ST. GEORGE’S: The Government of Grenada, which is contemplating entering into an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), says it is encouraged by the support given by non-governmental organizations to restructure the country’s national debt.
The Grenada Conference of Churches, the Grenada Private Sector Organization, the Grenada Trade Union Council and the Inter-agency Group of Development Organizations have voiced their support for the government’s plan to restructure the national debt.
Representatives of these organizations spoke during the first in a series of forums last week to debate issues of national concern.
“Do we support a comprehensive work out of the debt…the answer is yes, and that was the first point we made to the government in May,” said Father Sean Doggett, using Biblical references to strengthen his argument. “Our concern is that what happens…the poorest and most vulnerable. We are also concerned that the poor and marginalized must benefit from any program.”
The debt restructuring is a key component of a program Grenada is discussing with the IMF. The administration of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell has already warned nationals they should be prepared for change.
Dr. Mitchell will visit the United States later this month for talks with the IMF and has promised to continue the national dialogue. He has been meeting which various groups to solicit feedback and has been outlining the various issues being discussed with the IMF.
Labour movement representative, Kenny James, said although labour supports debt restructuring, it was opposed to any move to retrench workers. James said the unions would instead favour a redeployment of workers, measures to enhance the government’s revenue collection, a cell phone levy, a financial transaction tax as well as a review of the current income tax threshold.
“No retrenchment of workers,” said James. “In an economy where the unemployment rate is 40 per cent, any further loss of jobs can have catastrophic socio-economic consequences on our society.”
Judy Williams, who represented a development group at the forum, said the country’s debt management strategy has been poor and Grenada must examine the process that led to its current economic problems.
“We also want to say that the poor management is also a reflection of the broader issue of governance and accountability,” said Williams. “We feel compelled to ask for an examination of the process which led us to the current reality.”
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Timothy Antoine, emphasized that public debt is a matter for all of Grenada.
He said the benefits of an emerging program would result in significant reductions in the national debt, about US$300-million in debt relief, substantial grant aid and technical support including in tax collection.
“Grenada has the potential to be the strongest economy in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU),” said Antoine. “But we must take some important decisions…some tough decisions starting with the simple proposition of spending no more than we earn. To convince our creditors that we not only need help but that we have learned our lesson, we must make important sacrifices.”