind us. Let’s hope so. Let us take the opportunity provided by this relative respite to thank each and every healthcare professional, every worker at the clinics, hospital, and isolation center for the awe-inspiring bravery and heroism through the duration of the public health emergency. When fear and fatalities were rising and understanding was in short supply, our nurses and doctors stood faithfully true to-“
… short supply. Our nurses and doctors stood faithfully true to an oath that many of them would not have the courage, that many of us would not have the courage to honor. Madam Speaker, they stayed true to their oath. Yet, Madam Speaker, how quickly the government turned on them. From being indispensable heroes in the early stages of the pandemic who were true to their oath, Do No Harm, became the problem. Suddenly, when they themselves feared justifiably because we didn’t know much about the vaccine either, they feared vaccination and were given an ultimatum, you take the vaccine or you go home. It’s the same people. And it’s the same people who are heroically teaching our children. And some of them took it and they went back to work.
Many took it as a choice between their body and their bread. But, Madam Speaker, they will not forget. They can’t forget it, because it’s in their bodies. Many of them didn’t do it willingly, and every horror story here, some of it is all manufactured and the conspiracy theorists is always selling you stuff about what the hell the vaccine and so on, just renews the fears within them, and it makes them angry. And we could have done without it, Madam Speaker. Nothing was more draconian than that, so don’t talk to me about draconian.
Nothing was more draconian. Even now, competent teachers of long service are still outside the teaching system and they want to go back. They fear for their financial future. So why not end the policy officially, publicly, and invite them back to the jobs? Let them decide, knowing how poorly they were treated, how dispensable they suddenly became. Let them decide if they want to do it or not. And even now, the [inaudible 01:10:58] court and the government is fighting them tooth and nail on it.
The government, quite frankly was wrong. We could have accommodated and managed as we did before the vaccine came, those heroic people who were adhering to their oath. So therefore the minister as one of the influential members of cabinet, can advise and urge a change in course. And when he reflects on that passage that he wrote here about the awe-inspiring work of these people, he may even consider apologizing to them. It’s not about who wins and who loses, Madam Speaker, it’s about exactly that. It’s getting the teachers back to the classrooms, making people feel appreciated and valued and doing what is right.
Indeed, in another area of his presentation, the minister was lamenting the fact that our children had lost about a year of face-to-face learning, that the instructional time that was lost during the height of the pandemic when they had to do it online has had incalculable effects on the students and the younger ones probably more so. He spoke of the sobering assessment that was done by, I think it was ECLAC, as to what the implications are for that period of online learning when there was no face-to-face learning or instructions for those students. All the more reason to put the experienced teachers back in the classroom now.
It would’ve been good, I think as a good gesture, a goodwill gesture to do it during the Christmas season so they could have gone back to work in January. But it is still not too late, so you can do it now. And I know I am told by people in the profession that the teachers are needed, every good teacher is needed. And I hear it from a man who was a teacher for many years. An outstanding one at that. So that is a decision that this government will have to confront, because those people continue to be negatively affected. Their situations only get worse.
Madam Speaker, I want to now turn to discuss an area of great importance to economy. I said that during the estimates a bit, but there’s one that I have particular passion for. Interesting because I raised it before, before it became part, a regular staple in last year’s budget and this year’s budget and that is what we call the blue economy. This is addressed by the minister in his presentation starting, I believe at page, let’s see, 11. Is that page 11? Yes.
Page 11, maybe down the page. It says that the government has vigorously pursued a multifaceted trust to capitalize on the potential of the blue economy and the minister is quite right. We are a country that we have more seascape than we have landscape. We are [inaudible 01:15:45], but we have control of our internal waters. There’s great potential there, but we have never really sought to maximize it and to manage it in the same way that we have done with what has done in agriculture, for example. I mean the Fisheries Department was almost like, it was like a desk in the Ministry of Agriculture. When you think the importance of the economy there in the ocean, so in the seas, in our seas, that that is time that was basically lost.
That is why, Madam Speaker, that we on this side, I propose to show the importance of this aspect of our economy by creating a separate ministry. Call it Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Conservation, because the two things have to go together to show the importance of using this tremendous resource that we have in our midst to improve our livelihoods and standards while at the same time managing it for future generations.
After 22 years, this government now seems to be waking up to the fact of this potential in the blue economy. Madam Speaker, whenever foreign diplomats come to St. Vincent as part of their routine, they come to see me as a leader of the opposition. Often I invite my colleagues to sit in with us and we have discussions and one of the things, especially with those countries that I know have large fishing economies and have fishing experience and expertise, I speak to them about this. I’ve spoken to British, I’ve spoken to Japanese, Portuguese, countries that I know that have fishing industries as to how we can or they can assist us in developing our fishing industry here, what kind of assistance they can lend, because we want to see it work.
But the blue economy is not just about fishing and I will deal with different components of it. It involves shipping and this is the way the UN has defined it. Ship building and repair, coastal tourism, yachting, the minister said deep-sea mining. I don’t know if we have any deep-sea mining around here. Maybe around [inaudible 01:18:40] or something. But we have in our country a tremendous resource in our fishing industry and I’ll begin there.
The government has now been talking a lot about developing fishing, although it doesn’t seem to be taking off in the way that it should. Yes, there is export catch, but I’ll get to that. There’s exports and so forth, but we need to do more than just that. In fact, Madam Speaker, they put the cart before the horse. They build up the export capacity because now you have this major exporter in Rainforest Seafood, minister have been calling the names here, so I’ll repeat it, in Calliaqua, good luck to them. And we had the facility down in Bequia called Bequia Seafood Limited. He mentioned an operation in Owia as well, which I’m sure was affected during the time of the eruption. But all of a sudden we have demand that is greatly outstripping the supply.
In the 2022 estimates, one and a quarter million dollars was put there for the enhancement of the tuna fishing fleet. That was in last’s estimate. What was accomplished? I don’t have a single tuna fisherman here and not certainly in my constituency. The only person who does that, the gentleman who’s actually registered as a Grenadian. And I know a colleague who exports tuna and basically, he purchased it all from the fisher folk in Petite Martinique. So what has been accomplished? I mean quite clearly there is scope for a table. What has been accomplished with the use of that one and a quarter million dollars that was set aside there for the tuna fishing industry in 2022?
What did it mean, Madam Speaker, for example, when they talk about the enhancement of the tuna industry? Who did they talk with? Did they talk to the local fishermen? And I mean, as I said, they couldn’t be really talking about catching tuna because there is still no industry here, except for the odd fishing in skipjack tuna, something that you might find from guys who go out with the pirogues. We hear our fisher folk are still spectators in that industry while the fisher folk from Petite Martinique…
And I had a conversation, very interesting conversation, Madam Speaker, just yesterday with a gentleman who is intimately involved in this industry as an exporter and he was talking to me about the possibilities for himself and for others and what he sees happening in Petite Martinique and how this industry has grown to overtake what the fishermen in Bequia used to say that they used to come there to basically buy boats from them or learn from them and so on. Now they have overtaken the fisher folk there in Paget Farm in terms of the level of expertise, the catch and the earnings that they make from this industry. So we can’t be spectators for much longer, Madam Speaker. We have to be participants.
The Minister of Agriculture has, and he mentioned this to me in a private conversation, that there’s money available for fisher folk to buy and to upgrade their fleet. That’s been a long time, but I don’t know whether this has taken off. I don’t have anybody in my constituency certainly, and we have a lot of fishermen here who have made use or at least have built a boat or bought a boat to do this sort of fishing based on that loan that was available, the facility. So why the promises and no bankable results? I know that the minister knows people in the industry because he talk to some of the same people I talk with and he knows of their hardship and he knows of their yearning to be better and to do better for themselves and for their families. But it’s still only promises. As one person said to me, he says, “Mamaguy.”
Now in 2023 we have in the estimates the enhancement of the tuna fishing industry project. Now that project has been replaced. Essentially it says it’s been subsumed under two other projects. This is in the estimates for 2023, the fishing development project, phase two, which has a budget of $500,000 and the larger project, the Solidarity Fishing Fleet Enhancement Program. This, Madam Speaker, is where the trust seems to be when it comes to enhancing the fishing fleet. But I want to put at page 12 of the minister’s report statement, he noted that there is a loan facility that Minister Caesar launched with the Kingstown Cooperative Credit Union to help fishers to secure affordable loans and that the government will put up a 15% deposit necessary to secure the loan.
The minister said that up to 41 persons have applied and are currently going through the process. Maybe the minister himself, that is not just the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Agriculture might be able to update us if… I’d be happy if he said that 41 people have been approved, because then we know that they can go forward and make the purchase that they want. Because the same young man I was talking to, Madam Speaker, he told me of an experience where he had gone through that many years ago, he had gone to the Ministry of Agriculture. He had gotten the assistance, he had made his proposal, he had written it up and so forth and he had all the enthusiasm of a young man wanting to get going. And then when he went to the bank, they told him that they couldn’t approve him for his loan because he didn’t have any collateral. And they asked him, “You have any property and so on?” He said, “Well, I’m 20 years old. Where I can get property from? But I want to get a boat. I want to go and do something for myself.”
Anyway, that didn’t happen. [inaudible 01:26:51] No, that’s a different program. The point that I’m making is that it’s not so easy to get a loan. It still has to go through the KCCU. Even if the government puts only 15%, you’re still… This is what they’re saying, your due diligence, the bank has its own requirements. It’s a financial institution that has to return profits with people. This is why I was preferring to reestablish the National Development Bank and have them deal with matters like this. Because their mandate is not to make money for government, but to get those people the financing that they need to get established so then they can become productive and pay taxes and hire people and pay wages and so forth. That is the better model. But maybe in next budget he’ll take that up. [inaudible 01:27:39] Exactly.
So, Madam Speaker, it seems to me that the first of the project, that is the fishing development project, phase two, the minister said in his presentation that there will be $500,000 that is there to unlock a further $3 million. I suppose that is going to be used as the 15% deposit. But we see the constraints that I mentioned, so hopefully the Minister of Agriculture will update us and say, “Well, listen up. Those 41, we now know that at least half of them have been approved.”
But the second part of the program is the Solidarity Fishing Fleet Enhancement and this program has a budget of $4.4 million and it’s mentioned in the estimated at page 494 and also in the budget. So what does this mean? It is clear that the main trust of the government in developing a fishing industry falls under the Solidarity Fishing Fleet Program because a sum of $4.4 million is allocated to this program. So the government, its plan for the development of the fishing fleet in St. Vincent is to be done almost exclusively under this program, because that is where the real money is going to go and this is where the enthusiasm seems to be, for out of a total of $4.9 million, only 4.4 is going towards the Solidarity Fleet Program. The fishermen have to go and find the rest of the money themselves to go and invest and to buy and to satisfy the criteria set by the financial institution to qualify for their loan.
And I’m told that there are other conditionalities that are just not banking and who you should sell to and who you should buy a engine from and who you should do all these things to that are creating unnecessary obstacles for many of the fisher folk and making the things seem not as attractive as it should be, but I’ll find out more. Maybe the minister will explain more when he speaks, the Minister of Agriculture.
Mr. Speaker, Madam Speaker, sorry. Government said that they got a loan from the ALBA Bank and they’re using that to finance the solidarity fishing fleet. That’s where the name comes from. There was an article that was published in iWitness News about the program, and I’ll read some of it, Madam Speaker, because it gives the context as to what is the intention for the industry going forward. He said, “The $4 million,” this is quoting him in the paper, “will go to our solidarity fishing fleet expansion, which will address the challenges to supply that we will begin having because there’s so much demand from Rainforest Seafood, with the facility in Bequia and the facility in Owia, with the new hotels that are being built, and we have the demand for fish growing faster than the number of fishermen.”
