The following budget statement for the fiscal year 2020/2021, as delivered by leader of the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) Philip J Pierre, concludes the three-part series – ‘I always put people first’ – Bread, Freedom and Justice.
By Philip J Pierre
The fiscal position
The prime minister and minister for finance on one hand speaks to a collapse of the economy to a financing gap of $560 million but on the other hand, he promises a fiscal strategy which requires we continue to grow our economy, hitherto he has not figured out how to reopen the economy, speaks to a reduction in revenue.
I suspect the prime minister intends to confuse the people of Saint Lucia by slinging words together – that the economy is in a rapid decline but on the other, the country will be in a position to borrow half a billion dollars; the main income earner tourism will not return to its pre-COVID levels by 2023 at the earliest.
Where will the revenue come from to repay these debts?
If it was not for the fact that the future of our country and our children were at stake this could be dismissal as a joke but these are real times and people’s lives are involved. This economic strategy is flawed, it’s a bluff and is intended to placate and mislead the people of Saint Lucia in an election period.
The prime minister continues to be misinformed of the debt situation. The country’s debt has not decreased it has increased. What has happened is that the base has changed but the volume of debt has increased and now we intend to add another half-billion with more than $700 bonds to be service.
The prime minister speaks of duty-free concessions for essential workers, minibus drivers, taxis-other public servants i.e. teachers, civil servants and daily-paid workers and all others employed in the public sector for five years are wondering whether they will be eligible.
Concerning taxi-drivers, this is not a new initiative. It was the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) that first introduced duty-free incentives for taxis and this government stopped that concession.
Taxi drivers and small craft operators are complaining that it is increasingly difficult to survive because hotels are providing taxi services themselves. These large hotels will also be receiving duty-free concessions. I ask the question, what is the value of the concession if there is no work.
It is passing strange that it’s the same prime minister who was willing to cut the salaries of public servants by 50 percent and told them that they should shut up and not be involved in advising on the policies of the government – the same government that a minister gleefully stated that the service could do well with half the existing numbers.
It is election time and offers [goodies] are being presented to the same public servants that the prime minister denied during their last collective bargaining negotiations duty-free concessions at a time when the economy was not in a COVID situation.
The prime minister speaks of unemployment as if nothing has changed since COVID-19 when the people who he says were employed are now unemployed and unable to pay their bills. This is the reality of the situation and government must find a way to assist them, including the young people who were denied computers for four years and are leaving school in September anxious and fearful of their chances of employment.
These are the realities of present-day Saint Lucia not the dreams of wishful thinking:
- The 400 workers at Coconut Bay in Vieux Fort who were made redundant are not interested in past employment figures, they want to feed themselves, families and to pay their bills. They have no idea what the future holds and are stressed-out because – they live in the real world;
- The civil servants who have been told that their services are not required – fear their future;
- The small pleasure boat operators who have been locked out of the tourism industry worry about their future.
That is the real Saint Lucia, a country where the real people are not living in a world of dreams or fantasy. These Saint Lucians follow the international news and hear that the COVID-19 pandemic is surging again in the United States and that Europe may ban US visitors; nonetheless, the US is our main source market for tourists.
The prime minister’s budget statement ignores the everyday reality of the Saint Lucian people that are truly hurting. The prime minister did not cause COVID 19, however, the government has the responsibility to alleviate the sufferings of the people. It is their moral obligation and nothing else should take precedence at this time.
The budget has two faces (flashing mirrors). One face promises manna from heaven, while the other laments about how terrible the global economy is because of COVID- 19.
It’s a two-face budget with a split tongue reminiscent of the snake in the garden of Eden. It seeks to tempt with unrealistic offerings which if accepted would lead to the eventual death of our nation as we once knew it many years ago.
The party that I lead chooses to select reality over fakery, truth over lies, honesty over corruption, and transparency over trickery. The labour party was born out of the bosom of the struggles of workers for better working conditions. Our party is an empathic party which feels the pain and suffering of Saint Lucians, particularly during this COVID-19 environment. Hence the reasons for our relief proposals for a wide cross-section of the country. These are realistic proposals that have been costed and funded. These proposals outlined will have the added benefit of immediately stimulate economic activity and enable many businesses to carry on.
We are living in difficult times, we cannot pretend that COVID- 19 will disappear even if we have done relatively well in containing the level of infection. We depend on other countries which are still struggling with the containment of the virus. We must, therefore, be realistic in our projects but sadly the budget of 2020/2021 fairy tales – have found its way in the government plans.
