Fifteen years after the Unity Labour Party (ULP) promised to give a 30 per cent salary increase to public servants, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is still suffering from the fallout from that promise, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace says.
In the lead up to the March 2001 general elections, the ULP said it would have given public servants a 30 per cent increase in salary, even as Eustace, who was prime minister and minister of finance, said the country could only afford 12 per cent.
“And I told them what the country could afford, not what they needed … If we paid more than that we would pay the price later on. Well, we are paying it now,” Eustace told an NDP campaign rally in Union Island on Friday.
He said while the ULP promised a 30 per cent salary increase, public servants have not received it in the 14 years that the party has been in office.
“We were able then to pay 12 [per cent] and I said that is what we would do.
“But they twisted my thing and said I said not a cent for them. What I said was not a cent over 12 per cent,” said Eustace, an economist.
“Because I knew — that is my training. I knew that we could not afford it in this country. I went so far as to say even if I have to lose the election I am not going more than 12 per cent, and people tell me I am foolish to say that,” said Eustace, whose NDP lost the March 2001 general elections after 17 years in office and has remained in opposition since.
“But it was the truth. It was the real situation. And if we had done what we were supposed to do from that time to now, we would be in a better position today,” he said.
Eustace’s comments came as he noted that the ULP government has not given public servants any salary increase since 2011.
Further, the government has said that it cannot afford a one-off payment of one month’s salary, tax-free in the absence of salary increases since 2011.
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Ralph Gonsalves, has said that the workers deserve the payment, but his government cannot afford the EC$25 million that it will amount to.
Eustace said that he sometimes reflects on the developments 15 years ago and wonder what things would have been like now had the parties acted differently then.
“People are not interested in those things but that is how you learn you know. That’s how you learn; because what you do affects people’s life.”
He said managing the economy is not like making a mistake that could be corrected the following day.
“What you do in these decisions, people depend on it to make a living. So when you make a big mistake, it takes years to correct it, and, in the meantime, thousands of people suffer. And that is what we are doing now. That’s what we are doing now. There is a lot of suffering in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Eustace said.
“That is what the NDP has to correct, and the NDP will correct that,” he said of his party, which will this year make third bid to get back into office since 2001.
Eustace said he remembers activist Glenn Jackson — who later became press secretary to Gonsalves — was pushing for the 30 per cent salary increase.
“I told them there is no way we could afford 30 per cent and if that happens, we would be worst off. And we would find ourselves later down the road not being able to give anything,” Eustace said.
He said the negotiators made the point to his government that salaries in Dominica were higher than SVG, but he told them that what Dominica was doing was wrong.
Shortly after, Dominica laid off 1,800 civil servants, Eustace said.
“It is always easy to talk. You have to be able to analyse the elements what you are speaking about and make a determination…” he said, adding that policymakers must
bare in mind that their decisions affect people’s lives.
“It is other people’s lives and when you make a mistake, you affect them in a negative way, and that is what we have here today in our economy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Eustace said.