St Lucia in a deep hole: Part 2

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By Caribbean News Global contributor

CASTRIES, St Lucia – In part one of the estimates of revenue and expenditure for 2021/22 of EC$1.638,600,900 termed ‘unquestionably’ and that “our country is in a deep hole, considering, for a moment, the indicators” was established.

In part two, derived from Dr Kenny D. Anthony contribution to the House of Assembly on the estimates of revenue and expenditure 2021-2022, examines government operations and financing.

Capital expenditure          

The United Workers Party (UWP) administration’s favourite line item in the budget, capital expenditure – the pandemic rages on.

Over 4,000 Saint Lucians have been confirmed as positive with COVID- 19 infections. Fifty-five persons have died with or of COVID 19 infections. Yet, the government marches to the beat of the pre-pandemic drum. Concrete and steal economics, resurface roads, build drains “a la direct awards”.

It is not surprising that $404 million has been allocated for capital expenditure, while Saint Lucians suffer job and income loss. No surprise here, we all know what time it is. Yet, the insensitivity of this government to the plight of the average Saint Lucian citizen still baffles me.

Issues of an overall deficit

According to the budget summary, the government has budgeted an overall deficit of 7.9 percent of GDP, or $383 million. The difference between revenue and expenditure for 2021/22 is $630 million.

Yet, the minister of finance comes to this parliament and makes statements about fiscal prudence and sinking fund, etc.

These questions persist:

  • If a government is running a deficit of 7.9 percent of GDP- assuming that figure is correct- and you propose to borrow $509 million to finance the deficit; how can this government put aside any money in a sinking fund?
  • Are these concepts bandied about in anticipation that average Saint Lucians, do not understand the fiscal operations of the country?
  • Is the intention to confuse Saint Lucians?

These statements reflect the high level of policy dissonance exhibited by this government during the last five years.

World Bank financing for budget

Concerning the financing of the budget – I noticed the amount of $79.6 million from the World Bank for the financial year 2021/22.  The amount is associated with a Development Policy Credit.

Typically, such loans are advanced to governments on the condition that they implement key policy reforms and prior actions intended to support the development of the country. Further, these resources are usually advanced to the country on condition they maintain appropriate macroeconomic performance as monitored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and funds can be utilized as deemed appropriate by the country.

A few questions emerge from this explanation:

  1. Exactly what policy measures were agreed to on behalf of the people of Saint Lucia?
  2. Does the current administration have the ability or capacity to implement those measures to allow this country to draw down on these resources?
  3. Will this be another repetition of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) policy-based Loan that the last UWP administration left hanging because they never implemented the agreed policy actions?
  4. Will ordinary Saint Lucians benefit from these resources, even though they may feel the pain of reform measures that are likely to be implemented?
  5. Why have all these resources been allocated to capital expenditure, when some could have been used to ease the suffering of ordinary Saint Lucians?

I await the answers to these questions. Saint Lucians need the truth; they need to know what they face when they wake up the next morning after the general elections in early May.

Agency details

I will now turn to a few mundane agency details and departmental issues for which clarification is required – beginning with the office of the prime minister.

National Apprenticeship Programme (NAP)

Project expenditure has been reduced by approximately $1.2 million. This is interesting. This was one of the government’s pet projects to provide income to its acolytes. [ page 75 of the estimates].

  • In this environment, why has the staffing associated with that project reduced from 31 to 27 persons?

Department of health

The agency summary for the ministry of health provides details on staffing. Despite the increased expenditure for the financial year 2021/22, it appears that there is no proposal for an increase in staffing, be it temporary or permanent.

  • Despite the ongoing pandemic and a surge in cases in Saint Lucia, it does not appear that relief is on its way for the tired and stretched health care workers.

Capital expenditure: Office of the prime minister

On page 558, reference is made to the project titled: “Saint Lucia Border Control”. A further sum of $313,113 is allocated to this project for this financial year.

  • Given the economic conditions, could this project not be postponed, and these funds be allocated to more urgent priorities?
  • What exactly is the role of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit? Do we need continued expenditure of $1.26 million in 2021/2022?
  • What are they tasked with delivering?
  • What is their progress to date?
  • What have they delivered to merit their continued existence?

Department of housing

I have a special question for the member for Castries South East.

