Time to Protect

December 10, 2019

Grenadian School Children at the Bacolet Juvenile Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre Hydroponics Project.

Grenada has embarked on an ambitious and necessary social protection programme, after the hard-earned fiscal adjustment success.

Like any family that has had to fasten its belt during tough times, the effort is rewarded with a much better outlook for the future, and the sudden opportunity to spend in areas which had been forcibly abandoned for quite a few years. Yet Grenada is not a poor country: it has actually improved its Human Development Ranking and gained 3 positions in the last half-decade, placing itself as the 75th nation of the world in the shared prosperity order published every year by UNDP. It is therefore well-ahead of Thailand, Brazil, St. Lucia or Jamaica, to compare with similar and much larger countries from nearby and far away.

Grenada runs a US$1.5Bn economy, similar in size to St. Kitts and Nevis’. It posts a US$13,600 GDP per capita, and has enjoyed a solid 5% growth in 2017, 4.2% in 2018, projecting over a 3.5% forecast this year. A strong fiscal discipline and persistent reduction of government debt from 70 to 63.5 percent of GDP in 2018, partly owing to the success of its citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programme, has been coupled with six years of growth in a row and a superb control of inflation. The CBI is partly to thank for the 8% of GDP in foreign direct investment (like St. Kitts), but Grenada has not been favoured by donors – less than 1% of GDP in ODA, four times less than St. Kitts’ – because of serious bottlenecks and delays in grant and project implementation. Grenada could attain a 50% debt figure by 2024 if it continued on the current trajectory. The IMF noted the strong economic drive of construction and tourism, which has also led unemployment to fall.

Today Grenada can boast about its fiscal surplus, the combined result of prudent spending, sound policies and good revenue management. Its tax receipts are at 20% of GDP, less than St. Kitts & Nevis but more than Antigua & Barbuda, enough to collect and not too much to disincentivize entrepreneurship and investments. What to do now, when there is an additional fiscal cushion that would allow for expansive public policies? What should be the priorities after long years of austerity?

With 90 days of paid maternity leave; 100% of antenatal care; 98% skilled birth attendance; and 35 hospital beds per 10,000 inhabitants (the second-highest ratio in the region after Barbados), Grenada has a clean bill of public health. Maternal mortality and adolescent birth rates are on the high end in general, but better than in many other countries in the region. Grenada has achieved quasi-universal immunization on DPT, but 15% of the babies lack coverage on measles. Health expenditure is sound, at 5% of GDP. Actions are underway, thanks to a collaboration between the Government, Women’s Organisations of Civil Society and the UN System’s Agencies (UN Women, PAHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and UNDP), to fight and curb gender-based violence, prevent the plague and support the survivors.  

Education and vocational training to increase employability seem to be much needed response to the 21%+ unemployment. The education system offers, however, an impressive 17 years of schooling to its children, the highest in the region, at the level of France or Korea. Quality is surely where the emphasis should be placed, after coverage has been achieved. The 15:1 pupil-teacher ratio in primary is a good indicator, placing Grenada at the level of like St. Kitts or Barbados. And a 10.3% of GDP expenditure on education also represents a very significant fiscal effort, at the highest levels of the world. But only 54% of citizens are connected to the Internet and only 61% of schools are connected to the www. These are some of the lowest figures in the region.

Pension reform and health insurance could be a second priority – one on which UNDP and the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) have joined forces to advise the Government on international best practice. Only 34% of the relevant age group benefits from a pension, a very low coverage rate. In Antigua and Barbuda, it is 83%. As a result, lack of health coverage is catastrophic for many of the senior citizens who don’t receive a pension and are not middle-class or wealthy. The Grenadian population has less than 74 years of life expectancy. There is clear room for improvement here, when we see St. Lucia attain 76 years or Dominica tower at 78.

Finally, a third objective could be to strengthen the climate action and the disaster resilience strategies, so that hard-fought gains do not disappear under the impact of hydrometeorological events. Several OECS Member States call the compact a Blue Economy Programme, which attempts to diversify the economy, making it more productive through the best use of oceanic resources, under the principles of environmental sustainability, disaster resilience and social inclusion.

Needs are always more than the means to satisfy them. Grenada has, for instance, a very high prison population, even if it enjoys a relatively low homicide rate (like Antigua or Barbados). 22% of citizens have not yet accessed improved sanitation, and 8% of rural dwellers have no electricity. Grenada has made its luck, and can now afford to debate how it will combine in curbing crime, humanizing prisons, building a protected and resilient agriculture, supporting its university students abroad, improving its roads & highways system, managing waste and water, covering the elders with a pension and offering the population a universal health insurance. Only a few years ago, its only option was to service its debt and hope tourism would not fall. Today, it is prudently entering a time when it is possible to spend, like the prosperous governments of this world can. As advocates of the SDGs, let us make the case for those who have for too long been left behind. This should be their time.