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MP for East Kingstown, Fitz Bramble in a Feb. 21, 2024.
MP for East Kingstown, Fitz Bramble in a Feb. 21, 2024.

East Kingstown MP, Fitz Bramble has accused the ruling Unity Labour Party of using the April 7 rally to celebrate its 23rd anniversary in office to distract from their “failures” since the 2020 general elections.

Speaking on Hot 97 FM on Tuesday, Bramble, an economist, contrasted what he said were the broken promises of the ULP since the November 2020 general elections and contrasted them with his New Democratic Party’s (NDP) “plan for the future”.

“… not too long ago, Dr. Gonsalves, our prime minister and his government, his cabinet ministers, and what have you, they had a jamboree, I would call it, at the tarmac to celebrate 23 years of governance,” Bramble said.

“And, basically what they attempted to do was really to distract people from their failures. 

Bramble said the NDP has identified 23 broken promises from the ULP’s 2020 manifesto — one promise for every year the party has been in office.

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“And we could go on and on and highlight many more…” he said, mentioning among them that the ruling party’s promise to maintain the fundamentals of a strong macro economy. 

“And where they said the essential emphasis will continue to be on creating jobs, and lifting higher the living conditions of our people. And that was not delivered.”

Bramble further said the ULP promised in its manifesto to continue to reduce the extent of taxes of all kinds on the production of goods and services. 

“Not delivered,” he said, adding, “In fact, they went on … promising to reduce company taxation from 30% to 20%. Not delivered! 

“Meanwhile, they have a lot of giant companies coming into this country and getting duty free, tax free, all kinds of free,” the opposition MP said.

“And then we wonder why we have a jobs crisis in this country because the private sector, the small business sector, they’re struggling, they’re struggling to even survive.”

He said that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was ranked about 129 in the world for ease of doing business. 

“It is easier to do business in 128 countries than in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he noted.

In March, the government increased the minimum wage, mandating that every full-time worker in the country must make at least EC$50 a day.

Bramble said the NDP supports the increase, considering, especially, the high cost of living,  “much of which is not our own doing, but more of which can be addressed by our government”.

He, however, said that with the higher minimum wage, there is an emerging situation where many small businesses, in particular, “are telling you ‘Look, we can’t afford to produce higher wages.’

“So what you have happening now, some workers are being given less hours.” 

Bramble said the government has to be “able to provide the means to make life a little bit easier for our people, particularly the small businesses”.

He said the two issues can be reconciled by providing support to small businesses.

“You have to make it easier for them to do business. The issue of reducing taxes, reducing the cost of doing business is something that governments can and should support,” Bramble said.

He said the NDP has touted the idea of establishing a national development  bank to make access to capital easier for business people. 

“For example, in certain sectors, there’s no reason why the government can’t offer incentives and  greater … concessions to a lot of these businesses to make it easier for them,” Bramble said.

“We’re spending so much money to import stuff into this country. But we’re importing the wrong things. We need to focus on assisting the businesses so that they can also help to create jobs and have to ease the pressure on people in this country.”

He said that a comfortable salary for a person to make in St. Vincent is a time sensitive calculation.

First of all, you have to do proper analysis of the labour market, to see what kinds of jobs and occupations and employment opportunities are most conducive to taking our country forward,” he said. 

“And then, you have to look at the existing condition now, and in the short- to medium-term, at the very least, to determine whether these wages are actually living wages, and that can help people to live comfortably. 

“So it’s not a one size fits all and a hard and fast rule. It must be a dynamic process. But the factors that must figure into all of this is whether or not these wages afford themselves the opportunity to live in a decent way.”

The opposition lawmakers said the poverty rate is now “the highest in the history of this country. 

“We have more people living on $14 a day or less… We have more people living in poverty in this country than ever before.”

He said the official formula used to calculate the poverty line shows that a Vincentian needs at least $14 a day to live above the poverty line.

“… the last time a poverty assessment was done was in 2008. And back then, it was 30%,” Bramble said

A subsequent study which seems to indicate higher levels of poverty was abandoned after opposition lawmaker Daniel Cummings revealed some of the leaked data in 2020.

Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves later said the study would be redone because the data was compromised. 

Bramble said:

“We all live in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We feel it, we walk it, we see it every day. … We know that the poverty rate in this country is way more than 30%.” 

Pressed to substantiate this claim, Bramble said, “You can walk around and see. You live among people. Look at the number of quote unquote vagrants on the street, look at the number of young children out of school on the streets begging. 

“You think all these crimes are being committed, you think it’s because people just wicked and evil, that is a part of it. But a big part of it has to do with our economic realities…

“So there’s a reason why they are reluctant and afraid to do a proper poverty assessment, because the results would show you that we have way more than 30,000 people living on $14 a day or less.”