And then he says, “So we have been doing a lot of consultation,” this is the minister of Finance here now, “in the market. There are some industrial vessels, up to $800,000 U.S. that can harvest 120,000 pounds.” Obviously that’s not for the local fisher folk here. “And there are others that are $300,000 that can have us up to 700,000 pounds of lobster annually and can do tuna and snapper fishing.” Then he goes on to say, “The important thing now, as fishing and the blue economy is reaching a new phase, is education and training as well as capacity.” He said that the government plans to get experienced captains to work on these vessels and then train Vincentians.
So maybe he can clarify who are these captains. Are these going to be foreign captains? Are these going to be people who will operate the boats on behalf of the government? The government is now going to own a fishing fleet. They’re going to be the most advanced part of the fishing industry and the rest of the fisher folk are going to continue to do their business in pirogues and try as best they can to make investments from loans in bigger boats if they can manage it. And then the government says, when they pay off the loans they’re going to lease them out or sell them to local fisher folk. Well, where is the capital to do that going to come from? That has always been the bottleneck. They don’t have the means to do it, Madam Speaker.
So this needs to be rethought, and the government has to start from the proposition that the industry goes forward with the fisher folk, that you have an organic development of the fisher folk in the industry, not just you have an export problem that you have created and then suddenly the local fisher folk aren’t good enough to meet it. So we have to invent or create a new fishing industry that is owned by government with captains we don’t know where from and the fisher folk are then hired as deckhands and workers on the vessels. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, Madam Speaker. You can go, as I said earlier, go to Petite Martinique and you can find out how the government are going to do it. And it’s from assistance that they receive and they have grown. And now these fellas, they’re selling their boats to buy bigger boats and so forth. So many local guys in Bequia, they’re looking to see maybe they could buy these smaller boats from PM. Yeah.
So the government’s plan for the fishing industry, Madam Speaker, it seems to me it is wrong-headed because it sidelines the existing fisher folk and those who might follow in the usual way and fails to take into account the most important component in the development process. And that is the people who are in the industry. We must, Madam Speaker, engage the local fisher folk as the primary stakeholders in the industry and steadily develop their capacity and ultimately the capacity of the industry, not some overnight fix because you have created an overnight problem. They are tired, Madam Speaker, the fisher folk, of promises, promises, promises, and nothing is being delivered.
Another component, Madam Speaker, of the blue economy is the yachting sector. This is addressed on page 15 of the budget under tourism, but unfortunately not much is said. In the Caribbean, we are the envy of all of the Caribbean countries when it comes to yachting. Nowhere is it better, probably one of the best in the world. The Grenadines are famous worldwide, yet we have witnessed over the years a decline, and then in the last year or so before the pandemic it seems to be gradually increasing. But we have lost so much ground over the last 15 years, Madam Speaker.
In my contribution to the debate on the estimates, I gave my views as to how important this industry is and certainly from my constituency, and I do remember for certain Grenadines as well. It is a major pillar of the local economy. But we need, of course, to have better security underwater. I said that last month and gave some examples of things that were happening that need to be stamped out. And in our bays, we need to have security there as well to make yachties feel safe and welcome. That’s as much as I would see here at that point, Madam Speaker, on that aspect of this.
What we need to do, Madam Speaker, we have to have a plan. First, we have to have the belief that we can recover the lost ground and our leadership role in the OECS when it comes to yachting. St. Vincent and the Grenadines used to be far and way ahead of even Antigua, St. Lucia, Grenada. Now St. Lucia and Grenada have gone ahead of us in terms of arrivals, in terms of activity. Well, we have to have a plan to get there. You can’t just simply wish that it would happen. Back in 2002, the government increased the fees dramatically on yachts coming in. That had a terrible effect. A lot of yachts stayed away because it’s not that they oppose paying the fees, it’s that they felt that the fees were being paid, but no services were being provided in return. There was no security. There were still not going to be any better services from the authorities. And so we lost ground there.
We have to believe we can get it back and devise a plan to do so and execute the plan. But there’s nothing in this budget, Madam Speaker, the minister has spoken about, how that is going to be done. Not even at least sketch a note so that the minister of tourism, if he knows what he’s talking about, could then flesh something out. [inaudible 01:39:36].
Yacht tourism, Madam Speaker, is a big income earner. In fact, it’s one of the biggest income earners because unlike cruise tourism, the yachts that sit in the bay is a small boat you want to get off. You go on the island, you go to eat at a restaurant, you go in a bar, you drink, you make friends and so forth. You have to wash your laundry. You go and you get them done there. You have to go fix your sail. You’re going to get one of the guys, the sailmakers and so on to do it for you. You want a little varnishing work to do, you hire a couple of guys on the land to do it. There’s a lot of ways in which you can make… Ice, vegetables, food, all of those things used to be provided. But that industry has suffered so much. You don’t see it anymore.
The chandlery shops, I remember when they first returned here from Canada. There were so many of those shops in Bequia, Bosun’s Locker, Max Marine, various other places, bigger ones. And they have all, Madam Speaker, shrunk or gone out of business because we’ve lost so much of the yachts. The yachts now, they go to Grenada for provisioning. They don’t come here. And that is where you’re making money. So we need to have a plan to do it. The services used to have chandlery shops to buy their parts and so forth, sailmaking, the boat buoys, restaurants, general shopping and all of those things. We should aim to be the leader in the OECS again. And I believe we can get there and it would be down to our benefit. It’s not just being the leader for the point of standing up in a soapbox, like you want to be the leader for that reason. That is not some sort of a trophy that you wear. This is something that is there to benefit the community so that we can have more yachts coming and more people profiting from it.
Think of innovative programs that can be used to attract yachts here, to get them to stay longer. Don’t treat them as somehow they are suspicious people that you have to try and get rid of when their six weeks are up and the immigration permit, whatever it is, expires, they have to go out of the country and come back and so forth. When they go, they might not come back. They might keep sailing and go to Grenada or go to St. Lucia. So what I suggest, Madam Speaker, is a program that we could think of implementing, and one I certainly will give serious thought to, and is a program to provide cruisers, those people who live on their yachts-
We want to provide cruisers, those people who lived on their yachts of a certain net worth to be granted temporary residence to Saint St. Vincent on their boat. And they come here and they can use this as their base, and so they will come back here, do their provisioning, make their friends, this is their home away from home, but they live on their boat. And these are people who are … they’re retired, they have some income, they’re not coming there to take anything from anybody. All they’re doing is spending. But to do that we also have to have security in the areas where they would be. I can think of places like Wallilabou, Cumberland, Port Elizabeth, down in Mayreau, yes, Mayreau and Union Island and so forth. But think about that Madam Speaker.
That is a way to get them to think of us differently, to think of us not just as a place you stop at, but this is home as well, and this is a place where they will tell their friends to come and meet them and so forth. And we have a better rapport. We get rid of some of those bad vibes that you used to get when the government introduced and tripled the fees on yachts or when you hear stories of invasion, yacht invasions that take place. People go on aboard, and boarding yachts, and robbing people. These are things that we can do to counteract that. Another program, Madam Speaker, that we need to get involved in in a big way, and to encourage, the government had money to do it, is to have new marinas built in this country. In Grenada, they have, I don’t know, it must be 9, 10, 11. To have marinas built so that the boats can come and get services available.
We should put the same or greater emphasis on getting these things established so we can reclaim that industry as we are doing now, for example, to create med space hotel rooms, and so on, in the mainland, which is critically important as well. But we can do both things at the same time so we don’t get left behind further, Madam Speaker, you just have to talk to one of the guys who operate boats around here. They’ll tell you the difference in the attitude, and in the services, and in the vibe, and the activity, and so on, that you see going on in Grenade and Saint Lucia as compared to what’s happening here in Saint Vincent. So let’s get with the program, Madam Speaker. Those are two ideas that maybe they’ll make it into the estimates and the budget next year.
Madam Speaker, I come back to another subject matter under … there’s two hours left, right? More than that. Madam Speaker, the Ottley Hall Marina and Shipyard is part of what we call a blue economy. Remember I was thinking at some point the minister, because he defined, as well, blue economy broadly, that he might say, “Okay, pull it in somehow and talk about what the plans are for it.” But if the government, it doesn’t know what to do with Ottley Hall, because there is nothing again in the estimates for repairing it right up, which is the prize facility at that center. I know you tell me people walk in there and so forth. Well, people walk in there [inaudible 01:45:39] Ottley Hall is not a store room. They don’t have any money in the estimate to repair the dry dock, so it means that things will continue to be the same, they will continue to rust, they’ll continue to decay.
I spoke to a gentleman who has a yacht down there. He was doing some repairs a few weeks ago. And I mean he was just so … I can’t use the language, Madam Speaker, in this honorable house, but disappointment doesn’t quite catch it at what is happening there when he saw the state of dereliction and disrepair in that facility knowing the potential of it. I think it’s just not that they don’t know the potential, that’s the government, is that they don’t care. It was wrecked under this administration. I mean wrecked. And the ministers, the chuckle about it that this is a small matter. Remember what I said at the beginning when Sir James and the NDP conceived of this project, there’s nothing wrong with the way in which the project was conceived. When they conceived of it, it was as a way of diversifying the economy of the country. That’s how important it was. And this thing never makes, never features anywhere in the planning of the government. It is as though it does not exist. How can that possibly happen?
Right now Ottley Hall operates as a storage facility for all kinds of things. It’s a warehouse and a dump for water tanks that they should be given to people to use rather than leaving them there to deteriorate and get squashed out of shape. I know some people could use them. It wasn’t built as a warehouse, it wasn’t built as a dump, it wasn’t built as a junkyard. Maybe it pleases some people to see it reduced to that, but that is not what is there. It’s a public facility. The covered dry dock was left to rust away, and it fell apart. This happened about four years ago. Nothing has been done since. When the members of this government, when we’re in opposition, they use the Ottley Hall facility as a political football. And then when the time came to do something about it, when they came into government, they couldn’t change. They just continued with the old habit of kicking it. Kicking it about. Kicking the hell out of it.
They want do it more quietly now, but needs to be done. We know that the facility can produce over a hundred skilled jobs, and then ancillary services. But this government, they took the goose that laid the golden egg, they plucked its feathers, they consumed its body, not caring that they were destroying a much more valuable purpose for the thing in the process. I have to use some sort of metaphor, Madam Speaker, because I talk about this thing so many times, and I get no response from the government, except they want to pretend that it doesn’t exist, but it’s there. So we have to find different ways in which to present this. So we will have to fix it up when we get there, Madam Speaker. And we know that there are enough boats right here, our merchant fleet, our boats, there’re enough of them. And when we expand the tuna fleet, and the fishing vessels, there’ll be enough there to keep Ottley Hall busy all year round. And there’ll be jobs created.
And then the ferries, they wouldn’t have to go off to Grenada just to get the bottoms of the boats cleaned and painted as the Fast Ferry had to do not so long ago. Or go all the way to Trinidad when you need to do repairs to your rudder or your propeller or do any serious work. So those are things, Madam Speaker, that can generate real income for this country. Jobs, skilled jobs. Electricians, welders, divers, painters, carpenters. These are jobs that people could be well paid for. It could also be used as a training facility to work alongside the TVET centers or the schools, the technical college so that people can get hands-on experience. You could send some of your onsite students there. But no, we know nothing will happen, and they will continue … the boats will continue to go to Grenada and to Trinidad, and the facility will continue to rust away.
