PR – Ladies and gentlemen, sisters and brothers, Patriots all.
Grenada continues its economic recovery at what we hope is the tail end of the COVID 19 pandemic, but which now is being threatened by the cold winds of war from the east.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has not only upended the world order, but has ushered in a new era of uncertainty amidst the specter of a conflict with potential to widen.
There are serious global economic consequences for all of us.
Inflationary pressures that were already rising even before the first rockets had landed — largely because of a world supply chain challenge — will only get worse in the immediate period. These are turbulent times for the world energy markets, and the rising fuel prices will have an impact everywhere, and on everyone.
We made a commitment to cap the price of gas to local consumers at $15 a gallon, and that remains in place for now. It means however, that Government will have to sacrifice more in providing this subsidy, thereby limiting our ability to spend elsewhere.
The Ministry of Finance is currently undertaking an extensive review of the country’s fiscal situation. In the coming weeks, as the true impact of the situation becomes much clearer, we will make further announcements with respect to fuel prices.
The cost of fuel impacts all aspects of global economic life – and will put pressure on every area. The cost of importing manufactured products and other raw materials will rise further; global investments and tourism will be undermined, adding another blow to our attempts to come out of the period of stunted growth, which according to the International Monetary Fund was recorded at 5.6% in 2021.
Sisters and brothers, let us not forget personal responsibility in all of this. We must conserve where possible, let us seek local alternatives. In every crisis, there are opportunities. This could well be our opportunity to further increase local production and consumption.
The pandemic has had a positive impact on encouraging people to return to the land and we had the welcome sight of fresh local produce on sale at many more locations across the country, sometimes as simple as a makeshift stand on the roadside.
In spite of the challenges, we had economic growth last year and are still confident that there will be more growth this year, though this will be tempered by the latest developments.
As I speak – areas of the national economy remain encouraging. There is still buoyancy in the construction sector; the agriculture sector is coming back nicely, and the education sector should return to pre-pandemic levels this year. The tourism industry is bouncing back and in the short and medium term, we are expecting further increases in visitor arrivals.
Thankfully we are getting ready to open our arms to an army – The Barmy Army – the English cricket supporters who will be here this month for the third cricket test between their team and the West Indies at the National Cricket Stadium.
While there is very good reason to be cautious, and even to be concerned, we remain hopeful.
As has happened in the last two years, this emerging period calls for experienced and steady leadership, and we pledge to continue provide that tried and trusted leadership to the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
With solid leadership in place, we are confident that we can successfully navigate this new global crisis. We are determined to continue to fashion policies that will provide a buffer especially for the most vulnerable who will be battered by the economic storm, brewing on the horizon.
We have a team of national and economic planners working overtime, and with the resilience you have shown through the years, we are extremely confident that we can face any new challenges head on.
Government remains committed to the measures we announced in the 2022 budget to help safeguard people’s lives and their livelihoods. We are even looking at some other sectors to expand the assistance, understanding that in challenging global times, many of our people will need our direct help now more than ever.
We can’t guarantee it will be easy, but you can take our history of steady leadership to the bank, particularly in times of crisis. Rest assured that this government will not abandon its people. And we are confident that the people won’t abandon this Government.
Grenada has joined the list of countries condemning the war in Ukraine. During the recent summit, CARICOM reiterated its principled policy on the matter. Whatever the grievances are among nations, it does not justify the violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine.
We have seen a worrying trend in the last few years in which large powerful nations are increasingly abandoning the concept of multilateralism. Without this multilateralism, the world order will be upended; wars and conflicts will increase and small nations like ours – already grappling with the effects of such things as climate change – will be crushed.
My friends, I appeal to you to pray for the people of Ukraine – and indeed for the people of Russia and neighbouring states who are directly affected by the horrors of war. Innocent women and children; mothers in maternity wards; children in classes and ordinary people just trying to find their way are unfortunately the collateral damage of this unnecessary war.
I have been advised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that no Grenadians are in harm’s way at this time, and for that, we are thankful. There are a few students in Russia who have reported that they are safe – and there’s no need to be evacuated at this time. Should the need arise, this Government stands ready to offer any assistance they may need.
While the world, maybe even understandably, has focused on the ongoing Russia Ukraine war, today there were bombs and missiles being dropped elsewhere like in Yemen and Syria. This new world order that we have been promised, has turned into a new era of disorder.
