Grenadians elect a new government tomorrow
ST GEORGE’S, Grenada, Monday February 18, 2013 – Grenadians go to the polls tomorrow to elect a new government with the two main political parties confident that they have done enough to get the nod of the 62,000 voters to run the affairs of the island for the next five years.
Prime Minister Tillman Thomas is leading his National Democratic Congress (NDC) into the election, hoping to secure a similar margin of victory that it had in 2008 when it won 11 of the 15 seats and ended the 13 year rule of the New National Party (NNP) of Dr Keith Mitchell.
But the NDC is not as united as it had been prior to the last general election. During its term in office, the government has been saddled with infighting among legislators leading to either the dismissal or resignation of key party officials such as tourism minister Peter David, who was later expelled from the party.
David was not the only one getting the boot from the NDC. Former foreign affairs minister Karl Hood, who had filed a motion of no confidence against the government, as well as prominent trade unionist Chester Humphrey, who sat as a senator, were also shown the door.
Prime Minister Thomas has defended the expulsion of the 10 members accusing them of colluding with the opposition to bring down his government.
“Today they are openly colluding with the opposition in their vengeful bid to bring the government down and then thereafter to deliver votes to the opposition,” Thomas said, adding “those individuals who have gone down this road have self-destructed as politicians”.
While he has refuse to predict the margin of victory for the NDC in the election, Prime Minister Thomas nonetheless has gone out of his way to indicate that the first seat to be declared for the party will be the one now held by Hood, who last week appeared on a platform of the NNP and endorsed it as the best party to lead Grenada at this time.
Some of the expelled NDC members have since formed the National United Front (NUF) under the leadership of Glynnis Roberts.
The party is putting up three candidates, but Mrs Roberts, who served in Thomas’ cabinet, believes the message to be sent out by the new party is what Grenadians have long been waiting on.
“The National United Front in fairness to us, we were only formed on November 27...so we have to make a presence and for persons who think we are spoilers they better think again,” she told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
“Grenadians, sometimes, we pretend that we don’t know what’s going on, but deep down inside we do and I am saying all that to say the message we are preaching is not one of spoiling. We are here to send a message to the Grenadian people that representation is something different from being a cabinet minister,” she added.
The elections will be monitored by observer teams from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Commonwealth and the Organization of American States (OAS).
The OAS has also been providing technical support to validate and verify the integrity of the new voter registration system.
At the end of a two week mission the OAS submitted a Report which concluded that “the introduction of biometric identification cards and an electronic voter database constitute significant improvements in voter security, relative to the processes that were previously in place.”
According to the report, “the house-to-house survey on voter registration attested to the integrity of the voter registration database.”
It said in 98 percent of cases, there was “almost perfect correspondence between the place of residence provided by the citizen and the constituency in which that citizen was registered.”
The OAS team noted that “Grenada has significantly improved the legal framework governing the voter registration process,” adding that the 2011 Amendment to the Representation of the People Act “provides for the establishment of a permanent, centralized and computerized voter registration system, and establishes a more stringent identification requirement”.
Prime Minister Thomas said that the OAS report means that “Grenadians can now be guaranteed a free and fair election, free from the voter padding and irregularities pertaining to the electoral list of previous elections”.
Both the NDC and the NNP have released their manifestos with the NDC outlining new initiatives in various sectors of the economy and telling voters it is the best party to continue the socio-economic development of Grenada.
“We are the best party to build a nation that is free, a land of equal opportunity, a land of tolerance, fair play and prosperity,” Finance Minister Nazim Burke said at the launch of the manifesto, which indicates that Grenada’s future lies on five pillars of development including tourism, agri-business, energy and education.
“We believe it is possible, we believe the foundation, the most important prerequisite for achieving it is a government that is honest, that is committed to the principles of good governance, a government that is committed to transparency...a government that is committed to account to the persons who elected them, a government that believes in integrity in public life, a government that will show respect for the institutions of the country and a government that will show respect for the rule of law.”