Madam Speaker, I want to turn to deal a bit with tourism. The minister spoke about tourism as the urgent need to develop hotel capacity on the mainland. I don’t disagree with that assessment. It’s obvious. But that doesn’t mean, Madam Speaker, that … well let’s put it [inaudible 01:52:17]. The way he says is that somehow people were mocking him when he says that they could double the room stock on the mainland. I don’t know who was mocking him, because [inaudible 01:52:27] said from the very beginning that that is the only thing that’ll make Argyle pay, eventually, is if you have room stock here on the mainland. You have to get people to come here. And when they come, not just one plane that fill up all your hotels, you have to have places that people can stay. You have three or four planes land at the same time. So again, don’t try to characterize us in that wave. That is who … reference you were making was to the opposition.
But the need to expand that doesn’t mean that you have to fall in bed with every scoundrel that comes around. You still have to be selective, and do your due diligence on the people who are doing this investment. If the Buccament project and David Ames didn’t teach us anything … Buccament project and David Ames who, I think, now is serving time, if that didn’t teach us, we didn’t learn from that. That you have to be very selective, still, even when you have that impetus that you have to make sure you check your due diligence of these people to say that they’ve been involved in the hotel industry like Sandals, for example. Or that they have capital to put into the project, not just that they’re coming to sell some nice pictures and get somebody to invest their pension in it and so forth, and by a dream. You want sound investors.
Madam Speaker, the minister said, at page 16 … let me see if I find it. There. He said, Madam Speaker, that the Black Sands and … what was the other one called? Royal Mill, yes. No, no, no. I’m not calling them. No, you don’t try to put words in my mouth. I don’t bad-mouth people. Madam Speaker, the point is that he said that my comment was … that we still have to make sure that we have the persons who are investing that they have to be sound. What we have seen now with the Black Sands project is that there have been interminable delays.
I remember one time I was in his house, and I asked the former minister of tourism, who has left this house two years now, and he said, “By six months time we’re going to have a couple of the places are going to be done, and they’re going to be doing the others.” And I look at him and I say, “You can’t be serious. You see what’s happening over there?” And he said, “Yes, man, they’re going to do it. They tell me so.” I said, “They tell you so. So you believe that?” Well, you have to keep your eyes open. I mean, quite frankly, I am skeptical now about the claim that this is going to continue, and that they’re going to continue to do the investments, on the timeframe that you are suggesting, or at all. Too many promises have been made and we can’t be made to be looking like fools or to look desperate otherwise people think they could take advantage of this country.
So in that project, in particular, I know that they got land bought from the government at a very, very reasonable price. I know they would’ve gotten concessions from government, so we have a stake in it, we made investments in it, and they must be made to deliver. You can’t just continue pushing it down the road and giving all kinds of excuses. The Marriott at Mount Wynne. You say that that is going to be … no wonder I can’t find it. I’m using the wrong [inaudible 01:56:49]. No, I’m using the wrong budget. Last year’s budget. The Marriott, yes, was built … he said it will be built in 2024, so after 2023. Well, we have heard that before too. Huh? It will be built. It will begin in 2023. We have heard that before. We have heard [inaudible 01:57:13] to that effect before. So I will believe it when I see it. Yes.
I hope that it will start, because I too want this project to succeed. I want jobs to come for our people. I want to have planes coming in at Argyle. I want the country to prosper. So there’s no wishing ill on this project by any means, but I have a question, in any event. Even if it begins in the first quarter of 2023, in the first half of 2023 … you’re pushing your time back like if it really matters [inaudible 01:58:04]. The first half of 2023. Yet still, the question is this, the question is this. The minister said that they have $50 million that they have raised, and they had to do redesigns and all of that. I don’t know. Sounds a little technical to me. But $50 million to build a 250 room hotel that Marriott would be interested in, that doesn’t sound like a lot of money. So where is the rest of the financing coming from? Read the budget. So the developer, the new developer is coming whose name you haven’t mentioned, they have the additional financing.
I thought [inaudible 01:58:51] financing and managing the construction process, so they’re going to be building it and financing it. All right. I suppose we’ll wait and see. The Holiday Inn at Diamond. In the budget. The minister says that the Holiday Inn at Diamond … let me read it to you. It says, by the end of 2023, the room stock, this is at page 16, on the isle of Saint Vincent will expand to over 425 rooms with the completion of Holiday Inn Express and Suites at Diamond, and Myah Luxury Suites. So the plan is that the Holiday Inn will be completed in 2023. Well, I don’t know. I mean this … how far have we reached with the project? How far have you reached with the project? Is that single story building out of plywood? Well, I want to see. I want to see, but I am again skeptical. If it could happen, well so be it. I will hold you to that.
Madam Speaker, the other question I have with respect to this Holiday Inn, however, is the one that is related to another issue that we’ve been discussing here in this honorable house. Very, very important issue, and that is we were told that the National Insurance Service is an equity partner in the development of the resort. To what extent? What is the extent of the investment? And is that a prudent sort of investment for a facility that now says it has liquidity problems when you don’t know when there’s going to be a return on a hotel facility?
This is … it’s not a loan. If it doesn’t pay off, the NIS has had to take its loss like anybody, like the other partners. And I am, Madam Speaker, concerned about that, because of the current discussions we’re hearing about the NIS. That what they need is cash and liquidity. The minster himself, when he discussed the issue yesterday, he said that the NIS had to draw down from reserves to continue to pay benefits, and one of the options they may have to do is to liquidate property. That is the Juicy building or land that they have somewhere here on the mainland. Invest in the property. All right. Well, you could invest in the property or you could sell it and get cash fast. Well, I don’t know how you’re invest in if you’re cash strapped, and to put money into it, and then get the return back over slow. The intention probably, most likely, would be to get money fast and to sell.
And as the same [inaudible 02:02:10] comes with land, I’m told that they have land in Bequia as well. How did NIS come to own these properties? Anyway, that’s a question we’ll discuss later. But the point is I want some clarification about the equity investment given the concerns that people have quite legitimately about the state of the NIS finances now, and why the board would’ve thought that this is a good investment. Convince me. I’m a skeptic in this regard. And I must tell you that [inaudible 02:02:39] Arnhim Eustace, because he was somebody whose word on this issue, and I’ll get to that later, was … you could go to the bank on it, because he took this matter very, very seriously, and took the interest of the policyholders paramount of everything else, above everything else.
Madam Speaker, I want to move now and comment about healthcare in the country. My friend from, my colleague from West Kingstown, he really took an interest when I mentioned that, because this is a matter close to his heart, and I know he has a lot to say on this as well. But there is so much, there scope for everybody, because healthcare in this country has been very, very poor. I heard the minister talk about a healthcare revolution. You can’t be serious. The horror stories are familiar to most of us, thank you, but we can’t get used to them, Madam Speaker. Health is one of the closest things to you. You have to try and improve as time goes on. We don’t have to accept that bad healthcare is just the way things are in St. Vincent and Grenadines. When you get sick you go somewhere else. We deserve better.
The minister will say that we have invested in the budget. This estimates $110 million, directly, in the health services. A hundred million in recurrent expenditures and 9.4 million for capital expenditure. Yet there is chronic shortage of basic medicine for common diseases. Bandages and supplies often are not available, and I know this from people who are there, been there recently, leaving family members to scour all over Kingstown to try to find a pharmacy that have the medication. We have had a scarcity or a lack of critical diagnostic equipment. But the minister said, and I’m happy to hear, that an MRI machine and CT scan are coming to help with that problem. The question is, of course, to make sure that they function, you have the technicians, and they work, because we had a CT scan here too and sometimes you go there and they tell you it isn’t working, even with extra machines.
So we have to make sure we take care of those problems. You can’t … Madam Speaker, especially a little person coming from North Leeward or coming up from Southern Grenadines, to go and get a procedure. And when you get to the hospital, instead of them calling before, they say, “Well sorry, the machine is done.” Or, “The technician didn’t come in today,” and you have catch water and go back down or a van, go back to North Leeward [inaudible 02:05:59]. That is unconscionable. I see that they have this patient bill of rights or whatever you call it in the hospital, stick up there, that means nothing if the people who are administering the institution don’t take it to heart themselves. The patients could read it and grumble, and who they complain to? You have an ombudsman to your parliamentary representative who’s in the opposition. We have to do better than that.
Mr. Speaker, very often you have to have, for persons who need to have surgery or diagnostic intervention, currently you have to go overseas. Another friend of mine went to Grenada for MRI. Some people go to Barbados or to Trinidad. Or if you have to have surgery still, they do. The delays can cause a lot of pain and anxiety for people. We understand that the complex surgeries, brain surgery, heart surgery, those kinds of thing, organ transplants or serious technical advanced kind of surgeries and so forth, that you have to still go abroad. We’ll never be able to do those things here, because we just don’t have the numbers to justify that. But we should put facilities in place to make sure we can get access to them. So we must improve, Madam Speaker. The question is how do people find the money to pay for these services. The minister sort of teases. Somebody said that there was some plan or some, what was it, discussion going on as to how the financing arrangements were going to be made. The suggestion was that there was going to be perhaps user fees.
But currently what happens is that somebody gets sick, and you get treatment with us here or overseas. If people have to go and they beg their MP, they come to my office or some of the members on this side and members on my team, they are very generous and try to help people as best they can in their limited resources. I would hope the members on the other side do likewise. But similarly, Madam Speaker, they go to businesses, they get charities or they have food sale, barbecue sale, to try and raise funds to go get treatment. And you may do that the first time, but what happens if you have to go back? You have to go through the process again. That is not acceptable.
Madam Speaker, it’s very hard to hear someone who comes for assistance, because they need a diagnosis, and they have a life-threatening illness or they need to get intervention, whether it’s surgery or some of the treatment, and they have to go overseas. Barbados, Trinidad, maybe even Cuba before the analysis and treatment. And you ask them, you say, “Well, when are you going?” And they reply, well, they don’t know because they have to raise their money to go. And this comes in dribs and drabs, a little contribution here and there. People go around with sponsor sheets trying to get, because their life is on the line. That’s unacceptable. The number of such cases might be statistically not large, but they’re significant.
And in any event, Madam Speaker, any event, healthcare is not a numbers game. It’s not a numbers game. Every single life is precious and matters, especially to the owner of it, and to their family members. So we need to do better. Let’s see. Madam Speaker, the functioning of the CT scan and the MRI that the minister spoke of, how will that all work out. And again, the question that I ask is that not just having the machine but having the maintenance, having the technical people, the staff, and so forth, to make sure it functions the way it’s supposed to. Not sometimes and not others. The acute referral hospital. You will note that the NDP in the campaign, we talked about building a modern purpose-built hospital to serve our people, and they ridiculed it. Madam Speaker, they find a picture somewhere on the internet and they say, “Oh, this is Farmville. The people of St Vincent and the Grenadines don’t deserve this.”
And then it took them a little while to come up with their own idea. They say, “Well, listen, this is something. The NDP may have had a good plan there, but let me come up with something else. We’ll call it not a hospital, an acute referral hospital. Call it something different. It’s part of a bigger plan.” But we understand, the people understand that this is what we proposed, because we know that people of this country deserve better healthcare. So call it whatever you will. I am happy to see that the initiative that we proposed that is being taken up by this government, because it will benefit the people of this country. But there are two questions I want.
