A reduction in fuel prices at the pump, an expected reduction in electricity bills, a $1 million payout to emergency shelter volunteers and duty-free concessions on Christmas barrels.
These are some of the support measures for Vincentians that were announced by Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves during his Independence address on Thursday, October 27.
Speaking to hundreds of attendees at the Victoria Park, Gonsalves said over the next three years, the country will be moving toward “economic transformation, job and wealth creation, and an even more equitable distribution of economic rewards”. He also said government is seeking to strengthen the social safety nets for the poor, vulnerable and aged persons in society.
These included the seven percent salary increase for public sector workers recently negotiated with the unions to be distributed over the three years from 2023, the reduction of personal income taxes and the review of minimum wages.
PM Gonsalves announced the following upcoming supports and enhancements:
- YES volunteers, mobilisers and coordinators to receive a $150 monthly increase on their stipend from January 1, 2023. This measure will cost the Treasury in excess of $1 million annually.
- A four-month moratorium on payments from the 47 dialysis patients accessing care at the Modern Medical and Diagnostic Centre at Georgetown from September 1 to December 31, with consideration being given to extending into 2023. This free dialysis treatment will cost the revenue some $250,000 in consumables alone.
- An increase in the number of national scholarships, national exhibitions, special awards, and bursaries awarded on the basis of CAPE and Associate degree results from 62 in 2021 to 73 in 2022. Of these, the number of national scholarships has tripled from 7 in 2021 to 21 in 2022. These scholarship awards and bursaries will cost the Treasury close to $20 million.
- 40,000 sacks of urea from Venezuela for distribution to farmers to arrive on island soon.
- The delivery of 15,000 barrels of oil earlier this week through the resumed Petro Caribe Agreement which will reduce the extent of the electricity bill to consumers.
- The immediate continuation of the housing repair and housing construction programme for 1,400 homeowners affected primarily by the volcanic eruptions last year.
- The pursuance of carefully-calibrated pension reform, including a periodic review of the National Insurance Services which is likely to lead to an increase in benefits for retirees.
- A reduction in the price of gasoline at the pump by $2.10 per gallon and for diesel by $1 per gallon to take effect from October 31. The retail price for gasoline will be $16.06 and diesel $16.16.
- The aggregate payment of over $1 million to persons who volunteered at shelters during the volcanic eruptions before Christmas 2022. The verification of the correspondence of the names with their identification cards, is being finalized.
- Subsidies or tax waivers for a range of commodities including brown sugar, flour, fertilizer, and cement.
- The duty-free concessions on Christmas barrels to commence on November 14.
- Special allowance for nurses and midwives to be paid from January 1,2023. Suitable transportation arrangements for nurses to be finalized after a November meeting with officials in the health sector.
The Prime Minister added that government wants to ensure that Vincentians who endured “hard times” over the last two years and a half years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the volcanic eruption “will benefit more than others”.
The Independence Parade featured marches from the Police Band who entertained the crowd with music from local artistes, a precision march by new recruits and a march past with the Girl Guides, Scouts and school cadets.
The groups then marched through the streets of Kingstown where they took the usual uptown salute at the Financial Complex.