An opposition lawmaker has dismissed as just talk, the comments by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Wednesday, that his government may soon be unable to pay salaries, pensions, and social security contributions, if the current economic circumstances continue.
“As I said, when you hear the prime minister speak, you have to listen very carefully and don’t fall into his trap,” Central Kingstown MP, St. Clair Leacock said on NICE Radio hours after Gonsalves’ comment.
“You said this morning, he was speaking, quite politely, ‘Welcome into my parlour said the spider to the fly.’ And he’s good at that. But the prime minister will always have money to pay civil servants. And there isn’t a month he will never play civil servants and he will never make them feel that he’s struggling in a given month.”
Gonsalves, speaking on NBC Radio, continued to urge public servants and the nation at large to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
He was speaking even as only about 11,000 residents have taken the jab, way below the 50,000 that his government had hoped to administer this month.
And, even as the government, on Wednesday, received a further 24,000 doses of vaccines under the COVAX facility, there is a real possibility that a large portion of those vaccines may expire, if the current hesitancy continues.
The government had received 5,000 doses of AstraZeneca from Dominica and 40,000 from India, from which it gave 5,000 each to Grenada and St. Lucia, leaving 35,000 doses.
From that, about 12,000 doses have to be kept as second doses for persons who have already taken the jab.
This means that the government will have about 9,000 doses remaining.
These 9,000 doses expired on June 27 and the 24,000 doses it received on Wednesday expired on June 30.
The prime minister said he would give the vaccines to neighbouring countries rather than allow them to expire.
Leacock, who is a proponent of vaccination, has disagreed, however, with some of the tactics that the government has used in its efforts to get persons to take the jab.
“So what was put out there this morning is for public consumption. If is one thing the government would always be able to do is to pay public servants wages,” he said.
Leacock said there’s a mechanism in the government financial regime that does not even come within the remit of the Budget or the Estimates of Income and Expenditure.
“It is that privilege they have, an instrument called treasury bills,” Leacock said, adding that the government can always float treasury bills every 30 days “because at a time and place when it is difficult to earn interest on the monies — cash — that people have, many banks not even taking the cash.
He said that some financial institutions are giving as little as 1% interest on cash.
“People who have money — and I’m talking about big institutions — are looking for a safe place to park their money and government debt, treasury bills is always a safe place. And that’s because when you buy treasury bills, you take your returns off the top, you get your interest upfront…
“You don’t give to the government the 100% of what they borrow. You just take off your interest that you are going to make from it, and then give them the balance. So your money is safe and guaranteed.”
Leacock noted that the government said that its income in January fell by about EC$15 million but rebounded in February because of money from alien land holding licences from the sale of private properties in Mustique.
“So even though we say that they have one on, one off, so every other month they have a bad month and have six months short at 15, that is $90 million short [for the year].”
Leacock said that even if this is the case with government revenue, there are other things, not salaries, which will not be paid.
“There are a lot of things which St. Vincent and the Grenadines will not have and those things that they will not have will come from the services that they should provide and the funds that should be to some of their own statutory corporations like Tourism Authority and all those sorts of places.
“Those are the ones that will suffer. That’s where they will suffer. But in any event, it is something that they are almost accustomed to. They have been, for the last several years, living a lie — presenting a picture of a story that they couldn’t complete.”