(Excerpts of Dr. the Honourable Godwin Friday’s 2023 Budget Presentation)
The Minister called this budget a Jobs Budget. But, it is clear after listening like many other things from this government, this is simply a case of a lot of promises. There’s a lot of assumptions, but little in the way of actual delivery. The Minister, it seems to me, he wants to get credit for his government’s intentions rather than for their actions. It is clear that when something good happens, you have a positive piece of news that you want to brag about, they quickly take credit for it. When something negative happens, things aren’t going the right way; it’s a result of factors beyond their control; it’s never their policy; it’s never an error; it’s never a mistake. It’s never something that they could have done better.
Madam Speaker, I live in the real world here in this country and I know what people are going through. I go about St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I meet people, and I talk to them on the street. Some people say I am too accessible and from that experience, the overwhelming issues that I gather facing this country are the high cost of living, that’s the thing that people are most concerned about; the high unemployment, they can’t get jobs, you can’t get jobs so you cannot provide for your family. They can’t live on handouts whether it’s from government or remittances from abroad and of course the high crime.
Yet, the Minister did not set out anything in his five hours of presentation that came close to any comprehensive plan for dealing with these critical issues going forward. Much of what he said, were things he spoke about in a previous budget; old announcements, reheated and dished out again, some will say it’s a case of more common phrase expression, old wine in new bottles.
Take for example Madam Speaker, based on a reading of the budget presentation and listening to what the Minister said yesterday. So the example, he said that there is going to be a National Youth Advisory Council. In last year’s budget, which he called incidentally a Youth Budget. If you look at page 39 of that budget, you will see. On page 39 he said, this is in last year’s budget, 2022, ‘As is our practice, the government has crafted Budget 2022 as a youth budget.’ And he goes on to say some of the things that he thinks are favorable to youth. And, on page 40 of that same budget last year, again it goes on to say, ‘An important goal of Budget 2022 is the reinvigoration of the National Youth Council, an initiative that was derailed by the challenges of 2021. Similarly, relief coordination within the Ministry of Youth and Social Development negatively affected our ability to develop a revised National Youth Policy and established a Child and Youth Development Management Committee. These initiatives will take place in 2022.’ So, those were the things they had down for the youth in 2022.
Further down he says, ‘Budget 2022 will seek to initiate a youth volunteerism advocacy campaign and developing National Youth Service Program.’ And, all of this was going to happen, or at least started in 2022. It’s a full package of things for youth that they were going to do. Was any of that done? All of it was done? Did the government try to do any of this?
Now, this year they say in the current budget on page 32, it says, ‘This year the government will launch a Youth Advisory Council to ensure that the perspectives and experiences of young people are central to the creation and implementation of development.’ It goes on to say, ‘it will be drawn from people nationwide, diverse backgrounds and skill sets and the idea is that the members of the youth council would gain a fuller understanding of how policies and programs work.’ Again, very highfaluting kinds of expectations. That’s on Pages 32 and 33.
So, it seems all of this talk about the Youth Advisory Council came about after the Prime Minister went to Guyana and he engaged with the President’s Youth Advisory Council in Guyana. So, after that engagement he came back and suddenly, we have a Youth Advisory Council. But, I was thinking Madam Speaker, you have gone from reinvigorating the well-known National Youth Council, which my colleague, the Honorable Senator Bruce, I’m sure might have been able to provide some assistance because he has had tremendous experience with that in his youth and I’m sure he will have some to say about it too, Madam speaker, this is something close to his heart.
So, you have gone from that which wasn’t done to now high sounding notion of a National Youth Advisory Council with higher ideals and noble goals. So as I said, either this is old wine, the same old thing with a new face, new bottle, new label, new color maybe so people think it’s something else. Are they the same thing? If it is the same thing, then the way of characterized it is accurate, but if it is different Madam Speaker, it means that the promises that were made by the Minister in 2022 were promises that were not kept. And, if he was going to continue with them, you should have mentioned here that in addition to this stuff that we said we would do last year, we didn’t get to, we will add this new feature, the National Advisory Council because we think it’s good for young people, but it seems to me it is suggesting that they’ve moved on. Why should therefore Madam Speaker, young people or anybody believes what the Minister says there or anywhere else in the budget?