The main opposition New Democratic Party on Wednesday officially launched its manifesto for the Dec. 9 generally elections, dismissing the accusation by the incumbent Unity Labour Party (ULP) that it (NDP) does not have any plans for the country.
NDP president, Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, highlighted elements of the manifesto, including its fiscal policy, which, he said, will attempt to ensure that there is financing for the budgets that lawmakers approve.
Eustace, a former prime minister and minister of finance, noted that over the last nine years the Ralph Gonsalves Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration has brought deficit budgets to Parliament, with the deficit this year being in excess of EC$100 million
He noted that citizens, through their taxes, pay the debt that result from borrowing used to fill the deficit.
“I want people to grasp that concept that your role as a taxpayer is very critical in the development of our country,” Eustace said.
This year, the government expects to spend EC$664 million while expecting to receive EC$520 million, he said.
“Who is going finance that gap? It means that you have to go and borrow again or it means that you don’t do the project and if you don’t do the project, then unemployment increases,” he said, adding that the NDP wants to take a hard look at unemployment in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Eustace reiterated the NDP’s plans to recapitalise the Book Loan Scheme and to pay students’ O’Level and A’ Level examination fees.
He told the launch at Democrat House in Kingstown that an NDP administration will introduce integrity legislation for parliamentarians and will also introduce a national health insurance service.
An NDP administration will also pay down the monies owned by the government to the private sector, Eustace said, adding that this should ease the pressure that private businesses face, adding that one business had already laid off 170 workers.
Eustace said that under the NDP, the low-income housing programme will be reviewed, with a view to building the houses at minimal cost, and adding an administration fee and relieve persons of mortgages that see them paying back almost three times what was borrowed.
He noted that persons are still awaiting houses at Green Hill and are paying rent and a mortgage, even as they have given the money for constructing the house to the state-owned Housing and Land Development Corporation.
“We have to get rid of the system that operates now and that is our proposal to deal with it,” Eustace told the audience, which included media workers and party supporters.
“That is the first year to-do list, assuming that we are elected in December,” he said.
Eustace also restated the NDP’s plan to rehabilitate 1,000 acres of banana during its first year in office and said that under its agriculture policy, the emphasis will be extended to other commodities.
He said the NDP will take a completely different approach to the private sector, and accused the ULP of causing more and more private sector operations to close.
He said that earlier this year, he listed more than 40 businesses — not including fishers and farmers — that have closed, adding that the figure has increased since.
The NDP wants to have an approach to the private sector, including financing, that allows private enterprises to do their business.
Eustace said the NDP will employ people and bring income into the country, but added that the party can’t do it without the private sector, and, therefore, will establish a ministry of the private sector.
Government will still have its businesses, Eustace said, adding that the state, however, needs to give a push to the private sector to contribute to the development of the country.
The nation’s problems, he said, can’t be solved unless the private sector is involved.
He said he was confident that the NDP has a team with a broad range of training and skills who it can assign to have responsibility for certain areas of the development of the country.
“I need not say that we have enough people with the experience and qualification…” he said.
He said the NDP would create about 500 jobs in the information communications technology section in its first year in office.
The party will also focus on healthcare.
Health care, Eustace said, encourages investment in the country and helps bring jobs, because people who invest want a climate where they know they have a good health service.
Eustace also restated the NDP’s planned three-pronged approach to remedying the health situation, namely promoting wellness, a national health insurance scheme, and a new hospital.
Eustace accused the ULP administration of treating the
Grenadines as if it were “part of a different world”.
He said residents of the Grenadines had to pay a “tax to go home”, a reference to the EC$1 levied on persons travelling to the Grenadines for mandatory use of the terminal at the ferry berth.
“That should have applied to people going to Georgetown too,” Eustace said in highlighting his opposition to the tax, which was removed some years ago.
“It is one state and you can’t discriminate against people in that way.
“And apart from that, that is our Gibraltar. The Grenadines has remained very faithful to the New Democratic Party over the years,” he said of the Northern and Southern Grenadines, which have continued to vote the NDP, including in 2001 and 2005, when the ULP won all but one of the seats in St. Vincent.
In tourism, Eustace said SVG is the one of some 18 countries in the Caribbean that had a fall off in stay-over visitors last year.
“So, they are playing the fool. The director of tourism is talking a lot of crap, very often,” he said.
The tourism industry, Eustace said, offers a lot of jobs and the NDP believes that the country has reached the point where it needs to spend a little more time on tourism activity in North Leeward.
He said that Daniel Cummings, MP for West Kingstown, an opposition MP, had raised a long ago the question of taking a cable car over La Soufriere volcano as a tourism attraction.
Eustace, however, said that to do so, the country must be able to move people from Kingstown to Chateaubelair, adding that there is also need to probably have a smaller cruise ship berth in North Leeward so that persons coming down the island chain can stay over there, see some of the sites there then come down to Kingstown or the Grenadines.
Fast boats will take visitors who arrive in Kingstown to North Leeward to use the cable car facility.
Eustace, however, said that, more and more, the fiscal situation of the government is preventing tourism from operating properly.
He said that the Tourism Authority has received only EC$3 million of its EC$13 million budget, adding that the budgetary shortfall is responsible for the decline in the tourism industry.
Eustace also reiterated that the NDP will change the structure and operations of embassies overseas to ensure they are staffed by persons trained in trade and investment to try and attract investments in SVG.
The small Democratic Republican Party launched its manifesto Wednesday night. The ruling Unity Labour Party and SVG Green Party are yet to launch their manifestos.