The Unity Labour Party administration is exploring extending beyond Dec. 31, the assistance that it has been giving to various categories of Vincentians to cushion the impact of the COVID-19.
“… one of the questions which I have to determine with Edmund Jackson, the director of Finance and with Camillo, the minister of finance, is to see if we can extend it a little further into the new year,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on NBC Radio on Wednesday, as he discussed the nation’s fiscal situation.
“It’s costly. But can we afford not to do it? Because the next few months, I would say up to October next year is going to be a difficult few months,” he said.
Gonsalves noted a Grenadian journalist told him recently that St. George’s had suspended similar assistance four months ago.
“We have to be very careful, to be very enterprising yet very prudent,” he said of Kingstown’s approach.
He said that in budget discussions with the Ministry of Health, he had asked that they postpone setting up their own oxygen EC$1.6 production facility and continue to purchase from the private sector.
The prime minister said this is part of efforts to stimulate the economy.
He said there is also a three-year programme for the repair of clinics.
Some of the clinics should have been repaired this year but that had not been done because of the slowness of preparing the estimates.
Gonsalves said he told health ministry officials that the programme was taking too long.
“We have spent five, six million dollars already in a two and a half-month period repairing schools. We can do it with the clinics…
“They have this programme with bit-by-bit things with the hospital. I say, ‘Let’s do the stuff man!’ It would have a better impact on everything, one people going there, the nurses, the doctors, and so on, but importantly, too, you are creating jobs, even though they are short-term jobs in what is going to be a problematic situation.
“So you have to do that while you are doing the large strategic things, like the port, the hotels, you have to look for many areas in which to help to create work.”
The prime minister said that is why he is telling people all over the country, including young persons, to be on the lookout for where jobs are being created.
“… the work is not necessarily going to come into your village. Some will come into your village. And try and improve your skills, on an ongoing basis in all different areas,” Gonsalves said.
“And that’s a message again today and those who are working, we want to have better attitudes to work and production, we have to resolve that, in the private sector and in the public sector. Too many of us don’t work hard enough or smart enough. How many times we have to talk about this? But if we don’t do it, we’re injuring ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Gonsalves said that at the end of November, total revenue and grants, compared to the first 11 months of 2019, went up 6.8% while current revenue increased by 4.3%.
“If it were not for … some terrible months where we had some big drops in revenue collection because of COVID, this year would have been a fantastic year but we face life as we meet it,” the prime minister said.
To illustrate, he said that despite the increased revenue and grants, the total expenditure was over 18% higher and the capital expenditure went up by over 106%.
“The capital expenditure to the end of November — and it will be larger than this because some of the numbers have not come in yet — $170 million,” the prime minister said.
“The state created a lot of work on coastal projects and we spent a lot of money on COVID-related things, to keep things going. That’s why we kinda help to cushion the impact,” he said adding that a journalist in Grenada told him last Sunday that they had stopped giving money over four months ago,” he said.