  • Can he apprise the House of Assembly of the number of houses constructed and delivered to the people of Saint Lucia by the department of housing under his leadership?

Issues on St Jude hospital

This UWP administration promised the people of Saint Lucia, specifically the people of Vieux Fort that St Jude hospital would have been completed well before the end of 2020. Indeed, the member for Castries South East in a memorable clip, despite his recent claim that he has an aversion to timelines(apparently he has learned his lesson), once declared on a UWP platform celebrating the 3rd anniversary of his party’s accession to office, sometime in June 2019, that before the end of the next financial year “we will be occupying St Jude in the new facility”. That financial year would have ended in April 2020. It is now another financial year, 2021,  and still no hospital.

But let me return to an observation of the leader of the opposition, Philip J Pierre, on page 593 of the estimates of expenditure, that an allocation of EC$12.8 million was made for the completion of the hospital.

  • Given the current state of completion, or should I say “incompletion”, with cladding being installed on an empty shell, is that an adequate amount to bring this project to completion?
  • Or is this, yet another thinly veiled attempt at duping the people of Vieux Fort into thinking that this government aims to complete the project?

I am just asking, as gentle as I can because the people of Vieux Fort and the environs deserve to know.

Why are we engaged in all this absurdity?

The startling thing is that presently, despite previously drawing attention to this, the ongoing construction does not have full approval, since the other conditions of approval set by the Development Control Authority (DCA) have not been met.

To this day, architectural certification has not been done. Under normal circumstances, the drawings should have never left the office of the DCA unless all the conditions have been met. Up to now, the mechanical and electrical drawings have not been submitted for approval to the DCA.

  • I refuse to believe or accept that the DCA is not aware of what is going on as it pertains to the conditions it attached to the project?
  • When these things happen, why should any citizen o this country obey the requirements of DCA?
  • For me, the more puzzling question is this: why is it that the government of Taiwan continues to supervise a project encased in pure lawlessness?

The cladding?

This is another matter that attracts my attention.

  • Is it correct that a Trinidadian owned company was contracted to provide the cladding and supervise its installation?
  • Who is that company and what is its track record in procuring and installing cladding?
  • And what is the cost of installing the cladding?

Department of home affairs

For the time being, it seems as if this department will specialize in the procurement of systems during the financial year 2021/22. On page 567, I see allocations for the Passport Issuing System and the Purchase of Border Management System at $2.9 million.

  • Do we need this expenditure at this time? Should we not be re-directing our resources to saving lives, easing the distress of our citizens?
  • I note repairs to police stations inclusive of the plant, machinery and equipment is estimated to cost $2.31 million [ pages 566-567].
  • I wish to know how much of this allocation will go to the repair of the Vieux Fort police station at Beanfield? It baffles me how a relatively new building could have been abandoned and left unrepaired for three years?

Programme performance information

Part of the so-called new style presentation of the estimates is a section described as “Programme Performance Information”.

It is the confessional box, where departments and ministries evaluate their performance? Truth is, we hardly pay attention to this section of the estimates. But I can tell you – they tell an interesting story.

Time does not allow me to engage in any detailed analysis of the self-performance of all departments and ministries, but two attract my attention, the department of justice and the department of home affairs and national security.

Department of home affairs and national security

When you look at the so-called “Key Programme Strategies” there could be no greater indictment of a sitting Minister than this. [pages: 129, 147, 152, 155].

  • Now come on; how we get such perfect scores and more interesting perhaps is the performance of the department of justice?

The fact is the public officers in that ministry have given their own minister a “Fail Grade” for his performance. And this is the same minister who had all the solutions for crime, whose advice, he claims, was not heeded by the previous administration.

He has presided over the worse homicide statistics on the island. Just look at the last four years of the respective administrations.

SLP administration:

  • 2013- 34 homicides plus 2 police shootings;
  • 2014- 34 homicides plus 3 police shootings;
  • 2015- 29 homicides;
  • 2016- 31 homicides.

Total – 128

UWP administration :

  • 2017- 60 homicides;
  • 2018-43 homicides;
  • 2019- 50 homicides;
  • 2020-55 homicides.

Total – 208

And you will note I have not named the minister. But I know you are imaginative, suffice it to say that this is the same minister who publicly asked me if I remember him.

The truth is: I remember him very, very well. And I will remember him even better after this forthcoming general election.

Related: Part 1

 

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