NEW YORK — Leader of the Opposition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines Arnhim Eustace on Sunday told a town hall meeting in New York that the New Democratic Party (NDP) expects to create about 500 jobs in the information technology sector within its first year in office if its wins the next general election.
Elections are constitutionally due by March 2016, but Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has said that Vincentians will elect a new government before yearend.
“… we are working with some people overseas on that already and we want to do that in our first year,” Eustace said of the jobs as he outlined 15 things that the NDP will do or substantially advance during its first 365 days in office.
Eustace, an economist, said an NDP government will appoint a committee on public financing and debt, adding that this will give the new government “a picture of the actual state of our finances”.
“We can get people to come in and do that exercise for us and that will also help us with the question of dealing with corruption,” he said.
Eustace said an NDP administration will also remove VAT on over 100 basic consumer items within the first year.
The party will also complete the examination of the removal of VAT on electricity and consider options for reducing overall the cost of electricity.
“This is very critical you know. Our competitiveness as a nation is humbugged by the cost of electricity. We cannot compete with some of our products that we want to send overseas because the cost of electricity is too high,” he said.
He told the town hall meeting that the NDP has appointed St. Clair Leacock, MP for Central Kingstown, a former employee of the state-owned electricity company, VINLEC, as the lead person on this exercise.
One thousand acres of bananas will be planted and rehabilitated in the first year, and an NDP administration will reinstate a development bank to support the development of enterprise in agriculture and tourism in SVG.
With the party’s proposed Constituency Development Fund (CDF), an NDP government will design and begin the implementation of community projects to provide employment.
Eustace pointed out that the CDF, which was championed by Leacock, will not put money into the hands of parliamentarian.
“The parliamentarian will work with his constituency council, identify projects in his constituency, they will still have to go through the Ministry of Works to be done and supervised. But the allocation will there for the funding of constituency,” said Eustace, a former finance minister.
In the first year, an NDP administration will begin to pay external examination (CXC & CAPE) fees for secondary and post-secondary school students.
“A person studies for five, six years, they come to write their exams, and instead of writing 10 subjects, they write five; they can only pay the fees for five subjects. That can’t continue. We will pay the fees. I promise that, and that will be done in the very first year,” Eustace said.
He said the Book Loan Scheme, an initiative Eustace started when he was minister of finance more than 15 years ago, will be revived and refinanced.
Under the initiative, students pay a small fee, and the Ministry of Education issues then with textbooks that they can use for a year.
Eustace said that when the scheme was started with the primary school and a few classes in secondary school, the NDP government invested EC$2 million into it.
“The ULP (Unity Labour Party) has never reached back to two million still and we have plenty more children and so on, and therefore a lot of people only get three books and five books and 10 books when they should be getting 20 books. We are going to refinance and revive that scheme for you,” he said.
“I ain’t calling it any education revolution. I call it doing something for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the field of education.”
Eustace said the maintenance and development of playing field is a constant bother in constituencies.
“You have to have outlets for our children in sports. We won’t complete that in one year, but that process will commence in earnest in our first year in office,” he said.
Eustace said an NDP administration will tackle and reduce corruption and crime, beginning in its first year.
It will also bring to Parliament and pass integrity legislation. “That will be done in year one,” he said.
The party will also design and implement a national health insurance scheme, he said, noted that the University of the West Indies had partnered with the NDP administration to do the research work for the initiative since 2001.
It was to be linked to the National Insurance Services, with employees contributing 1 per cent of their income to cover basic health services “but over time to include the package of benefits that you get from health.
“If that had been done in 2001 when it was ready, we would have been covering a lot more things today, and you won’t have all these cries of people having to leave the hospital and go outside to find drugs, he said.
He, however, said he is not sure how long it will take for the university to redo the research work.
Eustace said an NDP administration wants the medication for diabetes, hypertension, and other common conditions to be available all the time.
“We can’t have this where people are leaving the hospital when they are sick or sending somebody outside to buy something,” Eustace said.
An NDP administration will, in its first year, begin to deal with the government’s debt to the private sector, Eustace said. “We believe that as part of the process to get our economy going forward, we have to take away some of the hindrances to proper private sector development.
“That is where we are going to get our jobs from, you know. You are not going to get them from the government. The government has a lot of posts there that are not filled, or they are often filled with square pegs, when the hole is round,” he said to spattering of laughter.
He also restated the NDP’s commitment to “doing what is necessary” to complete the EC$700 million international airport at Argyle.
The airport has missed several completion deadlines since 2011, and the government has said it will be completed this year.
“What I will say is that given the cost of that facility, so much hundreds of millions of dollars and what it will cost when it is finished … the reality is that the most likely option that will arise is that you have to get a company with the technical people that is required to run the airport. But that company will never come to that if they have to take on the debt.
“The debt will remain with the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I will bet you that…” Eustace said.
“That airport is not going to make the kind of monies that allows it to maintain its operations and service its debt. It will not happen,” Eustace said.
“I don’t even have a shrink of doubt about that,” he said, adding that St. Lucian and Grenada are still paying American Airlines to travel there and questioned whether Argyle will see greater passenger loads than these airports.