Our country cannot be built without educationally empowering our people. Therefore, no stone must be left unturned in providing the opportunities and the resources to give every child a chance. Unfortunately, this budget is woefully inadequate in its allocations for education. Instead we see more empty, recycled promises of tablets for students.
Allocations for the SEED program which has a component for education, is reduced by 20% from $18m to $14.3m. University Tuition Assistance Program has the same allocation as last year. Taking inflation into account, this suggests that fewer students will be assisted under this program in 2020.
According to UNESCO, an education system cannot rise above the level of its teachers. Where they are, there the system will be. NDC brought us from 19% degree qualified and trained teachers in 2008, to 50% in 2012. We did so by paying for 2 of the 3 years of degree training for teachers. Today, we see constant attacks on and battle with teachers over what is rightly theirs. That is, their increments and pension.
On the matter of EMPOWERING OUR COMMUNITIES, this again is not reflected in the budget. M-power expenditure is to be reduced from $6.5m in 2019 to $4m in 2020. Youth in Agriculture receives a small sum of $300,000.00 for 100 young people to engage in pig, poultry and crop production on 4 Government estates. If we assume that each young person gets $50.00 per day, total labour cost will be $5,000 a day. If there are 250 working days, labour cost alone will be $1,250,000.00. That does not include input costs, piglets, chickens, animal feed, plant material etc. So this is a busted venture even before it starts, or perhaps, just another gimmick. Where then is the empowering of the community?
Allocation for the New Imani Program dropped, from $22.2m to $17.8m (a 20% reduction). Allocation for the Needy Assistance Program is reduced by 30% from $3.1m to $2.2m. The SEED expenditure will be reduced from $18m to 14.3m.
In a budget of S1.5bn, only $1 million is allocated for Farm Labour Support. This provides clear evidence that this Government is not serious about Agriculture!
From the statements made by the Minister it would seem that the Burial Assistance Program is being scrapped. The question must be asked what happens to those families who cannot afford to bury their dead with a little dignity.
When we speak of strengthening our institutions, we expect the necessary steps to be taken to ensure those who take a joy ride on the public purse, spending up to $70,000 on unauthorized cell phone use in 3 months, will be called upon to repay and the bosses called on to account. This is the essence of bad management. However, no action has been taken to date.
The budget also contains some allocations that are of concern to the NDC.
Firstly, the office of the Prime Minister which produces no marketable goods or services is allocated $7,650,000.00. In contrast, to the Ministry of Agriculture, which is supposed to guide our national food and nutrition security and reduce our import bill is allocated only $5,795,495.00. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Tourism is allocated $5,795,620, which is supposed to provide strategic leadership and development to the tourism sector. It must be noted that traditionally the Prime Minister’s Office has one of the smallest allocations. The astronomical increase in allocation since 2013 is yet to be explained.
Secondly, compared with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Carriacou & Petite Martinique was allocated only $4,524,584.00 to meet all the capital needs of the people! Having announced six years ago with great aplomb that the Government was going to build a new airport in Carriacou, in 2020 it is now allocating only $500,000 to add 250ft to both ends to the existing runway. We must as a people, ignore the promises of the government as they are empty, and keep this in mind at election time.
Thirdly, the Police who are charged with the responsibility of protecting our people are provided the meager sum of just over $3 million.
We welcome the announced private sector initiatives. These will create business and employment opportunities for our people. We remain deeply concerned about opportunities and diversification of ideas for development in the rural communities. Opportunities like the UWI Campus that would have brought so many possibilities to the St. Andrew and St. David communities.
We fully support our youth entrepreneurs who are struggling so hard to get their fledgling businesses off the ground and those that are holding their own and need support. These young investors must be given their concessions just like the foreign ones.
Together as a people, we have no choice but to commit to a bigger team of persons to manage our environmental concerns in keeping with international standards. We recognize the efforts being made by our communities and Government especially in areas like banning plastics but it requires more people to do the work effectively and it requires more public awareness of the need to protect and preserve our environment for future generations.
Going forward under the leadership of Sister Franka Bernardine, the NDC looks to your support in various ways as we come together to move this nation forward. Especially, we look forward to us all working together as friends, neighbours, and patriotic citizens under one STRONG, CAPABLE, INSPIRATIONAL and TRUSTWORTHY leader of the people. A woman with a heart for people!