I looked at some of the … what the minister said, some of the services that would be provided there at page 37 of the estimate. He says the acute … this is at page 37, midway down the page. The acute care hospital will provide for a variety of services including trauma care, acute care, surgery, urgent care, critical care, emergency medicine, in-patient stabilization, and outpatient care. And it will have a full range of allied health services required to support diagnostic treatment and rehabilitative interventions, including medical laboratory technology, radiography, pharmacy, audiology, optometry, physical therapy, psychology and social work. Madam Speaker, one of the things in this country, and it seems that it’s continued to be reflected here, that we have not done well is take care of persons who have mental illness. We do not provide and treat them in the same way that we do somebody with some other physical illness that you think you can cure.
And again, in this modern facility, there’s no reference here to psychiatric care. And there ought to be, Madam Speaker, an intention in the part of government and in our people, and the ministers talked about our Christian duty to one another in all of this stuff. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and we need to make sure that we have facilities in place, not just to warehouse them, to get them out of our sight, but to treat them and to treat them with dignity as human beings, and a psychiatric care should be a part of this facility. We don’t have a psychiatric unit or ward. The facility we have now doesn’t function in that way. And you guys know better than me what it’s about.
Madam Speaker, healthcare is not just about a building. Of course, that’s a necessity. It’s not just about equipment. That too is a necessity. It’s not just about skilled surgeons and nurses and doctors and dedicated workers. Those are all important. There is accessibility and affordability. The question is, how are people going to access these services? How are we going to pay for them? How are they going to pay for them? I went through the examples of people selling, having bake sale, and barbecue, and so forth, to raise funds to take care of their urgent medical needs. But sometimes it comes down to, Madam Speaker, just having something to be done locally. But we need to have a mechanism to finance the operation of these facilities, of the healthcare services, in a sustainable way, and at the same time provide access to our people to those services. And I believe, Madam Speaker, that the time has come for us to seriously consider, and the moment is right, a national health insurance service in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
This service will greatly enhance basic healthcare and it will improve accessibility. And why do I say, Madam Speaker, that this is a timely moment? You hear me contextualizing my comments and our discussion as to the forward thrust of our country in a certain way post-COVID, people’s mindset and so forth, that was not just idle talk, it is all part of shaping our approach to how we deal with problems. We don’t just think incrementally, sometimes you have to make a shift and do something transformative. This is something that will be transformative to the healthcare system of our country. The International Labor Organization in its flagship report, it’s called World Social Protection Report 2020-2022. This is what it says, Madam Speaker, it supports the contention that I was making just now. It says this on the executive summary on page one, and this can be found at the ILO website. The ILO or International Labor Organization is an arm of the United Nations, very highly respected and they did this to assess social programs, social protection systems, to make people enhance their quality of life, and so forth.
But this is what it says, “Countries are at a crossroads with regard to the trajectory of their social protection systems. If there is a silver lining to this crisis,” meaning COVID, “it is the potent reminder it has provided of the critical importance of investing in social protection; yet many countries also face significant fiscal constraints. This report shows that nearly all countries, irrespective of their level of development, have a choice, whether to pursue a high-road strategy of investing in reinforcing their social protection systems or a low-road strategy of minimalist provision, succumbing to fiscal and political pressures. Countries can use the policy window prised open by the pandemic and build on their crisis-response measures to strengthen their social protection systems and progressively close protection gaps in order to ensure that everyone is protected against both systemic shocks and ordinary life-cycle risks.”
Let us, Madam Speaker, not go for the low-road strategy. This is a time for us to think a bit bigger, to think better, to go forward out of this and create a better environment. The minister, even in his own comments at page 47, he says, “Social protection and development, as a matter of political principle and Christian duty,” very high-minded, “this government is motivated by its obligation to assist the children, the elderly, the sick, the poor and the vulnerable people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Never before,” and he’s recognizing the importance of the pandemic now, “never before was adherence to that principle more sternly tested and more clearly demonstrated than during the challenges of the recent pandemic, volcano eruption, and hurricane.”
And you could go on to read the rest of what he says there, Madam Speaker, but what it suggests to me, and he goes on on the other page, he says, “In meeting those challenges, in doing so we have to reimagine what is possible and what is most impactful in maintaining social protection and spurring social development across St. Vincent and the Grenadines.” Madam Speaker, those comments seem to fit very well with the opportunity that the ILO has said was prised open by the pandemic. For us to look beyond just simply saying, “Okay, we’re going to build a nice hospital, we can put these MRI and these services just like we have done with providing dialysis.” The service is there, but people can’t afford it.
So, how are we going to pay for it? I use a fee system that is being suggested. It seems to me it’s shortsighted because all that does… And the ILO in its own report says that that is not the way to go. You have to have a system which is, and I’ll find it, what it says on page five, “Social health protection.” It says, “Collective financing, broad risk-pooling, and rights-based entitlements are key conditions for supporting effective access to healthcare for all in a shock-responsive manner.” And if anything demonstrated that it was the pandemic because when somebody they thought might have been infected, they didn’t ask if they have health insurance, they made sure they responded because it was not just protecting that individual, it was protecting the community.
So, we are going to go back now to the individualism as simply saying, every man for himself. Go under the almond tree and have your bake sale and your sponsorship to try to find money to get treatment. When some of us have means or have private health insurance or can find a facility abroad that’ll take us for free, and the rest of the county’s left behind? It’s time, Madam Speaker, that we transcend that model and move forward to provide quality healthcare for all the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. National health insurance exists all over the world, it spreads the risks so that all the participants, they make a contribution, the healthy pay for the sick, and in this thing, at some point, you will get sick or you will get injured, so you will call upon the system.
Madam Speaker, the National Health Insurance Program is something whose time has come. It had been proposed back in 1999. In fact, the New Democratic Party had a very detailed and comprehensive study done by the Health Economics Unit from the University of the West Indies, which came up with a comprehensive plan for that program so we don’t have to start from scratch. They went into things like what was being covered, how they’re going to collect the money, who would be covered. And the rule was you were covered, all citizens and residents from birth to death, and that everybody was included. Those who were working, those who were self-employed would be made mandatory to contributions and government would have to assist those who are not and find other ways to fund it.
Because the whole point of the system is to make sure that everybody has a basic level of healthcare, irrespective of your wealth and circumstance. And that is what is necessary, Madam Speaker, to transcend it. Health is wealth, we pay lip service to it. If we believe a healthy population will make this country stronger and wealthier, then this is an investment in that. Presently, Madam Speaker, a poor person who gets sick and needs treatment, maybe have to go abroad, they have to go and beg for assistance. And the argument is that you can’t afford it.
They say, “Oh this is a national healthcare plan where people get these services and you can’t afford it.” Just think about what that means when you say you can’t afford it. This is not like buying a car, where you say you buy a Toyota or you buy something more expensive depending on your means. You get sick, you get sick, you don’t choose to get sick. So, when you say you can’t afford it, what you’re saying basically is that some people will get care and those who can’t look after themselves, they will die. That is cruel, inhumane.
It is not where we should be in this time in our modern democratic country of progressive values, and as the minister put it, Christian values. Anyone can get sick or injured and eventually everyone does. So, somebody has to pay to provide the treatment and it is better if as the ILO recommends that we have a pooling of resources so that everyone could contribute a little, and then when you need it is there for you. We all know what the benefits of better healthcare is, so I don’t need to have to preach to you on that. But the question is how do we get there? And one component of it is providing this service. The next is making sure it’s accessible to everybody, not just those who can afford to pay because they happen to have a job.
Unemployment in this country is 25%. Youth unemployment is 40-something percent. The elderly people, that means that most of the people in the country will not have healthcare. So, I was telling you, Madam Speaker, this was well studied by the health economics unit at the University of the West Indies and presented to the NP and I’m told it was also presented to this present government and after two decades they have not done anything with it. So, they obviously don’t think this is important for the transformation of healthcare in the country and for the development and the social protection of the people of this country.
Because if they did, if they had thought that they would’ve done something over the past two decades that they’ve been in office. What is more too, Madam Speaker, I am told that this program is well-received and well-supported throughout the country. That people would be willing to contribute three cents or four cents from every dollar they earn in order to ensure that they have that there when they become ill. But I give you a commitment that the NDP in office will do it. We will complete that process that was started back in 1999, 2000.
The plan has a governance structure. But let me just tell you something, Madam Speaker, the idea that was proposed, from my understanding, is that you’d have an agency under which you’d have the National Health Insurance Program and the NIS and then the overarching agency essentially would have these as two divisions with different managers or directors and somebody running the thing from the top. And a board, of course, that each of those institutions would have to advise and direct their business. And there’s so many things, Madam Speaker, that had already been done for that work. The legislative framework, the governance structure, all of those things have been worked out and if they need tweaking now we can do so. But it would be a shame, Madam Speaker, to have that there and simply say that we are not going to do anything about it.
The benefits package that they proposed included for primary care, health promotion, private doctor’s visits, healthcare services, district hospital services, home nursing services, a defined list of pharmaceuticals, lab tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, and now MRI and CT scan will be added. School health services, dental care, vision care, mental health care, institutional public geriatric services. And in secondary services, you have public hospitalization, all services, emergency care at public hospitals, complex diagnostic services which will be done upon referral, and specialist ambulatory care. So, these are some of the things, Madam Speaker, that the program intends to cover. These are the things that affect most people. We know that when you need to get triple heart bypass surgery, you have to go to Trinidad maybe, or Miami. But for these things, that’s what affects most people and the quality of life will be so much better. It is really overdue. And this is the time, Madam Speaker, the window, the ILO said, has been pried open and we should be looking and thinking outside the box as the things that we can do to ensure that our people don’t go back to being where they were.
Where healthcare. Madam Speaker, there’s this lady who became a friend of mine that needed dialysis treatment and she’d come to us for assistance I provided, and then a couple of weeks later again and so forth and I said, “Well, what are some of the challenges that you have confronted?” And although this dialysis has been provided by the center out in Georgetown and she had been told that she owes a bill of something like $14,000. So, I said, “Just go and get the treatment. This is life or death. You don’t let them turn you away if you can’t pay $14,000.”
And eventually, Madam Speaker, there were certain ancillary things that she needed. She couldn’t afford them. And then she died. Madam Speaker, the other persons who have to go to Georgetown, this is something that’s going to be added to the package, to go to Georgetown for dialysis treatment. And so, someone could barely walk, she was going in a van. I said, “Where are you going?” Because I know she was a [inaudible 02:32:23] and she said she’s going to Georgetown, “So how are you going to go in a van? You can barely walk?” That’s where she had to go to get the dialysis.
So, I asked a friend of mine who is a taxi driver, he took her there. But he has to be paid, I mean, it’s $250 return by taxi. Yes. So, those things have to be factored in as well, transportation costs. So, these are things, Madam Speaker, that we have to ensure that we don’t just have the service available and that’s why I use that example. But we have to make sure that they are available and accessible. And accessibility becomes affordability. And that comes, Madam Speaker, from having a pooled means of contribution to sustain it, not individual user fees.
Madam Speaker, I wish to say something about the National Insurance Service because this is a subject matter that is on people’s lips and quite rightly so because it affects their well-being. But I won’t be very long on it. It’s been in the news and we know because of statements that were made recently by the Executive Director, Mr. Haynes, and some government ministers and people are aware of the importance of the NIS because that is, I think Mr. Haynes, in one of his interviews or statements he made public, he said 85% of NIS pensioners said that is their only source of income.
So, if something happens to the NIS where they can’t rely on that income and people have this still in the back of their minds and know what happened with CLICO and BACOL, that these institutions that seem to be built on granite can just evaporate, turn to dust. So, they’re concerned about what is the state of affairs at the National Insurance Service. It is there to provide not only for retirement but maternity leave, income, injury income, death benefits. If we didn’t have that, Madam Speaker, you can see from the statement made by the Executive Director is that people will be much more vulnerable and they will live more precariously without that.
