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Prime Minister says Independence goodies no bribe

Prime Minister says Independence goodies no bribe


Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is refuting allegations by the Leader of the Opposition that his $30 million ‘Independence Day Gift’ to the nation is a bribe to influence people to vote yes in the November 25 referendum.{{more}}

“This is not the first time I have done things at Independence… when in another week’s time I announce the date when the barrels are going to be free, which is going to be before November 25, he will say that is also a bribe?” Gonsalves quipped.

In an interview with Searchlight on Wednesday afternoon, Gonsalves, who is also the Minister of Finance, gave the assurance that the promised payments are well within the means of the government.

“We believe that this is money well spent, which we can afford in all the circumstances. I would have wished we could have afforded more direct payments,” the prime minister said.

“We need to stimulate the economy and we consider this good stimulus. It has the full support of all the professionals in the Ministry (of Finance),” he added.

Prime Minister Gonsalves’ $30 million “Independence Day Gift” includes EC$10 million will be made in direct payments, EC$10 million in land subsidies and EC$10 million to special works. Included in the direct payments is EC$6 million, of which the 30,000 children in the nation’s primary, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions will receive $200 each.

However, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace on the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) New Times radio programme earlier on Wednesday said he regarded the money as a bribe, but advised the people to “take the money, spend it wisely and still vote no.”

“The only reason why these things are being paid in November is to influence you to vote yes!” Eustace asserted.

“I am really very concerned that we are taking a road that will take us into the hands of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) if we are not careful. We are not exercising care, any prudence and wisdom in the actions that are being taken by Government,” the former Minister of Finance said.

Dr. Gonsalves, however, told Searchlight that he is surprised at the Opposition’s response. “I thought they were going to tell them to refuse it!”

“This shows you how uncaring they are. They want to put the government on the defensive for being caring to old people and to the children and at the same time, being responsible,” Gonsalves said.

The prime minister said he is satisfied that the money for the direct payments will come from “the savings we have been making”. He said that although the government has an “overall deficit”, there is a “current accounts surplus”.

Gonsalves said any delay in payments to persons owed by the government is not because of an inability to pay. “We pay them (bills) on an ongoing basis. When I enquire, there are all sorts of reasons, not relating to the absence of money, but related to bureaucratic delays.”

The Prime Minister said that because of the good management of the economy by his government, “the economic tsunami” which hit the rest of the world did not affect St. Vincent and the Grenadines as harshly as it did the rest of the region.

“The objective of a stimulus is to put money in the hands of people who would spend it,” the prime minister said, explaining that besides the practical nature of the “gift”, there was also a symbolic element with the payments going to the elderly who have already contributed and the school children who represent the future.