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St. Vincent and the Grenadines celebrates 44 years of independence

October 27, 2023

CMC – St. Vincent and the Grenadines is celebrating its 44th anniversary of political independence from Britain on Friday, with Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves announcing a host of relief measures for nationals including an increase in the income tax threshold from EC$22,000 (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) to EC$25,000 annually from January 1, next year.

“This move will cost the Treasury nearly five million dollars million annually,” Gonsalves told the annual military parade at Victoria Park in the capital.

He also announced a gun amnesty that will come into effect immediately after the passage of new laws next month to increase the penalties for possession of unlicensed firearms.

“The Commissioner of Police will announce the details shortly,” said Gonsalves, who, as Minister of National Security, has ministerial responsibilities for the police.

Currently, on summary conviction, possession of an unlicensed firearm carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison or a fine of EC$20,000 or both.

“The idea is to get you to bring in your illegal firearm. You will have a chance but after this chance, we are increasing the penalties and we will intensify prosecution. Let’s work together on this,” Gonsalves said.

His statement comes a few days after the country recorded its 43rd homicide, breaking the record of 42 set in 2022.

The amnesty is part of the government’s “Independence from Fear” programme, which includes “anti-crime measures” such as placing additional CCTV cameras across the country and the usage of body cameras for the police.

“And we are implementing a programme of further ramping up the placement of street lights,” Gonsalves said, adding that the acting Commissioner of Police, Enville Williams, has presented a strategic plan to the government that contains particular pieces of crime-fighting legislation to be brought to Parliament.

“And we are going to carry out a structured programme to rehabilitate all the police stations,” Gonsalves said, adding that through the police force and the National Commission on Crime Prevention, there will be an expansion of the outreach initiative between the police and the community.

The Prime Minister’s 16 announcements included that the Offering National Support For Internship Training and Employment (ON-SITE) programme under which the government places employees, at its own expense, in the private sector for fixed time periods will be extended into the years 2024 and 2025 with a fresh batch of employees.

He said this will be subject to the usual annual review of any programme’s efficacy.

The Prime Minister said there will be an increase in minimum wages paid to workers consequent upon the full review of the report from the Wages Council, which is currently in progress.

Nurses, nursing assistants, and nursing aides will be paid, in addition to a regular salary increase which was already on the cards, an additional monthly supplementary non-taxable income for an additional six-month period amounting to five per cent of their salaries.

Gonsalves said this will be to “ease certain specific challenges which they currently face” and that the government will conduct a review in the first half of next year with the aim to upgrade and reclassify these positions in the nursing profession.

“It was my intention, it is the government’s intention to big up the nurses in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said, noting that the relief that was granted over a year ago to domestic consumers of electricity to pay no value added tax (VAT) on their bills for consumption below 250 units per month, will continue.

This month, 44 additional grants are being issued to micro-entrepreneurs under the Promoting Youth Micro Enterprises (PRYME) programme.

“This will cost around $350,000,” Gonsalves said, adding that this brings the number of PRYME grants to over 1,300 at a value of in excess of EC$6.9 million since the programme was implemented in 2020.

He said that the PRYME programme will continue into 2025

Gonsalves further noted that on Tuesday, the government announced 66 national scholarships, national exhibition, special awards and bursaries for university education, based on the results of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination and associate degree examinations for the students at the Community College.

“This package of award is valued at over $20 million this year,” he said, adding that a record number of 26 five-year, fully-funded scholarships were awarded, each of which has a price tag of up to EC$600,000.

“The government is committed to young people and the education revolution. I want all the young people to know that more and more scholarships and other financial support are available for students going to college or university,” Gonsalves said, adding “let us big up our young people.”

He announced that 1,185 farmers, who owe the state-owned Farmers Support Company a total of EC$4.5 million, will receive a 50 per cent waiver on the principal sums owed and a full waiver on all interest.

To vendors in Kingstown, the prime minister said that he has asked for a complete review of all the debts they owe to the Kingstown Board and that the intention is to provide relief and waivers.

“After this review, we will provide the details of the relief and waivers early next year in the 2024 Budget,” he said, adding that there would similarly be a full review of all the debts owed by patients and their families to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital and all other hospitals in St. Vincent and Grenadines after Independence Day last year.

“The intention is to provide relief and waiver,” he said, adding that the relevant details will be announced in Budget 2024.

Gonsalves announced that the government intends to reduce, as of next January, the interest rate paid by students who borrow monies from the state-owned Student Loan Company to finance university education.

He said that more details would be available in the 2024 Budget.

In the campaign for the 2020 general elections, the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) had promised to reduce the interest rate from 8 and 9% to 4.5%.

Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration promised to better this, but has failed to adjust the interest rate, even as an estimated 20 per cent of the students have not been repaying their loans.

Gonsalves told the nation that as a road safety measure, the government wants to discourage the use of “defective second hand tyres” and will, as of January 1, 2024, “provide relief on the duty for new tyres for all motor vehicles”.

He said the Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves will provide the details in next year’s Budget.

The government will also extend for another year up to the end of 2024 the existing time-bound duty free concession on cement.

“This will continue to ensure that cement in St Vincent and Grenadines is the most affordable in the OECS.”

Gonsalves announced that the annual duty-free concession on Christmas barrels will run from November 15 to December 31.

The Prime Minister also announced the appointment of Shane Cadogan, a national swimmer and national scholar as a sport ambassador, the nation’s youngest.

He said Cadogan has been doing amazing work in his nongovernmental organisation in assisting and mentoring young persons in their athletic and educational pursuits.

Gonsalves said Lornette “Fya Empress” Nedd, the current calypso monarch and Europe-based Vincentian entertainer Phillip Dunbar Bastien aka Wetty Beatz had been appointed as cultural ambassadors.

“I am quite sure that they will perform with a high quality and excellence as other sporting and cultural ambassadors have done,” Gonsalves said.

Meanwhile, the United States Friday said it is “committed to its long-standing partnership” with St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“On behalf of the United States of America, please accept my best wishes as St. Vincent and the Grenadines celebrates its 44th year of independence,” said US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in a statement.

“We are proud of our work together under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative to address crime and violence and help support a safe, secure, and prosperous Caribbean,” he added. “Going forward, we are excited to collaborate on the US-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis 2030 (PACC 2030), which will help St. Vincent and the Grenadines and other countries in the region tackle one of the most pressing global challenges.”

“On this anniversary of your country’s Independence Day, the United States hopes for a happy and prosperous year to come for all Vincentians,” Blinken added.

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