Mitchell: Gov’ts too fat

keithmitchellby Latoya Burnham

Some of the region’s governments are too fat, and even as Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell promises to look at trimming his own, he today gave a few recommendations to other Caribbean states.

Stating that one of the things he was going to do with his own new administration was to cut down on unnecessary expenses, Mitchell said it was his experience that when government was too fat, it led to increased taxes which resulted in “a disincentive to risk-taking”.

“Grenada and the region has to come to terms with [the reality that governments are too fat], but it has to be something inwards. There have been a lot of nice-sounding phrases at regional government heads. The question is: Does it come from our bellies or is it nice sounding phrases at heads of government meetings? We have to mean what we say and I am talking to myself too because I was a head before.

“We cannot continue to talk about providing opportunities for our people and all of us are just spending millions of dollars on these overseas missions and people, who most times and I don’t want to knock our foreign service because some of them are doing an excellent job, but I am making the point that the employment of an individual overseas must be tied to opportunities for the country. If he or she cannot demonstrate that he is bringing home the goods, so to speak, … we cannot afford it,” said the straight-talking prime minister.

Mitchell, who whitewashed the former Tillman Thomas administration to secure all 15 seats in the country’s February elections, was in Barbados for one day today at the invitation of the University of the West Indies. Additionally, he was scheduled to meet as well with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, representatives of the Caribbean Development Bank and LIAT Chairman, Dr. Jean Holder, before delivering a lecture at the Cave Hill Campus tonight.

Opening the interview with local media to queries on any topic, Mitchell had this advice on the size of government and what the region should do to rein things in:

“We have these small countries, Grenada, St. Kitts, all these different countries, and every one of us has embassies in London, the most expensive place in the world. The British on the other hand with all its British pounds available to it, has one embassy in Barbados that serves the entire Eastern Caribbean; then we go to Britain and say ‘Things bad we want money’. No wonder a lot of times we don’t get. I am saying government must behave, we must integrate our efforts.” His own administration, the leader said, had taken the strong decision without the integrated approach, to downsize its overseas mission and to find the appropriate formula for representation without the kind of costs currently facing the country.

“As I talk about our young people, I cannot justify spending $250,000-odd and somebody abroad hardly bringing home the goods and telling the young people in Grenada, we can’t help you with a scholarship, we can’t help you with training, we can’t provide a job for you. I have a conscience, if some of us don’t have. I can’t live with myself.”

Another recommendation he had was reducing the amount of expenditure on renting physical space by governments themselves, when new technologies could enable officers to work in smaller areas.

“It is not the building, the room, it is the technology. If you have the equipment, we can all sit here in a big corporation, in a small space and service the clients and make the profits. The jobs will be there but not in pushing a piece of paper. It is time we come to terms with that.

“Technology will be the great equaliser and my view is that we have to get ourselves cracking, and the region could save a lot of money if we integrate our efforts technologically and otherwise,” he stated.

The prime minister noted too that there were other proposals as well which he hoped to have the chance to bring to regional heads when they met and for which he would need their support.

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