Grenada open for business: Mitchell

In a massive town hall meeting Saturday, March 9 at Brooklyn College, newly-elected Grenada Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell called for unity in re-building the tri-island nation. Mitchell, whose New National Party (NNP) swept the polls at the Feb. 19 general elections, urged all nationals to come on board in addressing the country’s dire economic plight.

“There’s a fresh breeze blowing in our land – a breeze of opportunity and hope,” Mitchell continued. “Since coming to office, I’ve been meeting with investors,” he said. “Let it be known, Grenada will be open for business.”

“We’ve had a lot of wars in our country, we’ve had our fights, … but we must love Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique,” Mitchell told an effervescent audience in his first official visit to the U.S. since his landslide victory. “I say to bury the hatchet,” he added. “As we begin this new journey, let the guiding light be for our little land.

“There should be no thumping of chest,” Mitchell continued. “Tonight, I call on all of you: Drop the hatchet, work together, love your people, love yourself, and love Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique. We will not make progress if we don’t stop fighting each other,” he warned.

The Grenadian leader said he has been meeting with creditors and investors in a bid to restructure the island’s public debt and put the country on a sound path to economic recovery. While numerous economic challenges lie ahead, his first priority, he said, is the creation of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” stating that the nation “almost lost a generation of young people” because “many of them have nothing to do.

“When you see this, if it does not hurt you, you don’t have a conscience,” he said. “We cannot let down our people. Grenadians are crying out.”

Since assuming office, Mitchell — who is also the country’s minister of finance, said the island’s national debt has skyrocketed to $2.2 billion. On Friday, the Ministry of Finance said Grenada’s economy has been severely affected by the global financial crisis, and despite debt restructuring in 2005 and reforms implemented over the last five years under International Monetary Fund (IMF)-supported programs, the island has been unable fully to recover from the devastation wrought by hurricanes Ivan and Emily in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

The Finance Ministry said that an increasingly difficult financing situation in the second half of 2012 prevented Grenada from paying the September coupon on its US Dollar Bond due 2025 on the due date.

It said the coupon was eventually paid just before the expiry of the applicable grace period after Grenada, with much effort, was able to borrow the required US$4.4 million from local sources on a short-term basis.

The Grenada Government said that with further borrowing no longer a viable option, it will not have the resources to pay the coupons on its US Dollar and EC Dollar Bonds 2025 due on March 15, 2013.

In addition, Mitchell told the town hall meeting that “we have used up the credit of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia in the ECCB (Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.”

But even despite the dire economic status quo, the prime minister said the popular United States magazine, Forbes, reported last week that a potential investor plans to invest about US$700 million in Grenada.

“Because they now know there’s a government now that’s serious,” said Mitchell, adding that three major hotel investors are also planning to return to the island.

He said over the next few months, several projects will be announced, disclosing that oil and gas exploration will be “the biggest” among them.

“I’ve been given a document for oil and gas,” the Grenadian leader said. “Experts say if we have large concentration of gas, we will sell to Trinidad.

“If we get oil in large quantities, then we’ll sell it to the international market,” he added. “We’re working closely with our original brothers and sisters in that respect.

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