On Tuesday 29th January, Parliament approved the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for St. Vincent and the Grenadines for 2019; totalling EC$1,067,343,283, in advance of the presentation of the Budget.
Following the presentation of the Estimates by the Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves, the Leader of the Opposition Dr. Honorable Godwin Friday, led the response by the Opposition. Speaking for approximately one hour, Dr. Friday pointed to many deficiencies in the Estimates, including the ballooning “Other Capital Receipts” category of revenue, stated at over $198 million, which inflated the budget but will never be collected and spent.
He declared that such unrealistic and dishonest revenue projections make the Estimates exercise a mirage, far divorced from reality.
Member for West Kingstown, the Honourable Daniel Cummings also responded. Among other things, he spoke about the failure to address the dire health care situation in the country and the poor planning and execution of river defenses in Kingstown.
He was followed by Member for Southern Grenadines, the Hon. Terrance Ollivierre, who pointed to the continued neglect of public infrastructure, health services and education in his constituency.
It was obvious that after presenting their billion-dollar Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, those on the government side, including Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, did not seem very committed to their revenue and expenditure projections, as only Agriculture Minister, Saboto Caesar and Health Minister, Luke Browne spoke in support of them.
Why would a government that is so very media hungry bring their big Estimates to the House and most of the Ministers fail to speak in support of it? Were they uncomfortable that the figures were highly unrealistic and sensed that the Vincentian people would realize that they were being misled again by the ULP administration? Given the 1% salary increase forced upon public servants and teachers by the government and the resounding rejection of it by the teachers and public servants, it is evident that Ralph Gonsalves and the ULP government are out of touch with reality in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The NDP Congratulates the SVGTU
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVG TU) has been vindicated by the judgment of the OECS Court of Appeal when the judges declared that the election leave provision of the collective bargaining agreement that the Ralph Gonsalves government signed with the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union in 2005 is not unconstitutional. The NDP is studying the judgment and will make further pronouncement in the future.
This matter was brought by the SVGTU against the government when after the 2010 general elections; they refused to reinstate three teachers – Addison “Bash” Thomas, Kenroy Johnson, and Elvis Daniel – who had contested the 2015 elections on behalf of the Opposition NDP. This refusal to rehire the teachers was contrary to longstanding practice and a Collective Agreement signed in 2005 by the Unions and the Government to reinstate teachers who would have contested elections and were unsuccessful at the polls.
This decision by the government to disregard the collective agreement signed with the Unions had not only brought the three teachers to great personal hardships, but effectively they also lost their pensions and other benefits.
The case on behalf of the teachers was first heard by Justice Brian Cottle, who in his February 10, 2018 judgment said that “When I consider the competing arguments as well as my understanding of the governing legal principles, I am driven to the conclusion that the claimants cannot succeed.” He further noted that the matter was one “for constitutional reform and not for this court”. The claim by the SVG TU was then described as “entirely hopeless” and struck out. The SVGTU persisted in their cause and on 29 January was vindicated.
The NDP congratulates the SVGTU for their courage and tenacity in pushing forward to seek justice for their members despite the ruling of Justice Cottle. This historic victory is well deserved and when viewed in conjunction with the recent victory of the PSU, highlights a worrying trend by this ULP government over the years of a practice that is unmistakably anti-worker and anti-union.
The NDP urges the SVGTU to continue to be true to their members and to represent their interests first. Further, the NDP is calling on the Government to respect the SVGTU and the PSU as the legitimate bargaining agents of teachers and public sector workers and to return to the bargaining table with the unions in accordance with their obligations under ILO Conventions and with historic practice in SVG. In addition, the government should respect the bargaining process and engage in respectful and good-faith negotiations with teachers and public servants.
The petitions filed by Benjamin Exeter and Lauron Baptiste challenging the election returns in the constituencies of Central Leeward and North Windward, respectively, are set for trial on February 11, 2019. Despite the change of judge in the matter, we expect that the new date February 11, 2019 will finally be the start date for the trial.
This matter concerns all of us. It is not just a Ben Exeter matter or a Lauron Baptise matter. It is not just a Dr. Friday matter or an NDP matter. It is a Vincentian matter, perhaps even a Caribbean matter! With all the delay we have had, and the apparent winding down of the clock to the constitutional date for fresh election, many people have been disappointed about the way the matters have gone. However, we cannot allow the cases to go on without the public knowing what is happening and taking an interest in seeing them to their proper conclusion
Our electoral process must be free and fair and must be seen to be so by the people who rely on it to elect their government. The petition is necessary part of maintaining that system for all of us.