American Airlines further postpones Better Days!

If his promise of 7,000 new jobs had failed set off alarm bells, certainly his wheezy election-time undertaking to restore the local banana industry to its green-gold glory days should’ve convinced thinking sons and daughters of Saint Lucia that all was not well with Sir John, that the revered octogenarian father of the nation had finally flipped his lid.
Oh, but not for nothing are we notorious for spitting at the sky and chopping off our noses to spite our faces: on polling day voters went into their booths convinced anything would be an improvement on what we had endured during the previous ten years under a prime minister whose special gift from the devil had inspired one of our more enduring calypsos: Kenny An’ Tony!
Pointless dwelling on the painful aftermath. Let us instead fast-forward to the months immediately preceding the November 2011 general elections, when already the world was reeling from the aftershocks of an unprecedented economic earthquake. In the United States and Europe there were millions of unemployed workers, record numbers abruptly rendered homeless and without hope. So-called stimulus packages were doing little to restore the battered U.S. economy. Meanwhile, in the Middle East there were the Arab Springs—with predictable soakings. The governments of at least two first-world countries bit the dust.
The local fallout: further crippling losses in tourist revenue; more unemployment; ever-rising prices at our supermarkets and gas pumps, businesses quietly going out of business.
The day’s government appeared oblivious of the doomsday signs, rashly crowing about growth figures never achieved in the heyday of bananas, far in excess of anything claimed for relatively prosperous Germany, the United States and Britain—unwittingly playing into the hands of its far more media-savvy opposition.
The personal problems of at least two front-line ministers of government further emboldened an opposition party notorious for its hubris. Immediately upon taking office its garrulous leader pledged from his market-steps perch, he would “invest in the private sector $100 million for job creation.”
Hyperbole had not only resurrected John Compton’s political corpse, combined with generous dollops of outrageous BS it had also made him prime minister for an unprecedented seventh term. No one knew that better than Kenny Anthony. If he had learned anything after thirty-something years on the hustings, it was that no one had ever gone broke underestimating our nation’s political astuteness. Without the smallest hesitation he further promised aid packages for single mothers and jobs, jobs, jobs for the jobless. Six months after his party took office, his “better-days-are-coming” billboard at the side of our busiest roadway testifies to our faith in voodoo, while advertising to visitors on discounted vacation our fine sense of gallows humor!
Who, then, will blame our prime minister if he continues to believe our gullibility is limitless? To hear him tell it, en rouge Saint Lucia is drowning in red ink, but no probs. Out of every dollar spent on current expenses, 71 cents go toward payment of salaries, wages and debt but again, no problemo. If the nation’s $254.4 million deficit was being financed by loans from both domestic and external sources, “resulting in unsustainable increases in public debt,” so what? He had the 3-letter solution: VAT!
To be fair, the prime minister had also acknowledged the need to curb the growth in current expenditure—“the main reason for the sharp rise in fiscal deficit over the last five years.” In the same breath, however, he had insisted that the carving knife not be applied to “non-discretionary expenditures” that made up “80 percent of the recurrent expenditure,” by which he referred to salaries and wages, retirement benefits and debt interest payments.
Talk about a Catch-22. As I write, the US-based rating agency Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the Caribbean Development Bank, from Triple A to AA1. The outlier’s four top borrowers Jamaica, Barbados, St Vincent & the Grenadines, and Saint Lucia account for more than 55% of its loans—with the last named indebted to the tune of over $400 million if the most recent Budget is taken into account.
What will be the impact, if any, on these egregiously vulnerable islands? Figures recently released show that while the region stepped up efforts to contain the widening of fiscal deficits and burgeoning debt as economic growth stagnated, there had been “a steep reduction” in the CDB’s approval and disbursement levels.
The bank’s president Warren Smith has demanded that the CDB’s risk management practices be strengthened, at a time when according to Grenada’s finance minister Nazim Burke “borrowing member countries are fighting to nurture a very fragile economic recovery.”
As if the CDB downgrade were not already enough bad news for the hurting region, the Wall Street-based international credit agency Standard & Poor’s recently issued its own warning about the Caribbean’s increasing indebtedness. The agency noted in its latest report that economic growth and foreign direct investment in the region had slowed, while the “fiscal and debt profile of many countries have deteriorated.”
Then there were the “structural weaknesses, including lower national savings rates than those of other emerging market countries, persistent account deficits and a high reliance on external financing,” all of which were further increasing the Caribbean’s vulnerability to external financial and economic shocks.
In Saint Lucia, however, our cock-eyed “better days” prophets continue to talk like snake-oil salesmen about economic recovery in a year or two, full employment and a tourism industry returned to buoyancy. For over fifty years the writing had been on the wall, largely ignored, while we frittered away our meager resources, almost all of it borrowed.
Successive opposition parties had been elected on their hollow promises of public service reform and lowered operating costs. When elected, however, these same politicians had simply carried on where their predecessors had left off, further bloating the public sector payroll with naked nepotism, reckless expenditures, unmonitored cost over-runs and blasé corruption. It could only be a matter of time before Shylock demanded his dripping pound of flesh!
And now American Airlines has added to our problems. Having serviced Saint Lucia for close to 35 years, the airline recently announced that as of 21 August it will be bye-bye Eagle. Come September it will also reduce its Miami-Saint Lucia flights from 28 to just four a week. From a high of 230,000 seats in 2010, the figure is now expected
to be no higher than 155,000. Small wonder that some hoteliers are already having 45-percent-occupancy nightmares.
I am further informed that the previous government had before the elections negotiated with the airline an MRG in the amount of US$2.7 million. Never mind the contrary noises from the new administration, reliable sources tell me, they had renegotiated a figure of US$1.7 million, to be paid by April 30. The money never arrived. A new deadline was set for the end of May—to no avail. The deal fell through.
Currently round-trip tickets to Miami cost around $1100. Fewer seats and the escalating operational expenses will further escalate ticket prices. Just when hoteliers were thinking things couldn’t get worse, our biggest market, the UK, is struggling to stay alive.
Still our prime minister predicts that in “a year or two” tourism will “return to earlier buoyancy.” Does he know something no one else knows? Has he updated his tourism minister?
In the course of presenting his latest Budget, when his fawning Cabinet colleagues repeatedly applauded his “generosity” on behalf of their beloved constituents, the prime minister confidently announced that his largely debt-financed programs will result in imminent economic recovery, regardless of what others might think to the contrary. Enough reason to STEP, LEAP and SMILE from ear to there. How will he pull off such a miracle in our current en rouge circumstances? As earlier noted, only prime ministers know such secrets.
In the meantime, could we not be putting to better use the untold millions annually expended on the maintenance of Saint Lucia-owned real estate in some of the more exclusive areas of London, New York, Washington and Canada? What about the hack battalions that staff these establishments? What exactly do they do that could not be achieved in these technologically advanced times at greatly reduced cost to taxpayers? (Hopefully, U.S. immigration officials
will not soon discover the infamous multi-million-dollar Helenites Building is the favorite hangout of unemployed Saint Lucian illegals in New York!)
Why are Saint Lucia’s
best brains not self-employed or otherwise helping the private sector regain its
earlier status as the
nation’s generator of wealth?             Why must those best able to fend for themselves be the fattest gobblers at the public trough?

Successive opposition parties had been elected on their hollow promises of public service reform and lowered operating costs. When elected, however, these same politicians had simply carried on where their predecessors had left off, further bloating the public sector payroll with naked nepotism, reckless expenditures, unmonitored cost over-runs and blasé corruption. It could only be a matter of time before Shylock demanded his dripping pound of flesh!

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