The Unity Labour Party-led administration has come in for criticism from a parliamentarian on the Opposition side of the House for not implementing in its 2021 Budget what he considers to be “more meaningful solutions” that will benefit the local business sector.
Fitzgerald Bramble, the parliamentary representative for East Kingstown made his contribution to the 2021 Budget debate on Wednesday afternoon and like several of his colleagues, he expressed dissatisfaction with the presentation made by finance minister Camillo Gonsalves earlier this week.
“This budget reflects a poor effort of what I call a paradigm shift…from political polarisation to real efforts at national development. It’s disappointing, very disappointing. I cannot support it,” he said.
Bramble noted that hundreds of local businesses have been affected by the pandemic, resulting in them having to shut down.
According to data from the National Insurance Services (NIS), 2086 businesses were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as at the end of 2020. This figure accounts for both full and partial business closures.
“There is no reason why we can’t allocate or reallocate some money to helping businesses,” Bramble said on Wednesday. “We don’t know how many more are going to close…and that should be the engine of our economic development. We cannot do this by ourselves and we should not continue to believe and imagine we can do this by ourselves.”
The trained economist also mentioned the PRYME programme during his contribution, saying that while it is a good idea, it is not properly structured and thus not effective in its intention.
PRYME — the Promoting Youth Micro Enterprise programme was implemented by the government in 2020 to facilitate entrepreneurship by providing grants, training and facilities to young Vincentians.
According to Gonsalves’ Budget presentation, over 1000 PRYME grants were approved in 2020 to persons operating in various sectors including agriculture, arts, culture and ICT.
“Critically the PRYME grants were split roughly evenly between new and existing businesses. The government is tremendously proud to have welcomed almost 500 brand new entrepreneurs into the active labour force during a debilitating pandemic,” the finance minister said.
But Bramble urged the government to look at the possibility of expanding the PRYME programme and helping struggling businesses affected by the pandemic, perhaps through an additional component he dubbed ‘SAVE – Support Affected Vincentian Entrepreneurs’.
He added that mentoring should be available for the new businesses and several questions should be answered as it relates to businesses’ economic projections, the capacity for job creation and contribution to the GDP of the country.
Bramble commented on other sectors of the country, making suggestions for incentives in the agricultural sector to help drive food security and reduction in the food import bill.
The parliamentarian also recommended water harvesting and water purification as ways of solving some of the problems that arise because of drought.
“St Vincent and the Grenadines is confronted by economic and social disparities that have proven all, all but impervious to public and private efforts. It is clear that the lack of more significant progress signals that this country’s efforts need to be expanded and retooled. This budget does not give that indication,” he said. “Unfortunately to date, many of our solutions aggravate or certainly fail to mitigate the problem. We clearly need new methods in order to provide opportunities and hope to many of our hard-pressed families and communities.”
Bramble added that there was a need to “fix our politics” if the intention is to “effectively and meaningfully achieve the future that we want in light of these unforeseen challenges”.
He said this can only be done through the coming together of voices and ideas of a number of people including entrepreneurs, government and opposition officials, business and non-profit leaders and community activists.