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Opposition Leader Godwin Friday in a June 1, 2023 photo.
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday in a June 1, 2023 photo.
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The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) says that the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and “not just projects” must be the focus of the 2024 Budget, which is expected to be presented in Parliament in early January.

“Engaging our people in building the economy and improving their own circumstances is essential to our success. A budget that fails to do this will fail the people,” the party said in a press statement today (Wednesday), one week before the Estimates are to be presented for approval by lawmakers. 

The NDP outlined its priorities for the 2024 budget, calling on the government to reduce the rate of VAT from 16% to 13% to provide relief from high cost of living.

The opposition said the government should create a pathway to put the National Insurance Service – which is in urgent need of reform — on a sustainable footing.

The party said that the government should cut from 8% and 9% to 4.5% the interest rate on student loans, a promise that the NDP made in the 2020 election campaign.

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The government has said it would announce a reduction in Budget 2024.

On Wednesday, the NDP also called on the government to use the upcoming budget to encourage projects to provide significant employment now that Sandals and other hotel projects are coming into operation.

The party said also that the government should pay urgent attention to TVET education and create a national skills agency with representatives from government, business, and unions to fill jobs and meet the needs of the economy.

“We urge the government to include them in the Budget to be presented in January,” the NDP said.

The NDP quoted its president and Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday as noting that at the party’s Hope for Youth Rally last month the party set out the specifics of its plan to build a brighter SVG.

“We always put the country first and that is why we are calling on the government not to delay further but to implement these measures now,” Friday said.

“We want to see focus on job creation, skills development and growing our economy to ensure we give everyone the opportunity to build a better life in SVG. While there will be other priorities over the course of the budget if the government is serious about tackling the unemployment rate and cost of living then these proposals can make real and clear progress.”

Meanwhile, MP for East Kingstown, Dwight Fitzgerald Bramble, and NDP lawmaker, said the coming budget represents an opportunity for the government to take the best decisions in the long-term interest of our country.

“They need to show more urgency. Having said before that they could not cut the student loan interest rate, they now say they will do it. But if they had done it when the NDP proposed it in 2020, the average student would have saved thousands of dollars in loan payments by now,” Bramble said in the party’s press statement.

“The government should look at our budget proposals and incorporate them into the upcoming national budget.  They should put aside partisanship and division and focus on what’s best for the country,” he said.

The NDP said the budget presents an opportunity for the country to move forward. 

“However, the budget is being developed against a backdrop of increasing economic uncertainty and the country faces a serious challenge that must be addressed now.”

The party said the budget will be presented against the backdrop of “major competitiveness challenges.

“Having been through the disruption of the volcanic eruption and the COVID-19 pandemic, acute inflationary pressures now risk undermining a sustainable recovery.”

The NDP said growth rates over 2021 and 2022 still remain below pre-crisis level, including the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the ECCB target of 5% per annum.

“Wages growth remains weak,” the NDP said, adding that the Caribbean Society for Human Resource Professionals’ (CSHRP) second annual Caribbean salary report, PayPulse 2023, showed that SVG is the lowest-paying country in the region.

The report said 73.3% of salaries in SVG are below the average market value across the region.

“Cost of living remains crushingly high and is unbearable for most of our people,” the NDP said, adding that unemployment remains exceedingly high.

“Latest rates suggest that nearly one in four people are unemployed. The youth unemployment rate is chronically high at over 40% and there seems to be little prospect of this declining significantly in the near to medium term without sustained action from government,” the NDP said.

“A decade ago, nearly 40% of young persons were unemployed, today that number at 39% is virtually unchanged. Therefore, we have one of the worst rates of youth unemployment in the Caribbean.

“Too many of our young people do not have work or the prospect of a well-paid or meaningful job in their future. Instead, many of our young people are trapped in either low-paying, temporary work provided by the government or are unemployed. The government’s answer to unemployment is to ignore it until election time.

“The lack of economic growth has wider implications. St Vincent and the Grenadines suffers from significant food insecurity. It is estimated that about one-third of our population endured moderate or severe food insecurity during 2020–2022.”

The NDP said the country needs an economy where everyone has the opportunity to find work and make a decent wage.

“The NDP believes that we have to build an economy where everyone has the opportunity to contribute.”

The party said prosperity will be built upon four pillars of the economy — tourism, agriculture, the new economy and the blue economy.

“We want to enhance these sectors and unleash our productive capacity.  We aim to develop a country that becomes a shining light of the Eastern Caribbean. We need to build an economy for the 21st century,” the NDP said.

“We need to build an economy that will deliver real and noticeable improvement in wages, create more jobs, encourage the growth of new business and offer opportunity for our young people to live and work here in SVG.

The country needs a jobs-led economic recovery. We want to: deliver More Jobs; significantly increase wages; and, generate sustained economic growth.  To achieve this, we must enhance our training and education system to prepare young persons for the available jobs in the future, grow our economy to provide opportunities and create higher paying jobs.”