Whether it was a ploy simply to discredit the opposition’s contributions to the debate on the 2021 budget estimate while, at the same time, getting at the Leader of the Opposition Dr Godwin Friday and new East Kingstown MP Dwight Fitz Bramble, both of whom have replaced Arnhim Eustace in those capacities, is anybody’s guess.
Dr Friday replaced Eustace as Leader of the Opposition and president of the NDP in 2017; and Bramble replace Eustace as MP for East Kingstown last year. Eustace served as Leader of the opposition from 2001 and serve as East Kingstown MP from 1998 when he was elected on his first involvement as a candidate.
What is of great interest is that Prime Minister Gonsalves, who over the years has referred to Eustace as a prophet of “gloom and doom,” is now saying that the parliamentary opposition is missing his guidance.
During the 2007 budget presentation, the Dr Gonsalves-led administration blasted Eustace, then opposition leader, for what they said was his lack of vision in not supporting the budget.
They also accused him of engaging in conflicting speech, and claiming that his speech was replete with “convoluted gargle of information.”
Eustace was called a “weak and ineffective leader.”
In the 2010 budget estimates debates, Eustace, then opposition leader, compared the $913.5M (US$338.3M) estimates to the Haiti experience during the deadly earthquake which saw buildings crumbling.
“I regard these estimates something like a pack of cards from which a building is built. In terms of revenue, it is not there and it will collapse, much like the buildings in Haiti,” Eustace said.
The then opposition leader said the budget estimates of 2010 lacked internal consistency and was very optimistic in terms of expenditure vis-à-vis revenue. He described t as the worst he had ever seen in this country.
“As I looked at the (financial) summary, I wondered if I was seeing right. I wondered whether in fact our country was in anyway affected by the world economic and financial crisis … “Indeed, it seems that we are immune from the effects of that crisis as we sort, once again, to increase our expenditure at a faster rate than we are earning revenue,” Eustace said in 2010.
In his contribution to the 2021 budget estimates, Dr Gonsalves criticized the NDP’s contribution, saying they lacked understanding of what was presented and the measures that have to be taken in the Covid-19environment.
“Madame Speaker, honourable members, I have listened to the debate on the television with great interest and I heard Senator (Israel) Bruce here since I came back to the House.
“It is evident to me thus far, that the opposition has missed the guiding hand of the honourable Arnhim Eustace. What I heard thus far from the principal speakers on the opposition side has been very underwhelming and a lot of contradictions and confusion and a lack of understanding of reality, and an elemental disregard of what the budget says this year, last year, and as though they are completely oblivious to what has happened last year from March the 11th, onwards.
“They say they recognize it, but it is as though they go to the church and they see the statues and you do a genuflection before them, but it doesn’t really mean anything,” the Prime Minister said.
Referring to the approved budget estimates for 2020, Dr Gonsalves said the estimates of expenditure showed about EC$2 million less than the estimates for current revenue. He noted that it meant “on the face of it, there was a surplus budgeted last year.”
“Then COVID came; we had a supplementary budget in April, April the 7th. Then, then what happened? The estimates had to be revised, expenditure increased to $709.3 million from 678 (million dollars) and current revenue was revised downwards from the approved estimates of 680 [million dollars] to 605 (million dollars); by some $75 million.”
“It meant, therefore, the budget estimates plus the supplementary had you a deficit on the current account budgeted at about $100 million.
“But we had made the point that there are items in the approved estimates which we will not spend and that they were reallocated into the supplementary so that even though the revenues were reduced in the actual implementation of the revised estimates, you will have a better fit so that you will not end up with $100 million in the deficit on the current account,” he said.
Prime Minister Gonsalves further stated: “Last year, we had a decline – depending on who you take it from, whether you take it from IMF or our own persons, of just under 5% decline, contraction in the economy or whether you take it from the ECCB, which is about contraction of 3 percent, because of the way we managed the Covid pandemic last year and managed the economy, our revenue numbers remain basically stable in relation to 2019; and that where we spent more we made up for it with grants and soft loans to help to carry us through.”
“In 2021, it is explained that this would be a difficult year.
“Madame Speaker, the first three months of last year our revenues increased by nine and a half percent because we had a very good first three months in tourism.
“For instance, in the first three months of last year, 100,000 cruise ship passengers came to St. Vincent and the Grenadines – land-based tourism and yachting tourism, they were fairly buoyant.
And then you began to have sharp declines everywhere in the region. But in St. Vincent and the Grenadines the decline in terms of revenues was far less than in every other country in Caricom, save and except Guyana – and Guyana is a new rich oil country on the move.”
The Prime Minister said that the contraction of this country’s economy was far less than in every other place, save and except Guyana
Madame Speaker, while our revenues held, is because you went up by nine and a half in the first quarter. In April our revenues fell by 20 percent. It began to be stabilized in June, in July; increased in August, a little in September and so it went on like a yoyo,” he said.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said that two reasons for this country’s economic performance were: this country did not lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact; and because the economy is more diversified and not so much dependent on tourism.