Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday has dismissed Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves’ first Budget as continuing the “same platitudes” as those presented by his father, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves from 2001 to 2017.
Friday told his New Democratic Party’s (NDP) People’s Budget on Monday that he had hoped that the younger Gonsalves, who became finance minister last November, would have shown some difference from his father in his approach to managing the Vincentian economy.
“But, in fact, if you look at the document itself, even the language sounds like the former minister of finance. You wonder who had a hand in actually writing the document,” Friday said.
The NDP delivered the People’s Budget from its headquarters – Democrat House – in Kingstown one week after the budget was presented and approved in the absence of the opposition.
The EC$993,535,449 budget represents a 1.7 per cent increase over the approved Budget for 2017 and includes the first surplus in years.
The 2018 budget is comprised of recurrent expenditure, inclusive of Amortisation and Sinking Fund Contributions of EC$776,879,739 and capital expenditure of EC$216,655,710.
The government is anticipating that the 2018 budget will be financed by current revenue of EC$620,658,138, and capital receipts of EC$371,877,312.
Friday led opposition lawmakers in a walk out of Parliament in protest against the finance minister and his government on Feb. 5, when the fiscal package was presented.
The opposition was protesting their failure, one week earlier, to have Parliament debate a no confidence motion against the government after the government was allowed to amend the motion, turning it into a motion of confidence in itself, which it passed in the absence of the opposition.
The opposition was also attempting to pressure the finance minister to comment on the on-going scandal in which former model Yugge Farrell said he cheated on his wife with her during a years-long extramarital relationship.
Friday said that it is “distressing” and sometimes “infuriating” that the Budget document appears to pay more attention to “form over substance, to sanitising the conduct, behaviour, practice and function of the government over the past several years”.
He said that what the government should be doing instead is to say to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines that the government has something to offer in the future.
Friday said that the opposition’s analysis is that the amount of money projected to be spent is not matched by the amount of money that realistically will be received.
This year, in the other receipts category which the government uses to try to balance the budget, is $160 million, the opposition leader said.
He said that while the finance minister had spoken about trying to avoid padding, there is no real chance that the capital estimates or expenditure for 2018 can be achieved in terms of the capacity to implement but more importantly, because the money just isn’t there.
Capital expenditure for 2018 is budgeted to be EC$216 million.
“Imagine if the government would spend that kind of money what would happen to the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Friday said.
He told the gathering and radio audiences that the EC$4.62 million surplus on the current account that the minister has announced is miniscule when one considers that for 17 years his New Democratic Party ran a surplus on the current account, which averaged over 5 per cent per annum.
In 1997, the surplus was $32 million, which was 4.1 per cent of GDP, Friday said.
“So we have the same tight situation with respect to the government finances and the same problems you have of the implementation process because very often there is no counterpart funding to match the development projects but also, the government simply fails to take advantage of the funds that are available to help to develop our economy,” Friday said.
The opposition leader said what has resulted from the lack of investment in the productive sector and capital projects is that the economy basically stagnates.
“So that you will find [that] … between 2009 and 2016, for example, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) declared that the growth rate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines was a mere 0.2 per cent, which is to say the economy simply didn’t grow during that period.
“So when you hear of the hardships that people have been feeling and you see that businesses have been collapsing, then you know what is the cause…
“And right now, the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines continues to fail to provide the opportunities and what we see is continuing crime and violence, what we see is businesses closing every Monday morning in Kingstown. What we see are people who are losing hope. When you lose hope in our country, we have no country left. Hope is what inspires us to get up and to do things. We have to bring that back to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“And right now, the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not do that. It’s the same platitudes, self praising looking backwards rather than forwards,” Friday said.