At home, a new disorder could emerge unless we can muster a national conscience for joint action. Indeed there is a worrying trend we have been witnessing lately, with response to violence, particularly among the nation’s youth. The horrifying images confronting us, depicting violence and blatant disrespect, are troubling to say the least.
I am not making excuses for the behaviour of our young people, but I must say that I empathize with the enormous impact the pandemic has had on them. They’ve spent an extended period outside of the classroom, they’ve been forced to forego the usual social interaction that fuels the relationships they build, and they have been frustrated by restrictions that curtail sporting and other activities.
As adults, it is important for us to determine how we can positively influence the lives of the nation’s youth, whether through individual or collective action. We should not be satisfied to simply criticise and condemn.
There is an old African saying – it takes a village to raise a child. Now more than ever, this Grenadian village must spring into action to save the country’s youth. While Government is responsible for setting policy measures, the human growth and development we are speaking about here cannot be solved by legislation or edict.
It is about nurturing and caring; setting the right examples, and looking out for every child as if they are our own. Our concern for the future should be reflected in the time we take to care for our children today.
In terms of the COVID 19 pandemic, we believe that we are at the beginning of the end of this two-year nightmare. As indicated by the Ministry of Health days ago, Government has decided to further lift some of the COVID-19 protocols. Effective, April 4th, the mask mandate and the testing and vaccination requirement for arriving passengers will be discontinued.
My friends, I hasten to add, this does not mean that the dangers are completely behind us. Just take a look at the Omicron variant which popped up in China in recent weeks. In the United States and Europe, thousands are still dying daily from COVID-19, although other news developments have taken those startling figures away from the headlines.
There is still every reason to be cautious — and to observe the basic protocols that have kept many of us safe. The mask mandate is being removed but we still encourage social distancing where possible, and frequent sanitising of hands.
Getting vaccinated is still the quickest route to putting this pandemic behind us. Sadly though, vaccine hesitancy is still a grave cause for concern here. Many of our people are still reluctant to accept vaccination as the best shot to safeguarding their lives and that of their loved ones.
While current infection rates are down, the relatively low level of vaccination makes us susceptible to spikes. Vaccination is key to guarantee the summer we are all excitedly looking forward to.
As of now, we are planning a carnival – and if the current epidemiological situation does not worsen – we will remain on course to have a good time. Spicemas Corporation has already unveiled the measures that will be put in place given the current situation to ensure a safe and secure carnival.
Our epidemiological team has been studying the outcomes from the recent Carriacou carnival and their observations are encouraging – no spike in infections. We will continue to monitor because as we are all aware, the pandemic has been dynamic, and our response has had to be nimble.
We are therefore confident that Grenada will be ready to host not just another carnival – but the Caribbean’s biggest summer festival in August. Carnival is a significant cultural and economic event, and this government is committed to giving every support to ensure a grand and successful event.
We can’t wait to feel the rhythm of the streets, to watch the smiles on the faces, to sway to vibrations of our soca artistes, and to marvel at the creativity of our mas band producers. And we can’t wait to welcome home not just nationals, but visitors who crave the spectacle of Spice Mas.
My friends, in closing, I make a special appeal for unity for I believe that it is only through a united front that we can adequately address the challenges we face.
We are heading into a politically charged period, with general elections due within the next year. However, let us not forget that first and foremost, we are all Grenadians and regardless of the outcome of any general election, we must all come together to build this nation of ours.
We are extremely proud of our record, but most importantly we are excited about the bridge to the future we have built. We’ve have had to steady a nation in the face of the worst pandemic in 100 years – and even amidst this current global uncertainty, we are looking forward to the sun that will rise tomorrow.
As we navigate these treacherous times, we are crafting policies to expand our empowerment agenda. We shall continue to build this nation not on fear, but on the hope that sustained us through hurricanes and political upheavals.
We have been knocked down before, but we have never been knocked out. We have always gotten back on our feet. By our very nature, we can’t sit down. We are resilient. With each challenge we rise – and we shine brighter than before.
With faith in our God as the foundation, we know who holds tomorrow. As stated in Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you hope and a future.
The great South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said: Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.
Together sisters and brothers, we will meet the challenges of our time. Our embrace of tomorrow starts with holding each other’s hands today.
And amidst it all – To God Be the Glory! I thank you.