We Mix Business with Pleasure.

Dear Sir:

My dear grandmother, the woman I owe a debt of gratitude to, taught me as a child to be kind, honest, humble, caring, open, straightforward and most of all truthful. She taught me the virtues of life and the merit of hard work and that I shouldn’t deprive any human being of their basic rights, even if they are not a friend.

I listened to her and at the same time I observed her actions and attitudes towards me and her other children and grandchildren.

Whenever I noticed any deviation on her path from what she taught me, I would remind her about it. For the many years that I observed in her daily life, I realised that my dear grandmother was a woman of immense integrity. She is 96 years old and struggling for her life but I know that she lived a very decent and honest life and she is a blessed human being. She is not the wisest person in the world but she is certainly a person who means whatever she say, and say what is the truth. She will never be regarded as a deceitful individual or a flip-flopper.

There is one simple phrase that my grandmother always mentioned every time somebody promised her something and failed to live up to it: “A promise is a comfort to a fool.” The simple phrase stuck in my memory for many decades and today when I hear politicians making all kinds of grandiose promises I can remember clearly the words spoken by my dear grandmother, a promise is a comfort to a fool. Therefore my own philosophy dictates avoiding making promises that I know may be difficult to fulfill. If our politicians guide themselves by this basic principle, then I believe that our people will have a much better standard of living..

My grandmother always exercised her constitutional rights being cognisant of the fact that her ancestors were denied the right to decide their own future. I never asked her what motivated her to vote for any particular candidate but what I do know is that she voted based on her own convictions. She was not attracted by grandiose promises, even when they were made to her by her own son. I can therefore write with the assurance that had she been around to vote in the last general elections she would not have fallen victim to the many grandiose and unrealistic promises that were made by the political leader of the NNP.

Politicians are very good at making promises. They are elected based on the promises they make to the electorate. Some promises are realistic while others are just pure rhetoric and propagandizing. In the final analysis it is the intelligence or ignorance of the electorate that will determine whether politicians are held accountable for their actions.

In Caribbean politics, many of our politicians lack the knowledge that should qualify them as an intelligent minister of government. Many politicians are chosen based on their popularity within their constituency and not necessarily their level of intelligent or IQ. As a result of this phenomenon, when these politicians put themselves up for candidates under a political banner, they become engaged in making all sorts of wild and outrageous promises to the electorate, since they themselves don’t have a clue of how the promises will be fulfilled.

What is, however, very disheartening is that even those politicians with degrees as high as doctorates engage in misleading and deceiving the electorate. Compounding this deceit is that there are individuals of notable status who openly collude and is in complicity with these politicians.

Having said this, I would like to ask what the status is of the many foreign investors that were lined up to do business under the NNP administration once they are elected into office. Grenada is in need of some serious foreign direct investment if the government is to address the high unemployment rate especially among the young people.

In opposition, Dr Mitchell made many foreign trips to countries, including Canada, United States and Britain. He indicated that on those trips he engaged many potential investors who were ready to do business with Grenada once the NDC is out of office. I didn’t buy into his argument, having observed and studied his modus operandi over the many years that I have taken a keen interest in politics.

These foreign visits in my view were just smoke screens to cover the eyes and minds of the unsuspecting electorate who seem to pay very little attention to details. I don’t know of many opposition leaders in the Caribbean who are capable of attracting investors to their respective countries. Investors prefer, and rightly so, to do business with government leaders and so these claims were more or less unsubstantiated.

The NDC has been out of government for over 100 days and to date there is no sign of a single investor entering the Spice Isles. Given our experiences during the period 1995 -2008, it would be in the interest of the people and government of Grenada to make every effort to attract credible investors. The problem with attracting investors to Grenada is that, despite the claim by our prime minister that investors are lined up to flood our shores under a NNP administration, not a single brand has been revealed to the public.

Grenada needs some very credible and well known brands that have the potential to lift the prestige of the country and at the same time create thousands of sustainable jobs. The NDC was able to attract Sandals, a well known brand in the tourism industry, but this is not enough. The government then had to give Sandals a great deal of concessions; however, this is a credible company and so in the long term the country will benefit. Much more needs to be done.

