Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves says that his government kept many of the promises it made to Vincentians in the 2018 budget.
In his 2019 Budget Address on Tuesday — his second since becoming Finance Minister, Gonsalves said:
“Today, we are proud to recall those promises, to celebrate their fulfilment, and to provide updates of those yet to be accomplished.”
He said the Unity Labour Party kept its promise of that in addition to Toronto and New York, the Argyle International Airport will receive flights from “an additional major carrier from a separate North American hub.”
“Today, we know that that major carrier is American Airlines and that North American city is Miami,” he told lawmakers and media audience.
The government has also kept its promise to establish the legislative framework for a “well-regulated, clearly defined, export-oriented, medical cannabis industry in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.”
The “rainy day” Contingencies Fund, through the collection of a 1 per cent tax on consumption and a small fee on stay-over hotel guests is also a reality, with EC$13 million in the Contingencies Fund, improving the nation’s ability to respond to natural disasters, Gonsalves said.
The Vincentian economy surpassed the International Monetary Fund’s prediction of 2 per cent growth.
“Our preliminary data indicate growth of approximately 2.5%, while the latest publication from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) places it at a slightly more robust 3.2%. According to those ECLAC projections, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ 2018 growth rate was the 4th strongest among the 14 independent members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM),” Gonsalves said.
He said that the government also kept its promise of a resolute response to the foreign exchange challenges faced by Vincentian itinerant traders – “traffickers” doing business in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Today, because of our temporary imposition of
Exchange Controls, the patriotism of our business community, our advocacy within the Eastern
Caribbean Central Bank and our intense diplomatic work behind the scenes, we have found a resolution to this thorny issue that benefits our traders and farmers.”
Another pledge realised was the opening and staffing of the Modern Medical & Diagnostic Centre at Georgetown.
“Today, the Complex is well staffed by Vincentian and Cuban professionals, and offering world-class medical care, including dialysis and oncology services,” Gonsalves said.
The commissioning last month of the 140-foot Captain Hugh Mulzac was the realisation of a promise to improve the nation’s Coast Guard fleet through the addition of “a top-class vessel . . . from the Damen group”.
The US$6.8 million, refurbished patrol vessel with a crew complement of 18, is the most advanced craft in the OECS, and is complemented by two new, smaller vessels recently sourced from the Government of Japan.
Gonsalves further reported that SVG can report that its candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council has been endorsed by all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, “paving the way for our hopeful election later this year”.
Another promise kept was that of the government using its influence to place in the hands of new private investors, Buccament Bay Resort which has been closed since December 2016.
The government has also kept its promise to pursue the construction of state-owned hotels with up 350 rooms.
“Today, the new investment group is on board at Buccament, the Government has secured US$50 million to commence a hotel at Mt. Wynne, and we have finalised work to build another hotel at Diamond.”
Gonsalves said many other promises were made and kept, from the expansion of the Zero Hunger Trust Fund, to the establishment of a programme to deploy CCTV cameras across the country, to the installation of fibre-optic ICT infrastructure, to the continuation of work on a geothermal energy plant and a modern port.
“Other promises, while not completed within the predicted time frame, are well on the way to fulfilment,” he said.
“Our pledge to break ground on a new seafood packing facility at Calliaqua will take place in the coming months. Our commitment to commence physical works on new secondary and feeder roads funded by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development is now slated for March. Our pledge to commence collection activities against VAT and PAYE scofflaws is nearing fruition.
“Our promised environmental initiatives regarding single-use plastic bags and grey water disposal were extensively studied in 2018 and will see implementation in 2019. And our undertaking to establish an advisory National Economic Council, while still unfulfilled, is now at the stage of consultation and member selection.”
The finance minister said that taken together, “this record of fidelity to our 2018 Budget pledges is impressive, not only as a record of what we have done; but an important measure of the seriousness with which we view our commitments and an indicator of what will happen in 2019. We are keeping our 2018 promises.
“Put your pot on the fire that we will keep our 2019 promises as well.”
He said “the cautious optimism of 2018 is fuelling an even more positive perspective on 2019 and the medium-term prospects for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“While we are by no means fully recovered from the impacts of the global economic and financial crisis and adverse climate events, the plethora of green shoots is plainly visible, have taken root, and form, collectively, a heartening launching pad for post-crisis growth and development.
Budget 2019 seeks nothing less than to further the process of transforming the pillars of our economy from mono-crop, subsidy-dependent and low-skill to one that is modern, competitive, post-colonial and many-sided. Many other regional economies, faced with a similar challenge, have chosen to seek out and temporarily occupy the fleeting space provided by random fissures in the global financial architecture, or loopholes in the international legal order,” he said.
He said such an approach, while potentially attractive in the short term, “is a recipe for long-term volatility and dependency on either the goodwill or indifference of foreign powers.
“Others have succumbed to the siren song of austerity, externally imposed, and restructured their societies to accord with the distant dictates of ideologues in economists’ clothing.
“Instead, in the quest for economic transformation and modernisation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has (in the words of Robert Frost) taken the road less travelled; and that has made all the difference.”