Can Kenny walk like Obama?

Despite that during his eve-of-election address before the Chamber of Commerce he had acknowledged the dismal future we face without much hope of sympathy from our traditional saviors Europe and the United States—now bogged down with their own seemingly insurmountable troubles—that we “do not have as much room to maneuver as we think,” and that “none of us have the answers” to the economic tsunami that swallowed Greece, Portugal and Spain, a nevertheless optimistic Kenny Anthony promised unquestioning hopeful Saint Lucians “better days are coming with job, jobs, jobs.”
Perhaps his arresting optimism was rooted in a quasi-religious faith that nothing will for long keep us from the Promised Land if only we can discover the Holy Grail that he described as “a formula that puts rancor aside.”
The way forward would demand “a team effort between [sic] the political directorate, the business sector and the citizens of this country,” he said, and this applied no matter which of the political parties Saint Lucians decided to trust with our country’s future. “It has to be a team effort,” he emphasized. “It cannot be otherwise.”
As if further to underscore the point, he added: “I am trying to say the future of this country is really going to be in our hands. We have to devise a formula that somehow can pool all our talents together.” He said constructing the economy was, in a sense, like building a house. “You construct a foundation, then you make sure that you construct above the foundation. You put in the flooring, rooms, then a roof.”
Sticking to his theme, he went on: “There are four vital pillars on which our economic foundation must be constructed. Pillar One
is our national security program. What do we do with the police force, what do we do about our criminal justice system?” Was he hinting yet again at constitutional reform? Replacing a police commissioner was one thing (albeit onerous, as we have seen), while tackling our system of justice per se is quite another—unless the proposition is to look into such matters as legal aid for the poor seeker of justice, and to speed up the process that currently has dozens of accused citizens languishing on remand at Bordelais, some for as long as seven years without even a trial date!
Moving right along, the campaigner for votes said: “Pillar Two is our human and social development program: education, health, housing, social transformation, sports.” Was this an admission that the former education ministry permanent secretary
Didacus Jules was right when he said a certain prime minister had no clue what human resource development was about?
“Pillar Three is our infrastructural development program. What changes are we going to make in respect of our approach to post-Tomas reconstruction? What kind of ministry do we envisage to undertake what we have in mind? Our fourth pillar is our sustainable development program. What do we do with our environment, water, climate change, energy technology?” Obviously whatever had been done before about such matters, WASCO in particular, had at the very least proved counterproductive. Had someone finally discovered the magic formula that for more than four decades had eluded successive governments?
He came to what he referred to as “crucial building blocks,” first among them the young citizens and ostensible future leaders of the nation. “What are we going to do about youth unemployment?” he asked rhetorically. “The statistics are startling, frightening. What are we going to do about youth skills, health, crime and violence and youth participation in our political process?” Not to overstate the point, but here again Einstein’s line about the thinking that created problems comes to mind. Whatever had been done before by our leaders self-convinced of their own infallibility had resulted in the statistics now considered “startling” and “frightening.” Professional advice was sought, at great expense to the taxpayer, then left to gather dust on over-loaded and ignored ministry shelves—as well Deosaran knows!
When all was said and done, there remained, as always, “the over-riding priority: jobs, jobs, jobs—now followed closely by post-Tomas construction”—a problematic triptych that demanded multi-millions of dollars from an admittedly near-dead economy that normally depends on the kindness of strangers, themselves earlier declared “in crisis” by the Chamber’s honored guest just days before the general elections.
“I believe that in the period of healing we have to release all the resources available to us,” said the campaigning Kenny Anthony, carefully neglecting to identify them. “This economy needs stroking. And so one of the first measures we want to implement is a new tax amnesty.” Just in case there were doubters who might say “we’ve heard that before, here he goes again,” the fisher of election votes promised his audience that tax amnesty this time around would feature “a vital difference.” While the usual tax
amnesties provided for reduced penalties on the payment of arrears, the new proposal was “a bold new measure that will erase all penalties. Provided the taxpayer pays the principal, all penalties will be forgiven.”
Doubtless recalling good intentions gone awry during his previous two terms in office, he said: “A lot of people do not have the support to deal with the complaints they have in respect of their
taxes and we are proposing for the first time a tax ombudsman to assist them with differences and disputes.” Three guesses as to who might be this talented individual—and what best qualifies him over all other candidates for the job! Of course, as wonderful as is the promise of a retooled tax amnesty, there must first be the enabling legislation. Will it be the usual eternity before the appropriate bill has its first House reading?
It is interesting to note how Kenny Anthony’s pre-election statement before the Chamber of Commerce harmonizes with what the President of the United States underscored during his SOU address on Tuesday evening—at any rate, on one vital point. Said Obama followed by a standing ovation: “As long as we are joined in common purposes, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward and our future is hopeful and the state of our union is strong.”
Additionally: “We need to put new emphasis on American manufacturing. That means refocusing our corporate tax structure to reward businesses who work to keep jobs in the U.S.” In our own case, we might want to investigate the SMA’s recent unsettling complaints about the Chinese  bearing OECS passports!
The U.S. president also proposed that half the savings achieved from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be used to cover costs of new investments in U.S. infrastructure. Since we are in no position to abandon our wars on violent crime and drugs—poorly funded as they are!—we might consider taking a page from Obama’s earlier cited State of the Union address and give some serious thought to the following: What does it cost to operate our several overseas missions? How much value for money do we get from them? Can some be profitably off-loaded? Might the costs saved be better invested right here in Saint Lucia?
Might this government, unlike earlier ones, discover the courage to consider money-saving adjustments to the public service? Is there no way to reduce its operational costs? Should taxpayers be required to pay for the near-invisible services of electoral rejects made MPs with responsibility for portfolios totally alien to their work experiences and, for all I know, their talents?
Would the public not be better served if rejected election candidates were left in their private sector jobs? What is the point of general elections if candidates are guaranteed ministries, regardless of what the people decide?
Ritually, we talk every year, for at best a week, about the vital importance to our economy of buying local. But how serious are we? Serious enough to offer tax encouragements to businesses and their buy-local patrons? Do we inadvertently encourage local entrepreneurs to take their business outside Saint Lucia?
What incentives are there for businesses that do their utmost not to cut staff in these trying times? Might corporate taxes be adjusted to accommodate them? Can the government offer local banks incentives to encourage private-sector borrowing with lower interest rates?
Much political hay has been made of the fact that business investment in Saint Lucia has dropped appreciably. Unsubstantiated reasons were advanced, to the then government’s possible discomfort. But even if the allegations were valid, there can be no denying the impact of the world economy. What special incentives can the government offer foreign and local entrepreneurs at this particular time?
Sadly, it seems the finance and tax consultants—not to say the unemployed soi-disant experts in all fields related to our economic survival, from tourism to agriculture to gas prices—speak out only at election time—predictably with partisan motives. That must change, if we are to make any headway.
As for his promised jobs-jobs-jobs, the prime minister must be especially wary of not coming across as a tax-funded employer of only front-line party supporters—even as he espouses “team-Saint Lucia” solutions to our shared problems. If we are together in this sorry mess, if we are expected to work as one toward a way out of it,
then let the prime minister back up his words with discernible even-handedness and put party prejudice
on the back burner. For what will it profit our grossly handicapped nation if by the time the promised happy days are here again the private sector has either died from the recurring diseases of official nepotism and neglect—or has relocated to climates more conducive to productivity?

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