Senior folks in the Spice Isle will tell you that back in the seventies, de-bushing the roadway were called “traveau” work. I am not versed in patois or French but everyone, young or old, knew what the word meant.
The oral history records that “traveau” work was only for the marginalised and senior citizens, many of whom, has long passed their active work life. The “traveau “gang was supervised by a “driver” an acronym reminiscent of slavery. The wages were pitiful and the labourers could hardly make ends meet. Many of these old folks ended up in the Richmond Home (the poor house) or were buried by the state.
This sordid past gave way to a new sexy term called a Contract. This was probably initiated by Dr Keith Mitchell when he served as Minister of Communication and Works in the first NNP administration led by Herbert Blaize.
De-bushing has grown exponentially in terms of scope and the financial resources that propel this enterprise of entrenched poverty. At best, the average person may receive three fortnights per year. The more politically favoured get multiple back to back contracts. The present day NNP has built incredible machinery which, at a moment’s notice, can deploy hundreds of Grenadians to clean the nation’s roadways at taxpayer’s expense.
I referred earlier to an ‘enterprise of entrenched poverty’. This is so because the wretched pay levels cannot make ends meet. The average labourer earns EC$ 45 per day and the women who rake up the grass gets EC $35 per day. The “driver” of yesteryear is now called the Contractor and he/she gets EC$50 per day. The supervisor or checker gets EC $55 per day. The positions of Contractor and Supervisor are all appointed on political considerations. This constitutes the “prize” for being loyal to the ruling party.
The timing of the granting of these contracts also responds to its own political logic. In the last budget speech, Prime Minister Mitchell referred to this form of public works program as “income support”. These spineless politicians are constantly creating new and “sexy” terms to a program aimed at maintaining a section of the population in generational poverty. Many descendants of “traveau” can be found with their cutlasses in hand cleaning the grass verge on the nation’s roads under a contract.
As it relates to the timing of these contracts, they are given for Easter, Carnival/ Back to school in August and of course for the Christmas season. De bushers, contractors or whatever term is used to describe them cannot obtain a job letter and as such are significantly constrained in terms of access to credit. They are now a significant underclass who by and large support for the New National Party. Many are appointed as delegates for the annual convention or general council. There are instances where the NNP distribute de-bushing contracts close to these events. Many opine that this sweetener is used as a mobilising tool for their post general council or convention rally. After all, they are expected to support their party that provides an average income of just over $100 per month.
I enquired of my sources in St George’s about the amount of money spent on this enterprise of entrenched poverty. I was told EC$ 10 million per year. In Grenada the price tag for perpetuating poverty is indeed; pretty expensive.