KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Harsh economic measures here will result in “chaos” and “blood on the streets”, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told Parliament yesterday.
Gonsalves made the point in his three-hour wrap-up of the budget debate.
Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace mentioned austerity but did not say what cuts a New Democratic Party (NDP) administration would have made, he said
Eustace was offering a main dish of austerity, a side dish of growth and a desert of parsimony even as he drank from the cup of meanness, Gonsalves said.
He further noted that there are two sides of austerity: reduced spending and increased taxes.
“I happen to know that the people of this country will not embrace austerity,” said Gonsalves, who has lead the nation during an unprecedented three consecutive years of economic decline.
“He (Eustace) hasn’t told us which tax they are going to increase … and if you are cutting expenditure, you have to tell me what the NDP is going to cut. But, opportunistically, they said nothing,” Gonsalves added.
“But one thing I know, if you have austerity in this country on the taxation and on the expenditure side, there will be chaos and there will be blood on the street. I know that is what will happen,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security.
Parliament yesterday approved without amendment the EC$793.9 million budget for this year, which Gonsalves presented on Monday.
The budget comprises recurrent expenditure, inclusive of Amortization and Sinking Fund contributions, of EC$528.7 million and capital expenditure of EC$184.9 million.
“I do not say that there are [not] areas in which we could have done better than we have done. There must be — because we are not perfect and we don’t control all the factors and circumstances. But we have done our best,” Gonsalves told Parliament before the budget went to a vote that did not include the opposition, which did not stay to hear Gonsalves’ response.
Gonsalves knocked opposition members for their “hit-and-run” budget debate tactics.
He said the opposition members’ presentations were “largely facile” and “incoherent” with some calling for austerity and other saying the government should spend more.
“Well if you want austerity, you can’t have profligacy,” said Gonsalves, who was presenting his 11th budget since the Unity Labour Party came to office in 2001.
He further said that while the opposition was playing to their constituents they offered “no credible solutions”.
It is easy to behave irresponsibly when not in government, Gonsalves said. “So we got the same old, tired opposition; out of step with the time.”
He said while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was saying that the world economy has entered a dangerous phase, the opposition was talking about the EC$1.54 million budgeted for services related to the Office of the Prime Minister.
Central Kingstown representative St. Claire Leacock citing the monies during the Estimates Debate in December said Gonsalves was “getting too expensive to mind”.
“This budget debate should not be about point scoring or playing to the gallery of the faithful; not about grandstanding in futility. It’s not about presenting piddling ideas of no real merit [dressed] up as though they are valuable beyond belief,” Gonsalves said as he responded to the opposition’s position on several matters.
“This is not about our people remaining as hewers of wood and drawers of water,” he said as he explained the biblical context of the expression.
“This budget is about the development of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines at home and abroad. It is about the advancement of our country in our people’s interest. It is about the progress of this Vincentian component of our Caribbean civilisation.”
Gonsalves said that the opposition has a “hysterical, wrong and one-sided, and factually, distorted view” of his government’s policy and where the nation should go.
“In fact, the opposition stylised the facts of our condition on the altar of partisan politics while rummaging around inconsistently in search of a theory of explanation,” he said.