Travellers to the Grenadines will no longer be charged to use facilities at the port. (I Witness photo)

TAIPEI, Taiwan:- Persons travelling to the Grenadines via ferry will no longer have to pay EC$1 (US$0.37) for use of departure-lounge-like facilities at the wharf in Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves announced the removal of the charge during his budget address this week.

Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, said he decided to remove the fee based on the “suasion” of “an elderly lady” from Bequia, the largest of the Grenadine islands, who visited him over the Christmas holidays.

“She persuaded me to cause the removal of this one dollar user-fee even while she acknowledged its functional utility,” Gonsalves said.

Senior citizens are exempt from paying the fee and Gonsalves said the woman’s “considerations related to the easing of anxieties of certain people”.

“I accept her caring suasion. Accordingly, with immediate effect, this user-fee will be no more,” he said in making the announcement.

The fee was introduced in April 2007 after the government built facilities for commuters to use while awaiting the departure of ferries to the Grenadines.

Supporters of the parliamentary opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) had protested against the fee, with NDP leader Arnhim Eustace, saying it was “discriminatory”.

“The government should not impose a tax on one part of the state; it is unfair,” Eustace had said in 2007.

Eustace, in responding to the budget this week, said elderly lady of whom Gonsalves spoke was a “fiction”.

“Just imagine that; the same Prime Minister is the one who went in the dead of night on a weekend to change the legislation to impose that tax on Vincentians. And you want me to come now and congratulate you because you remove it?”

Eustace said Gonsalves had recognized the dissatisfaction of the residents of the Grenadines and was forced to remove the fee.

“That is the political reality of what happened,” he said. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)

“You don’t want to go near election with that again. You had no choice!” Eustace said in response to bantering from Gonsalves.

General elections in SVG are due in March 2011 but political observers say they could be called before the end of this year.

The Unity Labour Party (ULP) will be seeking a third consecutive term in office, while the NDP, which hold three of the 15 parliamentary seats, including the two Grenadines seat, will seek to retake the reign of government after 10 years in opposition.