He said the NDC would seek to maximise the island’s human resources, to achieve fiscal stability and sustainability, as well as ensure that the government “in its operations through sound management would get value for money.
“At the end of the day every time we spend it is your money and we must ensure that it is well spent and that we get value for money,” he said, adding that the policies of the government over the past four and a half years have resulted in safety nets for the disadvantage and vulnerable.
“We are able to say with pride that today Grenada is the country that has the largest allocation on social development programmes per capita in the Western hemisphere”.
The NDC also released a booklet on its achievements, indicating that it had introduced prudent macro-economic management policies and practices recognized by international organizations and countries as well as simplifying the tax system with the introduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) and Excise Tax.
Burke said that the NDC is promising to “create new possibilities for all our people” and that more than 10,000 new jobs would be created in various areas of the economy over the next five years.
Burke said that the five pillars of development would also be dependent on improved public sector infrastructure as well as the development of public institutions to ensure good governance and a safe environment for investors.
But the NNP in its 72-page manifesto is promising Grenadians “a new vision”: for development over the next five years.
“It is our view that when a government is elected to office the expectation of all its citizens is that they must benefit and therefore government must provide leadership and good governance which includes improving the quality of lives of all the people of the country,” said Mitchell.
He said the manifesto, when implemented, will allow Grenadians to effectively compete in a changing global environment.
“Our plans have examined these matters thoroughly ...and we believe with the nation’s support we can achieve major successes.”
The NNP is promising to develop an economy that is “fuelled by an educated society capable of adjusting to changing circumstances” and that is part of and contributes meaningfully to the development and integration processes in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Economic Union, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Western hemisphere.
It says the new economy will promote and engender “green” businesses, industry and lifestyles committed to sustainable development.
The NNP said that job creation would be a major priority given that the rate of unemployment has more than doubled between the period 2008 to 2012 with only the public sector registering any form of growth.
“The NNP understands the challenges of recession but will not be distracted from attending to what matters most to Grenadians- a stable job which enables us to support our families and achieve our personal goals”.
It said it would reduce unemployment through policies that would stimulate private sector activities, improve fiscal incentives, revitalise key economic sectors and implement a genuine economic stimulus programme.
“Grenada’s “New Economy must provide job opportunities for those who wish to work; business opportunities for those who choose to invest; opportunity for wealth creation and prosperity for those prepared to sacrifice and play the rules,” the NNP said.
The party said it would also seek to restructure the tax regime to make it more transparent and equitable. It said there would also be an overhaul of the Value Added Tax (VAT) to improve efficiency and simplify its operations.
An opinion poll published late last month by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services Inc (CADRES) is predicting that the NNP is benefitting from an 11 per cent swing away from the ruling party and is likely to win the February 19 general elections with more seats than it had before it was swept out of power in 2008.
According to the results of the poll more Grenadians are in favour of Mitchell heading a government than the incumbent, Prime Minister Thomas.
But the NDC leader is not daunted by the poll findings. He told CMC he is sure his party has done enough over the last term to ensure victory.
“Grenadians will put the NDC back into office because of the achievements over the past four and a half years in health, education, agriculture, governance and the stability in the country.”
Thomas told CMC that another positive for the ruling party is the “manner in which we have created opportunities for Grenadians by introducing or strengthening institutions and emphasising the importance of merit system instead of politicising everything”.
“We have done excellent work for our young people and I know come February 19th they will make a wise decision,” he added.
But Mitchell believes that the NNP is needed to change around the poor socio-economic situation, including high unemployment.
“For one, I believe the people should be voting for us because they recognise that we have a vision for the economic revival of the country and we have a team that is capable of implementing that vision.
“We also have a team that has also demonstrated an interest in people ...unlike what we have seen in several years in the country.
“It is clear the people are hurting and it is clear what exists right now is not able to provide the necessary hope and the necessary impetus for the country’s economic development and they remember what the NNP had been able to achieve,” he told CMC.