Madam Speaker, I recall that on numerous occasions in this honorable house and on radio and certainly sometimes in discussions with us when we are having meetings and in preparation for parliament with other issues, the Honorable [inaudible 02:35:45] used to speak passionately about the critical importance of the NIS and the need to keep its affairs insulated from politics or meddling so that it’s run professionally to ensure its long-term viability. He preached, Madam Speaker, that management of the NIS in investments, loans, and the programs, the benefits it gets, must put the policyholders first.
And he used to like to tell this story when there was a request to lend funds from the NIS to a certain institution by the NV government. And he said, “No, this is not in the interest of the NIS.” And to his credit, he said Sir James accepted that advice or that decision.
So, Madam Speaker, you can’t have a system that is tainted by any kind of interference. I want us just because I like to back up what I say, read something from the hand side for January 11th, 2001. It was the debate of a different bill. It was a pension bill. It is where the government had introduced a measure to repeal, a measure that had essentially made public service pensions for persons coming in on the 1st of January 1993. They were no longer eligible for public service pension, they would just have the NIS pension, and that had been in the law for some time. But during that time there was disturbance and the government of the day withdrew that measure so that it went back to what it was before. That was the debate that was being dealt with here. But if you read the hand side, it went way beyond that to deal with other questions of the public service. But here in the NIS, I’ll let you read what Mr. Usta said then.
He said… How far should I go? Madam Speaker, he says, “We have had a lively and informative debate on this particular issue. In summing up the debate. Mr. Speaker, just a couple of issues I would like to respond to enforce of these Mr. Speaker”. I’m just reading what he said here. “Relates to the statement partly made by the [inaudible 02:38:39] that was Mr. Beach, the honorable Vincent Beach, in which, rightly, he claimed paternity for the NIS. As a matter of fact, he said all the things I am proud about are things that were brought about by the Labor Party.”
“Well, Mr. Speaker, if that is the case, I don’t see anything wrong with it. What I do know is that the NDP came into office in 1984 and the NIS on the 5th of January 1987.” And somebody tried to interrupt him and he said, “No, no, no, just let me finish. Don’t put judge me.” “Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge the paternity is embryonic.” Maybe that was what the interruption was about. “In its most embryonic stages but for the last period, 1987 to 2000, the new Democratic Party government created the environment and the management arrangements under which this successful scheme has operated.”
“It is all good and well”, and I didn’t know Uses had a sense of humor. “Mr. Speaker, to claim paternity, several people in this country claim paternity, but who minds the baby? Who minds the baby? And I am saying, Mr. Speaker, in the case of that baby that has been brought to the stage of competent adulthood under the new Democratic Party government, indeed it has become such a success that we now have visits from other schemes in the area who in some instances preceded us coming to learn from the operations of the National Insurance Scheme of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
And further over, Madam Speaker, he was addressing here the obtaining of benefits and how long it takes you to recover all the contributions you make and so forth. And what it takes to maintain the integrity of the system. So, he says, “So there is nowhere or meaning no way, Mr. Speaker, indeed the only way to ensure that the scheme remains viable requires a maximization of our investment yield or the yield on our investment income. And I think we should not lose sight of that particular fact.” He never lost sight of it, Madam Speaker. And it’s something that I take from a lesson from him in respect to the importance of this institution.
More and more when I’m speaking day by day, the comments and the concerns of Mr. Uses become more relevant and present in their wisdom. Some on the government side often discussed or dismissed his suggestions of maintaining proper fiscal discipline and management discipline in running the financial affairs of the country. Say too cautious, anti-poor, darken austerity, spending money is for poor people who are doing it for, nevermind the poor people have to come back and clean up the mess eventually when they have to pay taxes. Or in the case what they’re proposing for the NIS here is they may have to pay higher contributions.
The comments recently of the Executive Director where he was suggesting that you may have to have Draconian measures needed. And this is published in the-
Not Chinese, just Draconian. That was published in Eyewitness News on November 24th. I thought I had a copy of it. I don’t seem to have it now.
But in any event, Madam Speaker, what is suggested there is that if reforms were not made before 2024, that these measures have been taken. By Draconian, he meant that contribution rates he said may have to go up from 10 to 20% as high as and that you may have to have other measures in place as well. So, this is why there’s this continuing discussion now about what to do with the NIS. The question you have to ask yourself is how did the NIS get to this point to where such Draconian measures may be part of the conversation? How? What is the state of the NIS reserves?
The minister said in his presentation last night that the NIS had to draw down on its reserve to maintain payments of benefits. Now ideally I’m told that this is something that you don’t want to do. It’s there for that purpose if necessary. But what you want to have in place is that you have contributions and investment income that helps to carry the program going forward. And then of course your administration costs have to be kept in check to make sure that it doesn’t exceed what is considered to be reasonable in the circumstances and sustainable by the institution. So, what is the state of the reserves of the NIS?
Prudentially, 10 to 15 years of reserves, that is to say, 10 times what it would take to maintain the program for a year that you would have that going forward as reserves for the institution or 12 times, 15 times. And that is considered to be a prudent yardstick to use. And if you have 12 years of reserve, then the possibility is there that you might be able to pay some incremental increase to policyholders. Otherwise, if you are having to dip into reserves, then obviously that scenario does not apply.
So, the question is how did we get there? And you had a look at the investment portfolio. And as I saw in the estimates, for example, there are several loans, loans that are from the National Insurance Service to government for three and a half percent, 4% of interest rate. Is that something that’s a sort of return that the board of management should be expecting when they lend? If you had to borrow from a financial institution here, you’d be looking at 8% minimum, eight and a half percent depending on the type of activity you’re in, 12%.
So, those are some of the concerns, Madame Speaker. Already NIS has a social responsibility component to its mandate, but that can’t simply be done to the point where it undermines the integrity of the system. So, that is something that you have to maintain. Make sure that that balance is there. Where are we now and how did we get there? That’s the question that the board will have to answer. And I trust that when they go, I see that the consultations are going to continue, that’s what the minister said. And they’re going to have consultations with policyholders. Well, these are some of the questions policyholders need to ask. How did we get there? What are the types of investments we’ve made, why were they made?
Why did the NIS, for example, when the government did not pay over its contributions to the NIS, and all the NIS, I think $22 million or thereabout, that instead of paying them cash, they swapped the juicy building for debt? Why is it that that debt that was held by National Properties, land was transferred to national properties, which was then swapped for the NIS so debt instead of paying back the cash, which they could then invest for their own purpose at a better return, possibly, or at least they can determine how that is? How do these arrangements affect the liquidity and the earning potential of the NIS and ultimately its reserves because that is what is going to affect the quality of service that it provides to the people of this country?
Well, we know that there are a number of options that have been outlined, but one of them that took my interest is that there was an option that suggested that… This is at page 60 of the minister’s statement. When he discussed the National Insurance Service, he said that there are several options that were being considered and one was to reduce… no, one was to introduce mandatory coverage for self-employed workers. So, you’re spreading the pool broader. Of course, there’s a question of how do you actually collect and so forth, but to have mandatory coverage, I mean, a lot of self-employed people I know who want to have coverage, but they just haven’t taken the effort to do it. And the NIS itself has not taken its show on the road to try to enroll people. You can’t just, I mean, fisher folk and vendors, people who work on the cruise ships, who work on the oil rigs. I met a gentleman a few days ago, he works in a boat in the Northern Caribbean that is registered [inaudible 02:50:02] flag, but he doesn’t have any [inaudible 02:50:04]-
That is registered in [inaudible 02:50:02] but he doesn’t have NS coverage. So he’s thinking of becoming self. I don’t know if that person would being [inaudible 02:50:10] registered, but if that would qualify for mandatory NS, but he has to go and get that for himself. But the NS does not take it’s show on the road. You can’t just sit back and wait for legislation. You got to go in the market, encourage people to sign up.
Always on the what?
Well, how is it Madam Speaker, when I ask, I asked the Fisher that I talked to, I encourage them in Patrick’s pharmacy. “Guys get yourself registered, sign up for the NS”. How you do that?
They don’t listen to the radio. When I said putting yourself on the road, [inaudible 02:50:57]. If I want to sell shoes, you don’t just do it in the radio, you have to go sell vegetables. Whatever. The point of the matter is, this is a service that everybody who is involved in it would know that this is beneficial. People know what’s in the best interest, if you know can get back your contribution within the matter of a few years of involvement in receiving benefits, that is something you want to be a part of.
So why is it that people can’t understand that, is this stupid? So you have to find a better way to communicate to people to see that this is in their own self-interest, and then they should be coming to your door, just say, “Sign me up.”
You have to be more proactive. You have to hustle. So Madam Speaker, that is as much as I will say on the subject matter, because it is one of critical importance. It is one that people need and have a quite, justifiably, right in taking an interest in to ensure that their retirement income, their security in their old age, their only source of income is protected going forward and it doesn’t put it out of reach for people where the retirement age goes up to 70 and your contribution rates to 15% and so forth and doesn’t provide much benefit in that regard.
So I hope that the consultations will be fruitful and I hope that the sound footing, that the NS has been on, will continue, but obviously changes have to be made and that is something that has been brought about by current circumstances that need to be properly explained. You can’t just tell people that this is what’s going to happen, because we said this or because the actuary said that. The actuary takes the facts as they are. How do we deal with this? And the Honorable Member for Centra for West Kingston was asking about the actuary report. Is that a document that is laid in the house, because I’ve never seen one.
Is that a document that’s laid out?
Who has access to it? Just the board and cabinet.
It should be. We need to know, because it’s people’s pension. People come and ask me and complain. [inaudible 02:53:44] I said tell me the information. I don’t have the report just like you. I’m just hearing the stuff that I hear from the minister or from the executive director and we need to be better informed on it.
And the obligation comes from the institution to make sure that we are, because we are parliamentarians. We’re here, we’re dealing with these matters. That matter’s going to come back here. Madam Speaker, I wanted to turn now to talk about education briefly, because I see that time is running and I still have half of my presentation to do.
Yeah, just quickly Madam Speaker…
Where is Education?
I lost the… Okay, Madam Speaker, there’s been a lot of bragging boasts about education, accomplishments and so on in this country. The talk of revolution, but that is just, it’s just sloganeering. That’s what it is. The minister spoke about the many scholarships and so forth that are being offered, and that’s wonderful. They speak about the accomplishments of students who have passed so many subjects and so forth, and all of that is wonderful Madam Speaker. And it has been a continuous process of expansion of opportunities in the education system, from one government to the next.
It was the NDP, if you remember, who moved the sixth form from grammar school out to the community college. That was transformational.
Built the college. Yes. What you call [inaudible 02:55:55]. So that is, and the plan wasn’t so that is the final product of the college. It’s a start. It will expand. You hear people talking over, “We expanded to this and expand…”, well great. That is what is supposed to happen. Last, a few months ago was in, I went to my Alma Mater, University of Waterloo. I couldn’t even find my way around campus, because it had changed so much, because that’s what happens. They grow. That was transformationally part of… There were more scholarships, than when we were in school. The NP open apart scholarships to Cuba, recognize Cuban trained medical professionals. That’s a breakthrough.
So if the numbers go from 10 to 20. They say that okay, there are more scholarships now. I wish all the students in this country had access to education as a right.
And the more we can make it available and affordable for all the students of our country, we should do so. I think that that is a human right.
