January 24, 2014
NDP not advocating cutbacks on social programmes – Eustace

Opposition Leader, Arnhim Eustace has declared that his New Democratic Party has no intention of making austere cuts, despite what Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said in his budget address on Monday.{{more}}

In his address, Gonsalves indicated that his government will not adhere to “an ill-advised ‘austerity’ advocated by some locally, regionally and internationally.”

“I have listened to their mantra of severe cutbacks in recurrent spending and of tax increases,” Gonsalves said, before listing programmes and policies that will be affected as a means of lowering expenditure.

These included the abolishing of the YES programme and the Home-Help-For-The-Elderly programme, removing the payment of annual increments to public servants, removing duty-free concessions on Christmas barrels and to religious institutions, cutting back on special employment for road cleaning, and rolling back the housing and land distribution programme for low-income and poor persons.

However, in his budget rebuttal on Tuesday, Eustace stated that the New Democratic Party has no intention of cutting these programmes.

“He (Prime Minister) said (an NDP) austerity package will abolish the YES programme. NDP tell you it going do that? I have already made a public statement on several occasions in relation to the YES programme and one of those has to do with my concern about [ICT] information and communications technology. We have done little or nothing to bring investments into the country in this area other than to improve Government’s performance,” the opposition leader said.

He further opined that tapping into ICT will be a way to provide jobs for the young people of St Vincent and the Grenadines and made further suggestions to improve the package of the YES programme.

Eustace also said that he has no intention of cutting the Home-Help-For-The-Elderly programme or duty free concessions on Christmas barrels.

“Mr Speaker, let’s all [refer] to the home help project; a good programme brought in by this government. He says we going to move it. I have never made any critical comment to that programme,” he said. “He said NDP wants to remove the barrel concessions. Why would we want to do that? At the time of the year when everybody is looking to feel good coming up to Christmas. I have no problem. I have not made any negative comment about it.”

Eustace also made suggestions about restructuring some of the conditions that are attached to obtaining a low income house.

“The low income homes that have been built have certain conditions that are attached when it comes to the bank,” he said. “You have up to 30 years…to pay the mortgage and some of the mortgages for the low income houses are five to 600 dollars a month. A lot of people find extreme difficulty in paying that kind of mortgage.”

In addition, the opposition leader stated that since 2005, his administration has been saying that, with respect to low income homes, that persons should pay “the cost of the building plus an administration fee of 15 per cent. That is what should be paid.”

Eustace described having to make payments for 30 years as “out of proportion,” especially when the homeowner is not allowed to alter the building in any way.