The following is an edited version of the speech delivered at the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) virtual meeting on the Castries Central Market steps, August 23, 2020, by Alva Jn Baptiste, member of parliament and district representative for Laborie.
Caribbean News Global (CNG) in the interest of brevity publishes part-one of the three-part series.
By Alva Jn Baptiste
Strategy of industrialization by invitation
As I sat there waiting to address you, I engaged in some profound reflection and introspection. In particular, as I mused on the philosophical approach that this government (United Workers Party (UWP)) has taken towards the development or more appropriately, the underdevelopment of our beautiful land Saint Lucia; compellingly, I thought of our great and iconic Noble Laureate, Sir Arthur Lewis, who devoted his life to solving the problems of underdevelopment.
I wondered what the great man – who showed distinction in the world of thought and practice of development economics – would be thinking about the current trajectory of Saint Lucia’s development path, being pursued by the Allen Chastanet UWP administration – which is not showing any careful thought or good judgment in its decisions and undertakings.
I concluded that Sir Arthur Lewis must be turning in his grave lamenting the preposterous or “counterintuitive” policies being advocated in the name of development.
He must be bewildered at how his development model of “Industrialization by Invitation” has been transformed into a grotesque and perverse form of the Friends, Family and Foreigners (FFF) approach to development.
There are three major advantages in Sir Arthur Lewis development strategy of industrialization by invitation:
- First, is the inflow of foreign capital or Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) bringing in much needed foreign exchange and scarce capital for development;
- Second, is to transfer technology and skills; and
- Third, is to provide much-needed employment to address high levels of unemployment.
The ultimate intention of this strategy is to benefit the citizens of the country by providing higher levels of income, and also providing much-needed revenue to the government for financing major sectors of the economy, including education, health, security, social services and infrastructure.
However, when one examines the projects undertaken by foreigners during the term of this government, namely, Desert Star Holdings (DSH), OJO Labs, and Cabot St Lucia, they all fail the litmus test, which Sir Arthur identified, as advantages of the industrialization by invitation approach.
In particular, none of these projects have brought in an influx of foreign capital and therefore cannot be called foreign direct investment (FDI).
The government-subsidized OJO Labs which is owned by two ‘American millionaires’ by undertaking the expense of retrofitting the building, costing millions of dollars, and paying the entire salaries of the employees.
Cabot St Lucia which is owned by a ‘Canadian billionaire’ was given a loan by the National Insurance Corporation (NIC) for over $30 million to undertake the controversial Golf course project.
Running the government like a business
And let us examine DSH – the so-called ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’ project – that I will give careful and sensible treatment to at this juncture.
The government donated 1,000 acres of land to DSH at a nominal fee of one dollar (XCD) per acre with a 99-year lease. DSH relies on our passport money through citizenship by investment (CIP) for the projects it will undertake. The prime minister has admitted that the horse racing track is a loss-making venture – “A loss leader”.
The tragic comedy continues with the prime minister saying that the government will buy this loss-making venture from DSH and allow DSH to manage the loss-making horse racing track for a fee: So much for running the government like a business. Therefore, which businessman buys a business which it knows will be making losses? And further, which businessman would pay the seller of the loss-making business a profit, to continue running the business at a loss?
Prime minister Chastanet further said that the horse racing track was built in order to operate as a loss leader and attract new investments. It has been over four years and we have not seen one investment. And like the majority of Saint Lucians, I am perplexed as to how the government decided to go ahead with the DSH project, of such magnitude that would have required a rigorous cost-benefit analysis by the technocrats, before the government would decide to approve it.
I am informed that no such review was undertaken by any technocrat(s) whatsoever, and now we are paying for this ill-fated decision of the government of Saint Lucia.
Therefore, should we be surprised that the Chastanet government has plunged our country into this self-imposed fiscal mess?
The treasury is broke
We are now hearing that payables owed by the government, have skyrocketed and payments are being significantly delayed. In fact, reports reaching the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) indicate that the government is spending much more than it is receiving in revenues, and therefore the bills are accumulating at the treasury.
It further appears that the treasury has been looted by the Chastanet government and the FFF cartel, and it is now broke. Therefore, the minister for finance should with due urgency, present the latest forecasts for economic growth, revenue collections and very importantly, the debt to GDP forecast for the end of this financial year.
Saint Lucians are becoming very frightened at what is happening with the state of the finances of the country now, as it appears that everything is being done expediently for the upcoming general election, COVID or no-COVID.
COVID-19 and the value of equality
Even the most extreme pessimist would have thought that this Chastanet-led administration would have utilized this period of socio-economic crisis, made worse by COVID-19, as an opportunity to redefine the social pact, the components of which are well documented:
- Putting well-being at the centre of public policies and moving towards stronger social protection systems;
- Mobilizing resources to build resilience and finance inclusive development;
- Defining a sustainable development strategy where all actors are involved.
To be continued … a new democratic order.