Referring to the “creeping dictatorship” that caused him to resign from the New National Party a year ago and wearing a symbolic chain around his wrist that he secured to the table in the House of Representatives on Monday, Leader of the Opposition Hon Tobias Clement said he is not afraid to deliver his response.
“To get me out of here you would have to nuke this place,” he proclaimed.
Before he was able to proceed with his response to the 2021 Budget, Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon Michael Pierre in response to the Opposition Leader’s complaint, explained that he had the same time as all members having received the documents for the budget on November 25.
“So, I don’t understand the drama and the chain. This Parliament is not a slave pen. The Parliament is a place of freedom,” and the world does not want to see “a comedian or something like that in Parliament,” the Speaker said, adding “So if you wish to chain yourself to the Parliament table so that the world can see what the Leader of the Opposition’s demeanor is … proceed.”
Previously on Friday, in response to the Opposition Leader’s complaints about the availability of documents and the timing of Parliamentary procedures, Prime Minister Dr the Hon Keith Mitchell said it is the tradition in Grenada and other democracies around the world that once the budget is presented, the Leader of the Opposition “has to respond,” adding that he had received the initial budget papers on November 18 and had until December 03 to prepare, as well as receiving the finance committee document, which is the final document, on November 25. The Prime Minister accused the Opposition Leader of “putting the House out of sync” and forcing “the rest of us to play catch up.” Traditionally, the Opposition Leader would have responded before other members made their contribution to the debate; but Clement said he needed the weekend to prepare.
In proceeding with his response, Tobias said mental slavery is probably the “deepest scourge that we have today” and complained that he received the 1,000-plus pages of the budget documents via the internet, which made it difficult for him to peruse the files in their entirety “in front of a computer.” He said he received a paper copy of the Budget speech at 4 pm on Wednesday (December 02), but the package did not include the appendixes. Although the one hour/23-minute presentation by Minister of Finance Hon Gregory Bowen commenced at 10 am, the documents were not made available on the Government of Grenada website until 6 pm.
Noting that the Minister of Finance said unemployment increased from 15.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 28.4% in the second quarter of 2020 with 14,000 jobs lost, Clement contended that this should be doubled as many people were not counted in determining the rate. Minister Bowen, in delivering his first budget speech, said preliminary data suggests that the unemployment rate is declining and is estimated to drop to 20% by the end of 2020. The Finance Minister said many sectors, including construction, agriculture, wholesale and retail, continue to “normalise.”
However, Tobias said in preparing the 2021 budget government should have “put aside at least $50 to $100 million to deal with people” pointing out that the budget is not just about concrete and building. Such sums would help businesses in Grenada develop. He said government uses hotels as “cash cows” in terms of taxes, but there are many other entities that have closed or are on the brink of closing. He had recommended the government make the 2021 budget a “COVID budget” but this is not what Bowen delivered, according to the Opposition Leader.
Tobias said all sectors of the economy are hurting, yet the government proceeds “as if it is business as usual.” While acknowledging the efforts of front-line workers and referencing the government’s claim of keeping Grenada safe from widespread COVID-19, he said this is due to “the mercies of God” and we have to “keep praying” for these mercies.
Photo Caption: Opposition Leader Tobias Clement being unchained by his secretary