The other point that we should make on that Madam Speaker is the talk about Tibet. The minister spoke about the, what’s he call it? That there has been a dramatic increase in TVET education. The number of programs that have been offered and CVQ’s that have been awarded and so forth. A revolution in access to TVET is an evident revolution.
Madam Speaker, sometime not too long ago, I made a national address in Education that many people who are professionals in the field and ordinary people told me that they found it instructive. It’s not the end of the story, but it is a point of departure for discussion in many respects. One of the things that I spoke about, Madam Speaker, and something that we need to take a lot more serious in this country, the whole notion of education as this traditional Ivy League kind of conception of intelligence and performance, where we celebrate the traditional definition of academic excellence and basically just look down upon Technical and Vocation Education and Training.
The way in which it’s accessed here, Madam Speaker, is that as the member of a [inaudible 02:59:35] put it so well some time ago. They made it as though it’s available. Just basically you drop out of school and then you go into one of them programs. When in fact that is not how we ought to be. This should be integrated into our secondary school. Not just that you go to some place when you drop out and you say, “Okay”. The other day we went to walk about in Belmont. Mr. Chevon. [foreign language 03:00:07], but Senator Chevon John.
Come in. Come in, come in. But we met a young man what, 16 years old, I think. He had dropped out, for some reason. And so now the question was where does he go? Does he go back after missing a term to secondary school or does he go to a technical institution?
Yes and that is how most of it goes, but the member for Southern Grand to speak more on that. But the point that we are making, and this is something that we have pushed and what we need to get to is to get this distinction or this hierarchy between the educations of the traditional and the technical. The oil education and everybody, even the most technical. For me when I was in, I remember when I entered in form one secondary school, we had this brand-new school, they had all this equipment, we had a woodworking facility with equipment that I had never seen before. So suddenly I got interested in woodworking, and for some strange reason, the one object that I decided to make was an ashtray.
Any event, Madam Speaker, the point is that that was interesting to me. It would be interesting to all students, I believe, who are exposed to it. The point is now to find a way to integrate this as part of the program. So even the students who study 10 and 12 and 14 subjects, that they also must include these subjects in part of their program. This is something that enriches the education experience and makes our people better skilled and able to make choices as to what they can do going forward. That is how I believe that the TVET program need to be configured and also to have a broad range of programs available. All the other skills, Math and English and so forth and writing can be taught, to some extent, through those programs in a way in which they are integrated into the system. And that is something that Madam Speaker, we need to reconsider.
We have this tendency, I heard a minister, it was last year’s budget, where he was talking about the accomplishments.
The pass rates and so forth and how many students passed, how many subjects in this and what the pass rate was for that. That’s all very important. That’s one end of assessing the accomplishment or the achievement, the performance, that’s the word I want, of the education system. But what we don’t publish, Madam Speaker, is the dropout rate.
That is also, that’s the other end.
They publish it, the dropout rate.
Okay, what I haven’t seen…
You have it online, but what I haven’t seen you. I never heard in this parliament, any member in the government side, came here lament about it, never heard you put it in any document where you say, “This is the dropout rate and therefore this is what happens at the school and this is where we need to focus attention.” I will tell you…
Go ahead, bring it. I will tell you why I say this, Madam Speaker, because that is the true picture of the performance of the system, because if you have a situation where you have, I give the example many times of what happened at my Alma Mater sometime ago, I went to the class to the graduation class and there were 21 students started in four, one. Only three had reached form five years later. Some of them were still in system and most of them were gone.
And that is not unique because I asked a colleague of mine from North Leewood and he said that they were maybe not dramatic as that, but there were statistics similar. And so if you have a system that fails the majority of the students and they don’t even get past form two, this is ordinary students who are intelligent but they just simply don’t get past it for whatever reason. That is a truer picture of the performance of the system. The bright students, I always say they will succeed no matter what the institution you put them in, so long as you have good teacher and good parents supporting them and they have a work ethic. But the ones who have to struggle, those are the ones who make up the majority of our society. If the system fails them, then our system is failing. So let’s talk about revolution. You can’t claim that title, until you deal with that problem and you have not. The system is failing the majority of the students in this country when you get to secondary school.
I will hold to that, until you give me the evidence otherwise.
Madam Speaker, I wish you a deal briefly with the issue of crime in the budget. I was looking for it. First of all, Madam Speaker, in the contents, but I realized it’s not mentioned under that name in the content. It’s called Citizen Security. That’s where it’s discussed. But the point is, the minister said, “It was a difficult year in our shared battle against crime and criminality.” There have been more than one difficulty year. The problem that we have now, Madam Speaker, is that crime in the perception and the reality, most people is out of hand. It is not just a situation where, especially when it comes to gun related crime, where people feel that they can be an unintended target just simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Based on some of the scenarios that you have heard as to how persons have been killed in gun violence in this country. The people don’t want to feel unsafe going out at night. They don’t feel safe in their own homes. I could only talk from experience, Madam Speaker, quiet communities in mine in Beckert just the other day, a friend of mine, she’s a vendor on the street, she works hard, she saves her money, she build her own house. At the end of the day she goes home with her purse around her neck with whatever she own for the day and is assaulted by two assailants with a knife, who cut the bag from my neck and took off with it. How traumatic that is?
How the safety and security of a person and others in the area would be affected. It’s in all the communities. I speak for my own, because these examples come to me when they happen of visitors who came here from abroad and the very night that they arrived they were accosted, not far from my home, by persons who invaded their home. They left the next day.
Madam Speaker, when these things happen, people say what the hell is going on? What is happening in this country? Why have we got to this point where you can’t even feel safe going to a karaoke bar? That is what is happening, Madam Speaker, and I get the sense, even in the comments that were made in this document here by the minister, that there’s almost like a fatigue on the part of the government and dealing with the subject matter that crime is everywhere and you count on nothing but crime. I’m not saying that the government said that.
But the perception is that there’s no energy or creativity in trying to attack the problem. And we know from examples elsewhere that it is a problem that can be addressed with effective policies. You may not eliminate entirely, but you get it within tolerable standards where people feel safe.
After all, we are living in a community and there are lots of different people and all kinds of things that create friction and things that might create crime and harm to people, but we get to a point where you can tolerate a certain amount. When it gets beyond that, that’s when people start feeling unsafe. You can’t throw up your hands, Madam Speaker. 42 Homicides in 2022. When I made my address Madam Speaker, I made an address in crime as well dealing with some of the measures and so forth that need to be done. And I said then, there were 37 homicides at the time that we were approaching a record. And quite frankly I was hoping, of course you would hope that you don’t reach there, but now it’s meet 42 in 2022 and to already for the beginning of the year.
The minister said that there’s 64 or 68 more officers, at page 51 of his statement. He says that there’s 68 more police added. So bringing the total up to 1121. The staffing of the police services that has doubled under the URP administration. If it wasn’t so serious, Madam Speaker, you might talk like that, because you ask yourself, “Well how come you have so many police officers and still the situation feel worse?” You feel more unsafe, you have crimes, violent crimes almost every weekend. How is it possible, when this so-called massive investment in police service by hiring so many more people, are there?
I mean a lot of the people, Madam Speaker, I’m told, who are hired by the police service, they’re not always the best candidates. That’s something that needs to be done. But that’s a long term solution. Training, promotion and proper motivation in the part of the police service. But the problem is more police, as the minister said, it’s not the long, well it’s not a solution. It’s not a long term solution, obviously. It is necessary in certain communities.
When you have an upsurge you must have that presence to take control of the situation and to reassure citizens that you’re doing something about it. And when there are high profile crimes, don’t keep this as a secret information for the police. Anytime it happens in other communities, you see you have somebody as a spokesperson informing the community as a stakeholder in this, because crime affects everybody. How is the investigation going? Not revealing investigative information and so forth, but at least letting people know you’re doing something about it That they can feel assured that the police service is doing something about it. We don’t get that.
There have been some high profile homicides last year. I don’t want to call in names now, because to be honest it must be very painful for the family members to know these things are happening. You don’t know what’s happening. I ask family member of one person if they had any report from the police. No, it’s the state’s business. They don’t need to tell you. They don’t have to keep you up to date on what’s happening with the investigation.
But this is part of involving the community as part of the process of policing. The police can’t do it the way themselves, but you have to have that trust relationship between the community and the police and that has broken down completely. There may one or two individual officers who have relationships and so with people in the community who are, they’re able to see that this is the way in which you do the policing, you form these bridges and people are willing to do it. They’re willing to help, but you can’t do it, Madam Speaker, from a position of, you are the police and they are the policed. They’re there to serve and protect. That is still the motto. And so they do so by engaging the community as well as part of that process, all of us.
But I don’t want to get too deep into it, Madam Speaker, I dealt with a lot of these on my national address, because time is running.
Well that’s what they used to say. They say, I hear talk about, “Oh people are talking these simplistic solutions about crime.” What was more simplistic in putting everything [inaudible 03:14:36] the cause of crime? The same had [inaudible 03:14:41]. But now you realize how complex the problem is and the solutions seem to be eluding those who are in office now.
Madam Speaker, one of the, and this is related to what we were talking about Education, one of the elements that fuels people’s activity involvement in criminal activity is among the dropouts. People who have limited opportunity, because they drop out out of school, they have nothing else to do.
As somebody mentioned when they said, “You go into any criminal case in magistrates court, the first thing the lawyer starts out is a player mitigation that you drop out of school in form one.” Because there’s a relationship between the cognitive processes and so forth it takes for those persons. And also the opportunities that are available, the options that are available to those persons to keep them to do things.
So you have to provide all kinds of other things Madam Speaker, the social programs, the traditional stuff that we spoke about in the spiritual redemption data, the NP put forward to create and reinstill or revitalize the service groups in the communities to give people different opportunities. And they may not be the same ones you know. You may have to have computer service groups, computer clubs and so forth. Various things that attract people. But the point is to give people constructed things to do, so that they feel that they’re part of the progressive side of society and not drawn towards the crime and criminal behavior, but more will be said on that later.
Madam Speaker, one of the areas, and this is something again that wasn’t mentioned at all, not even in other areas of the ministers’ presentation, but maybe it may be taken up by the Minister of Agriculture, now that I’ve mentioned it, is the impact of trivial larceny as a crime in this country. This is something that, you talk to farmers who would complain. And it’s almost as though they complained, it doesn’t even seem like something worth investigating. So large two bunch of plant something or somebody take a goat or two and nobody seemed to want to bother to investigate. But you multiply that, people here who know better than I do about the conditions within the farming communities or how this affects them, but I hear people tell me they complain to me and so I have to address it, Madam Speaker, because the government doesn’t seem to think that this is a matter of critical importance. Maybe they don’t think agriculture is a matter of critical importance, because nothing is being done.
There must be a zero tolerance policy when it comes to trivial larceny. And the upholder, that is the person who buys this stuff at cut rate prices, is as bad as the thief. And the same policy have to be addressed, applied to both. And I know we have legislation, Madam Speaker, with very, very strong powers. But it has not been utilized to deal with the problem, because for many they don’t see it as a problem. “So what, you lose a goat.” That may happen from time in Memorial.
But if farmers are hurting and the agricultural sector is hurting and unfortunately the farmers, they don’t have a loud voice and so they suffer in silence, many of them. Until you have somebody like Kenton Chance going to an article or a video or something on a particular case that dramatizes the issue and people say, “Boy, that is really, really terrible.” But that’s not an isolated case.
And think of the impact that is having on the motivation of farmers, when they see is that you take things into your own hands, which you don’t want to do or you just simply say, “You know what, I’m not going to bother. I just plant around the house where I can see it and look at it and are not going to go anywhere in the mountains and hills where somebody going to reap it before me.” That is something that needs to be addressed.
