Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday has noted that the 2021 fiscal package is being presented at a time when St. Vincent and the Grenadines is facing the COVID-19 crisis and the ongoing effusive eruption of La Soufriere.
In the Estimates debate this week, ahead of Monday’s presentation of the Budget, the opposition leader said the EC$1.21 billion budget is full of “lies” and dishonesty and does not point to the way forward.
“Desperate times require bold action. It requires us to do things differently, not tinkering and saying, ‘Well, we increase two more positions here, we have done a little extra here, we put aside a little here to help the people who are struggling. But other than that, the course is the same. The trajectory is the same. The expectation is the same,’” the opposition leader said.
“This crisis tests our resilience. But it requires honesty from all of us in public life. That is how you build trust. And that is how we instil that assurance within the people that will get through this and will be better off at the end.
Friday noted that the nation is in unprecedented times, with the exploding number of COVID-19 cases and La Soufriere volcano undergoing an effusive eruption, which could turn explosive without warning.
“The point that I wish to make today is that the Estimates need to be our blueprint for the future. We are in unprecedented times. We can’t have an old blueprint and expect it to lead us into that new future.”
He said that in a crisis, “all lies and pretence are exposed by the exigencies of the circumstances, and by the requirement for effective, meaningful action to remedy the situation. You can’t fake it, so to speak. You can’t fake it. When lives and livelihoods are on the line…
“Our people are nervous, they need reassurance, they need to know that we can come out of this mess and with hope, and thanks to God, we can look boldly to the future,” Friday told Parliament during Tuesday’s Estimates Debate.
“These estimates and the budget that will follow should be the blueprint for the way into that future. And we shouldn’t just be thinking of mere survival or riding out the storm, and then go back to business as usual,” the opposition leader said.
He said that all over the world, people of all walks of life — economists, spiritualists, philosophers, religious people, ordinary folk — look at what we are going through and [are] saying that this is a test.
“But the lessons from it, and the silver lining that we can find, should not go to waste. We should look at it as an opportunity to think of ways in which we can do things better, more effectively, not just to prepare for the next pandemic or the next crisis, but to prepare for life itself; to prepare our economy to be more productive, to create jobs for young people, to create a better life for all of us.
“It is terrible that we have to be here today jumping through hoops, so to speak, making all kinds of accommodations and changes to avoid making the situation with COVID-19 worse and to set an example, for the nation.”
He was speaking about the measures implemented in the Parliament, including physical distancing, and limiting the number of persons in the chamber.
The measures were implemented amidst a worsening COVID-19 situation in the country, in which, as of Friday, 755 persons have tested positive since Dec. 28.
“But in truth we shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t be at this point, notwithstanding the answer that was given to my question this morning to the Minister of Health, when I asked if they dropped the ball to say that it’s happening elsewhere, we know it’s happening elsewhere.
“Doesn’t mean that we have to look for the worst examples to copy or to measure ourselves against — if ‘copying’ is an uncharitable term. We should look at who are doing the best and see what we can do to emulate that, or at least aspire to doing so.”
Friday, however, noted that the situation was already at that stage.
“The question is how do we get out of it? Where do we go from here? And … the estimates … are supposed to point the way to the future but sadly, they do not.”
The opposition leader said it is clear to anyone with eyes “that this problem of COVID-19 is the biggest problem that we have in every aspect of our lives.
“The current terrible outbreak, it threatens life, it threatens health, and has set our economy back. Our neighbours look at us and wonder what’s happening,” he said.
Friday noted that Grenada has announced increased patrol of its borders with SVG, which, historically, has been “rather flexible”.
“The situation is out of shape, out of control. We were in bad shape as an economy before COVID but it has gotten much worse. The estimates must recognise this and respond accordingly.”