A serious government would have crafted a budget based on a realistic assessment on the times we face locally and globally. This budget fails miserably in not recognizing the context in which Saint Lucia and the rest of the world are currently having to face.
The majority of people in Saint Lucia find themselves in an uncertain environment that is contributing too much anxiety. Even if the government continues to restrain journalists by persisting with a ‘State of Emergencies’ they cannot interfere with the information available in the international world.
This budget should have allowed for the creation of an environment for the acceptance and observance of true democracy and the right to peaceful dissent; not one where journalists are detained, people are threatened with arrest and barricades are set up to prevent them from listening to their representatives in the House of Assembly.
The budget should have encouraged healing – not name-calling, division and trickery with a sole purpose of trying to win an election.
The budget should have been a document that encourages real transformation of the Saint Lucia economy where local business people and contractors are empowered knowing that a level playing field exists and their chance of securing work is not determined by the friendship or relationship with a government minister.
The budget should show empathy and understanding. The anxiety of young couples over their bills and commitments should be alleviated by a caring government.
The budget should understand the plight of the persons with disabilities and other poor citizens who have not received their small stipends for the past two months.
The budget should engender an environment of healing where the National Trust would be respected and agreements honoured.
The budget should engender trust and confidence that will cause the people to believe that its contents are realistic and achievable – not election gimmicks intended to catch off guard unsuspecting voters.
The budget policies should embrace the realities on the challenges of healthcare during this COVID 19 pandemic and ensure affordable quality health care for all.
The budget policies should make provision for the new digital economy and the realities of the new education system-meaning access to laptops and wifi as a starting point.
The budget should present a realistic crime-fighting strategy that makes provision for adequate social interventions aimed at crime prevention under the guidance of an independent police force free from political manipulation.
The budget should contain truthful and realistic proposals that the people of Saint Lucia can identify with not proposals prepared by foreign mind-benders and surrogates whose sole intention is to hoodwink the people of Saint Lucia to enable the United Workers Party (UWP) to win the next election – under the policy being – a win by whatever means necessary.
Some detractors and dreamers may say what are the labour party’s plans, what will you do?
The answer is simple: the labour party will be truthful, honest and take the people of Saint Lucia in its confidence. The labour party would have presented realistic proposals in keeping with the real state of the country, and seek to improve the quality of life of the people.
The SLP’s policies would not be dreams or academic proposals but policies intended to touch the lives of all the people of Saint Lucia.
The people will be the focus of our policies. I outlined briefly [in part two ] how our party would utilize the $76 million to immediately improve livelihoods and generate economic activity.
These are the broad outline of our aims and objectives:
- A realistic alternative perspective to the present government’s dream of megaprojects and illusive growths;
- Policies that reflect values which are not alien to the character of the people of Saint Lucia – but rather embrace their traditions, culture, patrimony and customs;
- Policies that reflect a national vision for development and transformation of the economy for the people of the people;
- Policies that embrace a creative set of private-public sector partnerships, the avoidance of excessive borrowing and imaginative and realistic growth programme;
- An emphasis on poverty reduction, wealth creation, employment creation and the growth and expansion through an enabling environment for the growth and expansion of micro, small and medium-sized business;
- An integrated rural development programme aimed at building strong rural communities, rural enterprises and taking modern services to rural areas;
- A new government / private sector collaboration based on transparency, equity, accountability and trust involving the reform of the existing system, simplification of businesses processes and availability of support services through agencies that are apolitical and flexible;
- Reform of the educational system to correct the mismatch between the availability of skills and the demand for skills;
- We will endevour to return Saint Lucia to a position as the best place in the Caribbean to do business;
- Creation of a new non-traditional economic activity, i.e, the alternative energy sector. Saint Lucia has not even scratched the surface where this is concerned. The SLP will create a strong creative enabling environment that will encourage the development of the green economy, reduce despondence on fossil fuels, optimize the use of alternate energy, stimulate investment, growth new jobs and improve the balance of payments;
- The SLP would ensure a good governance framework force against corruption with clearly defined and enforceable fiscal rules, clear rules for tendering and operation of business -in effect a new governance initiative that will include constitutional reform;
- The design of a new youth economy to embrace the special interests of young people with special interest in certain areas of economic activity such as sports, entertainment, the creative economy by providing skills training, finance and marketing with a view to the creation of a culture of youth entrepreneurship and business development;
- The building of a new economy based on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship with a strong agriculture component that ensures food security. With an improved focus on technological opportunities, the SLP would consider the creation of Smart Cities to concentrate on the technological and digital effort.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit; and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.
This is the New Labour government, I will soon be leading.