Crimes against women and girls. Domestic violence, Madam Speaker, critical importance in this country. It’s an epidemic in this country and must be dealt with in every budget. There’s no way you can say that this is not a matter that warrants that level of attention. It needs to be addressed. And nothing, not a word was said in this budget about it. You got crimes I spoke about in my address as well. There has to be a special kind of investigation. In the same way there must be that for persons who are victims of domestic violence and sexual violence against women and girls. There has to be special investigations, investigative units, people specially trained to deal with these types of crimes.
And the same with yacht crimes, because they require speed, they require interaction with the people who are victims and they may leave the next day or they may leave a few days later or whatever to keep in touch with them, because it’s not that people feel, that the place is unsafe, that you have a crime and so forth. What is really disappointing to a lot of those people who are victims is when they feel that the authorities don’t respond appropriately. That they’re not dealing with the matter seriously. They’re not communicating with them to let them understand that what was done was abhorrent. And what we want to do is to ensure that those people feel that they can come back to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and that was not a typical experience.
That all has to be built into a special unit that deals with these kinds of acts, these kinds of crimes. And it’s critically important of course, because of the importance, as I said earlier on, of yachts into our economy. It’s one of the really attractive areas of tourism. You don’t need a plane to bring you here. You don’t need a hotel to stay in. No guest house. If it’s full, you could still come and stay on your boat. It’s a very attractive area of tourism. So we have to do everything and what this is one of the areas when we’re dealing with crime that we can deal with it to make sure that we have a responsive unit that deals with such offenses and one that continues to communicate with the victims, so that they feel that they’re not left alone or that nobody cares that they have suffered.
Madam Speaker, job creation. I only want to say something, because the minister had that spread out all over the budget, but he still put it under one heading and repeated some of the same things on the heading of Job Creation on page 56. Where he talks about internship, he talks about the programmers for the yes trainees and for the set workers. But this is the part that I’m particularly interested in and I read it at page 56. He said, “Second budget 2023 introduces an exciting new initiative called”, wait for it, “ONSITE”, which stands for, and I love acronyms, “Offering National Support for Internship Training and Employment.” And in contrast to yes and set he says, “This largely places interns in the public service and stipulated entities. ONSITE will exclusively place interns in positions within the private sector. The provision of real world private sector experience and the real possibility of full-time employment”.
… and the real possibility of full-time employment is an important addition to our suite of internship programs. Well done. I’m glad that you are reading our manifesto.
I’m glad that you listened to our presentation during the last election campaign. Because you will recall, Madam Speaker, one of the things that we said was that the YES program, first of all we criticized it because it was paying people under the minimum wage. Secondly, we said that the program can be expanded to move it from just simply in the public service where you have some of these people in the program, they have them sitting down doing nothing because they really don’t have much for them to do. A waste of their resources and demoralizing for the students involved.
But you put them in the private sector and you say, and there is no details here, but my proposal was you place them in the private sector as well. You pay them what the YES program pays them and the private employer has to match it at the very least. And that way they can go higher, they can’t go lower. And that way they would… Oh, okay. I like to back things up with evidence. Here you go.
Yes, we said we will work with the private sector, looking to expand my offering incentives to them to take on your workers including subsidizing their wages. And this is under the YES program. By doing this we can raise the monthly of workers to 6,15.
And we have, Madam Speaker, in our program suggested that the public sector workers or the private employers would then have the opportunity to train these people to see if they can stay on as really skilled and useful employees. And give them a chance to have broader experience. And they can move from different sectors to the next.
And so, it’s a program, Madam Speaker, that I think the time, it has come. Yes. Well, I can’t repudiate something that I was promoting. I said I can’t repudiate something that I was promoting and I am promoting and claim paternity for.
I claim paternity for that. Yes. Madam Speaker, it hopefully will be attractive to the private sector employees, employers and that they will be able to use it to help our young people to get a value of the skills, which now you see the importance. Now we see the importance of TVET, Madam Speaker, in the secondary schools because that also increases the pool of skills that those students would have when they go in the private sector to work with a private sector employee. Employer, sorry.
Climate change, Madam Speaker, is a subject matter that everybody, it’s like motherhood and apple pie. We know that it’s real. I’m not one of those doubters. And we see the effects of it around us of coastal what is arising. There is a need for coastal defenses throughout the country.
I listened to the minister’s presentation of the various city fences that will be installed in Sandy Bay and Shipping Bay. And those are necessary, Madam Speaker, but there are lots of other areas. The coastline in my own constituency, Paget Farm, the road isn’t very far from the sea. That area some people have made makeshift kinds of deposits that has helped to protect there and in Hamilton. All of that are areas, Madam Speaker, that could benefit from these sorts of initiative.
It is critically important, but here’s the thing. We know it’s important globally, while we have small carbon footprint in the Caribbean, we suffer disproportionately because we are small islands with vulnerable coastlines. That’s been recognized. Also, we are in the hurricane belt and they’ve been told that the intense storms are growing more frequent.
The region must continue to make a plea globally for available help to combat the effects of climate change locally. There are large allocations in the estimates for projects in the area of river defenses and sea defenses. It is necessary, Madam Speaker, as it’s safeguard’s property lives and continue a pace and hopefully will expand. And I told you of some of the areas that would benefit in my own con.stituency. I’m sure in every constituency in the country
There’s an area, Madam Speaker, however, beyond just the construction of walls and so forth. Is the problem of the sargassum seaweed, which has been linked to global warming and which has been a menace in certain parts of our country and the Windward Coast. In Union Island, gee whizz. And in Clifton Harbor, which has the misfortune of being facing the windward side and so, it all comes and collects in there.
And when you inhale the stuff there and continuously, it can make you ill. I know a friend of mine who is very, very sick from it. But in areas such as in Paget Farm, near tacos shop, we used to call Jeff Gregg shop by the airport, there is a cul-de-sac. The water comes in, it brings everything in there. And when it gets hot and it rots and it stinks, it affects the students all the way down in the Paget Farm, Primary school, government school. Industry, I mean spring, it’s terrible.
This is an area, Madam Speaker, we need to have a solution to this problem. And we don’t need to do it on our own because I know it affects all the countries coming. If you fly over, you come down from Antigua, you can see all the shadows of the seaweed as they’re making the journey. I don’t know where they’re going. But this is something that we need as OEC, so as Carcum, to find a common solution to it because it doesn’t appear that it is going to go away.
And so, how do we live with it? When you have restaurants on the Windward Coast, and maybe they have to close down because you can’t eat when you can’t even smell the food. And this is something, Madam Speaker, that is affecting the livelihoods and the health of people in the various communities across this country where it is a serious problem. The government should leverage the climate change money to help to fix this problem permanently.
Madam Speaker, so my constituency. I had the opportunity in the last over the Christmas holidays to spend some time with friends who thought I might have immigrated because they hadn’t seen me for so long. And people who look forward to seeing me and I look forward to seeing them. I had a chance to do that and it was wonderful. But I want to begin because I know time is running, but what appears to be good news in the first instance. The work on the Bequia Community High School, the repairs have started. And that place had been left to deteriorate so badly. And I don’t know why this government allows these facilities to go so far down here.
Well, the bad news is that you shouldn’t have to shut down to fix. You must have a continuous repair program going on. That’s how you do it. There are all the schools in other countries 100 years old. And this is a problem that we have, grammar school shutdown, Girls’ High School shutdown, Thomas shutdown, Bequia Community shutdown. Because you’re not maintaining, you’re supposed to maintain continuously. Don’t wait until the thing fall apart.
As one student wrote in the Bequia Community High School some years ago, “This is a place where dreams come to die.” You want student to be saying these things? Because it doesn’t uplift the spirit. I’m glad to see that some work is doing there. I pray that it goes well and that it’s completed within a year that has been allocated to it. Far too many, far too long, the students have suffered and the conditions under which they are now housed is cramped and quite frankly, beginning to deteriorate as well.
The sooner that that project is completed they can move back into the community. I have a special interest in that of course because that’s my alma mater. That’s where I went to school from form one to form five. Well, they made us repeat form five, all of us. And Fitz was there as well. Yeah.
You do what? I must visit them in the classroom. You not to tell me that. I do that. I will do that as part of my duty. Is my alma mater. Of course I’ll go there. When the equation is right, I will do so. I didn’t say it was an attack. But the presumptuous is this, they said I must go and visit. Of course I’ll go and visit.
Yeah, Madam speaker. I pray that this is done and that the students will be able to get back there. But once they get back, you heard that problem, I talk about the dropout rates, this is a continuing problem at that school and it needs to be addressed. You can’t just bring it to attention in Ministry of Education and say, “Yes, we know that. Yes, that is terrible.” And then that’s the end of the conversation. If you believe that that is the normal performance of a secondary school in this country, then that is not education. What? Which is one of the best facilities?
This is not a laughing matter. Madam speaker, the roof of the Clive Sun’s playing field got damaged. I spoke about it and I raised a question in the parliament here about it. In the freak storm in July last year. It’s not a large area but it’s dangerous because some of the rafters they made out of galvanizer, I suppose they are rotting and more extensive work.
The reason it came up is because of that. Is that the rafters themselves are rusting through. And so when the wind came it just peeled all the way back. That needs to be fixed. I was told it wasn’t going to cost that much and that the work would be done soon but it hasn’t started. And the other day, I went to the school’s parade for Independence Day.
I was there, all the kids were there dressed up and so on, looking nice, and parents. And so whatever it had rained, the whole thing would wash out. It needs to get fixed soon. The light, when it’s done, put back in the light. Since that place was fixed 6, 7, 8 years ago, they never put the lights back in. You have a function, they had to jerry rig something at night. It needs to have proper lighting put back into the facility so that it can function. It’s a multipurpose facility. It works for shows, for sports, for parades, all kinds of things. Let’s get it done.
The next issue, Madam Speaker, is the Bluff Road at Paget Farm. The minister took some delight in correcting me, and telling me that I see that it’s in the budget that I said it was in the budget. Although I was referring to a particular set of programs, the $27 million that it wasn’t mentioned in that category. But in any event, the funds, some funds are allocated for the work at Bluff Point. Yeah, I heard him say that the rest of the Paget Farm Road, because the money that’s allocated, they can’t fix the whole road, that’s for sure.
Because if you start from what we call up at Friendship, the gap to go down to Friendship, that is an area that you start from there all the way down to [inaudible 03:37:09] shop in Paget Farm. There was a crack in the road there that appeared about say 15 years ago. And I saw that crack in the road and I said, “Well, how does that appear there?” Obviously, there’s some leaching underneath that’s creating some problem.
And I thought, “Well, somebody will investigate and fix it quick.” Now you have to avoid it because the whole place sink in. And quite frankly, it may well just drop in because something, the integrity of the base underneath there is not good. And so that needs to be fixed. All the way down, that whole Paget Farm Main Road has to be repaired. The area by Sunny Hazel Shop, there’s no retaining wall and there’s no steel. That is going to slide down the hill with the heavy rain and some big truck pass there that gone.
Bluff Point, a lot of bad areas on that road. I don’t know how the taxi drivers and the van drivers put up with that because it must be really difficult for them when they’re shocked. Some of them complain. They say, “Your tires, they don’t last all the time. Your suspension of your vehicle.” And you have to put up with that and they can’t make it back because they can’t just increase rates. Understandably.
The problem is not the customers, it’s not the people who drive in the vans. The problem is the failure to fix the road by the government. And so, that needs to be done as quickly as possible. Now the minister says that it will be done in the course of 2023. That’s the Bluff Point, Bluff Road. But I am skeptical, Madam Speaker, because I’ve raised this so many times in the past.