Our people were given the impression that, once there is a change of government, economic activities would automatically ‘kick off ‘ and jobs, jobs, jobs will be available for everyone who wants to work.

Today, there are thousands of people who are willing and ready to work but there are no opportunities available. One would have anticipated that, given the confidence and assurances of the opposition leader, now prime minister, many investors would have been onshore in a very serious way, seeking investment opportunities with government and private sector partnerships. It seems, however, that the investors are ‘offshore’ and, like the rest of agencies and institutions, are adopting a wait and see attitude.

Investors look for positive factors in a country before they invest their monies. The primary motivating factor for investment is return in terms of profits. They will also seek to get as much guarantees as possible from government in the form of concessions and loans.

Firstly the government isn’t in a position to give any loan guarantees, since government is struggling to pay public workers salaries.

Secondly, our experience with investors in the past is frightening, with the country losing millions of dollars in loan guarantees with stalled investments and the investor fleeing with the monies. Given the country’s dire economic situation the country can ill afford to be defrauded again.

Thirdly, with majors companies like LIME retrenching workers, investors know that the local economy is in trouble and that their investment may not be profitable anytime soon.

Fourthly, government itself, within 100 days of taking office, has exacerbated the problem by not giving investors any confidence to invest after dismissing scores of workers and creating a sense of instability in the public sector including the security forces.

Fifthly, our high energy cost, low productivity level and rocky industrial relationship resulting from the breweries struggle are all factors an investor would consider before investing in the country. Government has to quickly address all these issues if credible investors are to rush to our shores.

Sixth, local businesses have not invested in a significant way into the local economy and instead retrenched many workers, adding to the already high unemployment rate.

There is also the question as to what industries or sectors will be most viable to invest in at this time. Investment in tourism has been seen as a sector with some potential. The GHA, however, has been complaining about the many problems facing this industry, including high energy cost, marketing and airlift.

The telecoms sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world; however, the major telecoms players aren’t investing in any significant way but seem to be bent on ‘sucking’ the last dime from the pocket of our people while providing very poor quality service. Cable and Wireless / LIME continues to retrench scores of workers, while at the same time maintaining very high internet and other data services rate to the detriment of the development of the country. Government and, in particular, the prime minister advocates the merit of ICT but no pressure is brought on the telecoms providers to reduce their high rates.

Agriculture has taken a nose dive and no serious investor will invest in that sector.

Manufacturing is a bright spot; however, investment in that area will have to consider competition from Trinidad and Tobago.

It will require innovation, creativity, stability, honest leadership, unity and some luck for Grenada to emerge successfully from this situation which the country has found itself in. With the entire English-speaking Caribbean mired in economic hardship, the countries with the best conditions, including the domestic market, will attract the foreign investors.

The Grenadian population is too small and so government may need to look at ways of increasing the population but at the same time maintaining the right balance. Sixty percent of the population is young people; however, this sector of the workforce lacks the necessary training and skills to provide serous labour to investments.

For four and a half years the NDC administration of Tillman Thomas was accused of been anti-business / investor and not giving investors, both local and foreign, the confidence for them to invest in the country. Investor confidence both local and foreign was said to be at an all time low. These wild accusations occurred even as the NDC were receiving good ratings for improving the business climate in the country.

I am of the opinion that much more could have been done on the part of the NDC administration in trying to attract foreign direct investment into the country. The world economic crisis and the country’s experience with crooks and con men during the NNP administration of 1995-2008, however, were like a ‘ghost and ‘nightmare’ in the minds of the prime minister and his cabinet. The NDC administration proceeded with caution, to the dismay of many interests that wanted to see more aggressive actions.

The local Chamber of Commerce in particular demanded much more from government at a time when the country was under real economic stress.

Government’s own experiences with Sewang One World also may have led to greater trepidation and skepticism on their path. Despite that the NDC was able to sign many agreements and memoranda of understanding for very credible projects, including the teaching hospital with the St Georges University, the Open Campus with the University of the West Indies and the construction of a five-star, 100-room hotel, among others.

