“The idea to help people is always good,” said Andre Lewis, president of the Grenada Trades Union Council (GTUC), when asked about the proposal for a social fund to be administered by the social partners as announced by Prime Minister Dr the Hon Keith Mitchell during his Independence Address.
“It’s a good idea if you take it at face value,” Lewis told The Grenadian Voice on Thursday.
In his address on Sunday (Feb 07) at the National Cricket Stadium, the Prime Minister referred to people who “have no means of helping themselves right now. We must remember them and do what we can to help them. It is for this reason that I plan to present a proposal to the social partners, for the creation of a social fund that will be used to help the most vulnerable in our society.”
Lewis pointed out that Grenadians who have the means are helping the less fortunate through their unions, community groups and churches, as well as from neighbour to neighbour. While Lewis said a central place for persons to make donations sounds good, the Prime Minister will need to provide more details as to how the fund would function.
Methodist Superintendent Rev Sylbert Prescod said churches already have programmes to help the vulnerable in their congregations and communities.
“These programmes are ongoing to meet some of those needs,” he said.
Prescod, who is also Chair of the Conference of Churches Grenada, which is part of the committee of social partners, said the Prime Minister’s proposal will require significant reflection by the social partners.
“Structures would be needed for administration and oversight, so there would be much to consider,” he noted.
In his address, the Prime Minister envisioned that “the social partners will establish an independent committee to manage and disburse the funds acquired through this effort.”
GRENCODA deputy general secretary Benny Langaigne welcomed the idea but cautioned about the task of administration, determining eligibility and other criteria.
“It would require a lot of cataloguing and would need to be developed with guidelines,” he said, noting that social partners are stretched and already wear “multiple hats”.
He said the fact that the government is willing to distance itself from the proposed fund is encouraging, but managing the fund and carefully determining who would be eligible for the donations could be a full-time job.
The committee of social partners, which was established in 2013 and is chaired by the Prime Minister, comprises representatives from the labour movement, the private sector, churches and civil society.
These include the Grenada Tourism Authority, the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association, the yachting and marine sector, the Grenada Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Inter Agency Group of Development Organisations, Grenada Alliance of Evangelical Churches and the Conference of Churches
The committee was expected to meet on a monthly basis “or whenever the Prime Minister calls a meeting when he has an issue he wants to discuss” one member representative told this newspaper.
Fishermen were among the groups listed by the Prime Minister that have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and in need of financial support. Aldwyn Ferguson, president of the Gouyave Fishermen’s Cooperative Society, said he does not see a role for fishermen in such a scheme, nor does he believe it will materialise.
“All fishers are in the same boat and it is not just because of COVID-19,” he said, adding the suggestion is “just talk to give people comfort.”
He said it is government’s responsibility to find the resources for the most vulnerable and not turn to Grenadians who are employed to donate.
“This is a way of keeping people silent,” according to Ferguson.
Another member of civil society, who chose to remain nameless, said the proposal by the Prime Minister is a distraction, given the current state of labour relations and the potential of an election. The person, who has attended social partner meetings, said the committee has never functioned as it was envisioned to function.
The Committee, as originally intended, had a main objective to foster a relationship and common approach between government and the social partners through the development and implementation of a “National Social Protocol/Compact” as a strategic mechanism for the formulation and implementation of national policies and for ensuring nationwide problem solving on various issues.
Meetings were later changed to a quarterly schedule, but one member said “we are there to be conveniently used” by Dr Mitchell.
In his Independence address, Dr Mitchell pointed out that since Grenada commenced battling the COVID-19 pandemic in March, he has received numerous requests for assistance – calls, text messages, and emails – noting that some people have been without jobs for almost a year. He stated that in the tourism sector alone, that number is more than 2,000.
Adrian Thomas, Acting Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress, said he too receives numerous requests for assistance, as do all politicians for everything from medical services, to school fees and many other expenses that people are unable to meet.
“This is not the best time to ask people for more. I cannot encourage people to donate,” he said, noting that people with jobs are over-taxed and under pressure.
“We need to find our way out of this pandemic by producing and manufacturing, not by begging and hand-outs,” Thomas told this newspaper.