I’ve had all kinds of assurances from one minister after another, no that they’re going to do that. And every time I raise a question in the parliament, they go and do another as a measuring and studies. And so, they have options they tell me, three options. Well, pick one and do it. Because you can’t wait until somebody go over there.
Sometimes I tease my friend when he come to visit me and I drive in the bad part. And he want to climb out of the window of the vehicle because it is, it looks dangerous. I drive there every day practically. I get used to it, which is a dangerous thing. It needs to be fixed before you don’t just damage your vehicle but you create injury and casualty to other persons. Tell me that it is going to be done and keep your word this time. Be a man of your word. There are other roads… Mm?
Yeah. There are other roads of course, Madam Speaker, that I want my constituents to know that I’m making representation on their behalf. Because I hope that the government will take it on board and they will fix them because they have a massive road program, rehabilitation of roads, $27 million that has to be distributed throughout the country.
But there is a road, Madam Speaker. It’s starts from an neighbor we called Pretoria and goes all the way over to join with the main road going to Spring at a bridge we call Samuel Williams Bridge there. That road is almost impassible now. I raised it here about a year or maybe a year or two ago and nothing was done. I just put it under agenda because I know it takes about seven years, eight years of my complaining before any piece of road gets fixed.
We’ve gone past three. I hope we don’t have to wait another three or four because it is in very, very bad condition all the way over. And the retaining walls on the side is dangerous quite frankly, for vehicular traffic.
Madam Speaker, the Cemetery Hill Road under the Reservoir Tank. That road was cut a long time. It was a very, very well cut piece of road and very hard tiff, very wide. But it was never paved. And it actually is a very useful role because it’s a bypass to go out as you come up Cemetery Hill to go out and come back down by Tante Pearl’s restaurant there or something.
It’s a good… Its an area that should be fixed. And we raised it many times in the past, but I just, when you can’t get Bluff fixed, you know sort of think, “Well, this one ain’t going to get done.” It’s an area that needs to be addressed as well. It’s something that you could put under agenda for fixing. The Jealousy Road in front of Doma Otolivier house, that was graded many years ago by the government, 15, 20 years ago.
But it was never paved again. And of course, you’re driving over it all the time. Now you have big pools that settle there when it rains and it’s becoming a problem for people to pass there. There’s a road in an area in Paget Farm called Papal. Government has sold land there but they haven’t put in the roads. We need to do it. How are people going to build? These are things that need to be done.
I said in the estimates debate, no, there’s a question in this house. I asked the Minister of Transport Works to fix and pave the entrance to the Port Elizabeth Ferry wall. I raised that last year in the budget debate as well. That’s a very important facility, Madam Speaker. It’s one of the busiest public facilities in the country. And you go there. Well, first of all, it’s a longer term project but the facility itself, the use has outgrown the facility.
It needs to be expanded. And that’s a good thing because here, the expansion isn’t coming because of deterioration. It’s coming because of increased use and increase in business. The facility was put there, the private sector, they invest and they have all these boats that are here now and it needs to be expanded. And the same has to be done, Union Island, you can’t have a situation only one boat go Union Island.
And Canon One. We have to give attention to this thing, we had a link. These are important economic engines in this country. And so we have to make sure that we facilitate the trade between amongst all the islands in our Archipelago nation. Madam Speaker, the area in front of the wharf, I suppose it was well intended when he put some dirt down there, Mr. Williams, but it was a mistake, it was bad.
What it has done is just made the problem worse. Because he brought some stuff down from the mainland, the red dirt that I think they come somewhere down going on leeward side. And they put it down there and then when it rains it just becomes muddy and it sticks on your shoes. It goes, it messes up your car, if you touch your clothes and so forth. When it’s dry it’s just dusty and blowing. It’s the situation is worse, it’s bad.
It’s need like on warfare, it needs to be fixed. And since this is such an important infrastructure facility, trading facility. It’s also the entrance to one of our primary tourism destinations in our country. When you step off and you see puddles and so forth, it doesn’t look good. That is something that can be done, Madam Speaker, very easily. You could use paving stones. That’s a better thing than just putting concrete down there because they will look prettier, look better.
And so, Madam Speaker, the playing field at Paget Farm, I spoke about the Minister mention hard courts will be repaired and so forth. There’s a hard court in Paget Farm, Madam Speaker. It was built when the airport was completed. It must have been one of the best facilities at the time. It had lights and there were potential to build a football field there and so forth.
They have to do some elevation to make it provide drainage and so forth. When I was involved in cricket, we cleared an area further up and we put a cricket pitch down there and so forth. It’s a very good playing field. A large, flat area that is ready for development but nothing is being done. But what I want, Madame Speaker, is the hard court for the people, the young children there. The hard court, the surface now has broken. You see kids running about there barefoot, it can injure them.
The electrical panel that was off to the left there some years ago, someone almost got electrocuted because it was just left there open and probably thought it wasn’t live. But he got shocked. He got a lesson of his life. But the facility has the poles are still up. Very, very good quality because they’ve been there for so long. They’re hardly rusting. All they need now is to attach the lights, fix the facility and make it look good.
Give the people the village of Paget Farm a place that they could go. They don’t have to go up in the harbor just to learn to just to play basketball. You have a school next door to Paget Farm government school that can use this for their games and sports and so forth. You know the tremendous effect that that playing field had had, court that clay tennis playing field has had and young people in our country.
When you have an organization like the Bequia Basketball Association and Sabrina Mitchell has been running for many years. Putting on tournaments there for over 20 something years. And they have grandparents and their children, their grandchildren come out at night to watch basketball. And they see youngsters with their pants swishing down almost by their ankle. And they come out and they’re playing and so forth until they get to the age of 15, 16. And they come up here and secondary school teams. And they win all the tournaments there in the secondary school competitions.
You hear the Bequia Community High School first, the Seventh-day Adventist Secondary School or the Union Island Secondary and so forth. That is because, Madam Speaker, the facility is there, it’s made available. That’s one of the good things about the Bequia basketball association, made available to the students and the youngsters. They can just go and take the equipment and play. And when they finish, to put them back.
If you want to go play a Saturday afternoon, nobody’s organizing a game. You have a few people, you go and you play. And you learn and you learn and you become one with the sport. And then, they have opportunities hopefully to go and study as some people have done. Craig Sam out in Taiwan and Craig Friday similarly. Sean King, that’s where he learned to play basketball. He went to play professionally in Europe. These are things, Madame Speaker, that we have to give.
Yeah, all of that because no you have to look after your body. You can’t be going and play basketball and doing your best and so forth and you’re not looking after your body, your fitness and so forth. These are things that are part of making a good society. And the investment is well worth it because our young people, the need these opportunities, Madam Speaker. Fix the Paget Farm hard court.
And finally, the airport. The airport, Madam Speaker, is right next to the hard court IN the Paget Farm playing field. And the thing there they have, I’ve been complaining about that because of the physical condition, it’s still in full condition but they’ve been fixing the roof now for two years. I don’t know why it takes so long to repair A roof there. I mean the airport roof isn’t bigger than most large houses.
How it was built. I suppose somebody went, they put a nail and hammer and they put a roof on.
How long it was built? Nobody pointed. That’s an inane comment. Of course you have to repair the roof. Come on. How it was built.
I mean really. The point is, Madam Speaker, the facility has been there. It is intended to serve as a tourism facility to generate more business, more arrivals in the country. It is in a deplorable condition. There’s one side towards… You should see, I mean what’s passes for a fire station down there. The roof is rusted through. And you have people sleep in there, the thing is falling on you.
There is no generator that operates effectively. You can’t have night flights. And this is what I’m coming to, Madam Speaker. Your repairs are going ahead at a snail’s pace. But I hope that they continue until the work is done, that the apron is properly done, the entrance to the airport is properly done. That the gate, the door towards the airplanes where they come in, that is done. That the eave is fixed which is damaged. Since the time of Ivan you have an airport where the eaves around it basically, they were removed. You could climb up through them, going what security is that? And that’s been there now for, when was Ivan, in 2004? It’s ridiculous.
Yeah, because James’s picture was there. Yes, he built it. He put that picture there to show he was the Prime Minister at the time. But the water was running on the wall and wetting his picture. He said, “Fix it first and I’ll bring the picture back.” I don’t blame him. James don’t want his figure disfigured by some wet photograph or something. But it’s disrespectful as well.
Madam Speaker, I am probably too tired but I find no humor in that because it’s a very important facility that we need to have fixed. What is most important, oh, Madam Speaker, the night landing, the night lights were taken away from that airport. And it has caused great hardship for flight arrivals in Bequia. It needs to be…
Yes. Well, now that the coming rain is there through Bequia, or yeah, Misty Cliffs. But the night landing needs to come back. They need to bring back the lights that were taken away from there and put and brought somewhere up. I don’t know what was happening to them. The approach lights were taken down but what come down can go back up. And it is needed.
I was told that at some point, that when it was needed that they can simply put it back. It is time to put it back because the way the flights are now, people coming in from Europe, they get there at a certain time, they can’t get to Beck Creek. They’re flying there with small plane to get back off the ground before sundown. And that creates a problem for arrival because then you have to stay overnight in Barbados. And if you’re coming for a week and you have to do that, that’s people are not going to be very happy about that. And of course, we lose business.
Because that’s one night of spending that is lost and every little bit adds up. This is something that needs to be given urgent attention and the minister should make sure that that is done. I don’t know why the lights were removed in the first place. It’s just bad planning, bad thinking on the part of this government. Ad hoc responses to some request. Why was it done? When in fact it is needed and you can use it to expand the services that are available through that airport.
Member of the Central King some glad for reminding me on it. And finally, Madam Speaker, this is almost a little too ridiculous to me to mention, but it’s such a problem. There’s a road near the Sole Storage Depot in an area we call Oka. That is my village. That’s where I grew up. That area, Madam Speaker, somebody repaired the road many, many years ago under this administration. I remember 2002, 3, somewhere around there. But they didn’t drain it properly, they didn’t drain it properly. The water now just catches there whenever it rains.
And it’s a big enough pool that stretches from here to past Senator John there. You can’t walk through it. People going to church, you know what happened? There’s a plank by the side of the road is about 18 inches wide. And you see women, mature women going to church, they take off their shoes and walking that plank to try and pass it when it raining.
I raised this with Minister Francis years ago. Was it three years ago? In the same time I raised the issue of a similar situation down by the Holy Cross Church in Paget Farm where the water would settle there. Some people took a matters into their own hand and cut the retaining walls so the water could drain. This one, however, I was told it wouldn’t take much to do. But when that was done, I was the one the question was asked, this was about five years ago. And it’s still there.
It needs to be remedied because it’s such a small thing. But it creates such an inconvenience and a problem for people. And if somebody slips off at that log, especially an older person walking on it to try to get home from church or coming from shopping or something, you can be injured. Because on the other side, there’s bush and a container. And it’s a small area, as I said.
These are things, Madam Speaker, we’re talking about building, improving people’s lives, building a better conference in Vincentians. When we can’t deliver these little things, people wonder if we could deal with the big things. You see? My focus is to ensure that we focus on the needs of people first. Not on big projects, not on fancy statements and making all kinds of grand promises. But if you deal with people’s needs in their communities on a daily basis, make lives better.
That is what matters to them. And it must matter to us because we are after all their representatives. And you represent people by knowing what they want you to represent them about. That is what I’m about here, Madam Speaker. Thank you and God bless.