For four and a half years there was no period of accountability and transparency on the part of government. Corruption in government was reduced to a trickle. The electorate, who for thirteen years were fed on a diet of instance gratification, media sensationalism and in many cases handouts, didn’t have the patience to ride through the economic recession and see these projects come into fruition. They hastily voted the NDC out of office.

While the NDC has to take some blame for creating some doubt in the mind of the people, our electorate should have display a greater level of maturity by looking at the bigger picture. One hundred days after electing a new administration into office with an overwhelming majority, the electorate is being told to have some patience, after they have been fooled into believing an economic miracle with a change of government. The same electorate who were told that the problem is the NDC and the minister of finance are now asked to demonstrate some patience. Things are worse than what was anticipated. The foreign investors will come. Hold on, things will get worse before they get better.

All indications are the country may have to enter an arrangement with the IMF. The prime minister indicated this on a recent visit to Trinidad and Tobago. The IMF is a private sector friendly organisation and may be an arrangement with this financial institution may result in greater foreign direct investment and public sector reform. The government of Grenada seems to lack the option of borrowing, based on the fact that (a) the national debt is too high; and (b) nobody seems to have the confidence in providing loans to it. The IMF may be the only viable option left In the quest to attract foreign investors and the NNP administration must exercise due diligence.

The re-introduction of the citizenship by investment program must be carefully managed so that our country won’t be blacklisted again or give the Canadian government an excuse to harden its position on our citizens having to obtain a visa to visit that country.

There is a great deal of pressure on the new rulers to ‘deliver’ on their promises of jobs, jobs, jobs. This pressure will increase with each passing day and, given the impatience of our people, it won’t be long for their ‘bubble to burst’. Given our previous experience, it may be best for the new rulers to beg for some patience or even forgiveness of their sins than to engage with crooks and con men to satisfy the thirst of their supporters and the demands of the entire population.

The people voted for work, so if it’s work they want then it’s work they should get. But where will these jobs come from? Only the prime minister can provide the answers. He presented himself as the only one capable of doing so and taking the country into the sunlight after the dark days of the NDC.

Let us hope that there is an abundance of ‘chloroplast and chlorophyll ‘ in the green leaves of the prime minister so that the process of ‘photosynthesis’ can take place during the day and into the night. ‘Photosynthesis’ is badly needed by the plants of the prime minister and his cabinet to enable them to manufacture the energy, food and jobs for the thousands of their supporters who want to be ‘delivered ‘. There is a saying ‘you reap what you sow ‘.

Given what has unfolded for the past 100 days since taking office for a fourth term as prime minister, Dr Mitchell runs the risk of losing the moral authority to lead the country. Leaders have a moral obligation and responsibility to the people that they lead. This moral responsibility includes honestly, truthfulness, sincerity, transparency and accountability. It is not normal to mislead and deceive people for one’s own selfish political, social or economic interest.

A promise is a comfort to a fool; however, one can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. The promise of 1,000 jobs in 100 days, investors lined up to invest in the country, freedom of the press, no witch hunt or discrimination or victimisation against anybody, just do the people’s work, all fell flat on their faces and it seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same .

One is left to wonder what next. Where do we go from here? Will this era be Mitchellism Part II? Former PM Tillman Thomas was accused of not having the moral authority to govern when he was leading a minority government. Even as he led such a government he remained honest, truthful accountable and transparent to the Grenadian people. He managed the resources of the state in a responsible manner and maintained all public sector jobs.

There was freedom of the press like never experienced before, with every Tom, Dick and Harry expressing their opinions without fear of victimisation. The opposition had a voice on GIS. I am however hopeful that It wouldn’t be. An individual has to be forever minded of what legacy he / she leaves and their circumstances when they are no longer able to feed themselves not for lack of money or food but as a result of the will of nature.

Power is not eternal, but mortality is inevitable. The future is uncertain and no one knows what tomorrow brings. For the benefit of country, let credible investors come to our shore so that our leaders may be under less pressure and be accountable and transparent in their words and deeds.

Leslie Stewart

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