BUDGET SPEECHES An Analysis of Opening Statements 2012-2015

Opening statements set the tone of an address, which is why we have chosen to examine them.

Kenny Anthony Prime Minister and Minister of Finance: in retrospect how much weight do his words carry?

Kenny Anthony Prime Minister and Minister of Finance: in retrospect how much weight do his words carry?

Since the UWP lost the election in 2011, K, the present incumbent, has delivered four Budget Speeches, which means he probably has only one more to go before he next faces the electorate, so let’s see how he measures up to his own goals.

In 2012, after wading “through turbid, if not murky, waters” K pronounced “We have come to bring better days to Saint Lucia, to find that path towards success, sustainability and social stability. We have, come … to implement the common will of the people. We have come to build a state that is strong, stable and sustainable.”

So I guess we are all by now enjoying success and social stability, and that the changes introduced, like VAT, reflect “the common will of the people” – I do, however, fervently hope that the PM does not intend to “sustain” the sad state we have got into since he came to power. Well, he has just one year to go before his mandate is up in 2016, so something had better change.

In 2013, K turned to traditional defensive practices employed (whoops best to avoid that word in this day of high joblessness) by failed regimes the world over, namely, telling the people how bad things
are on the other side of the fence. This is what he had to say:

“The Eurozone is coming apart at the seams … The Eastern Caribbean Currency Union is combating high and widening fiscal deficits, elevated debt and anaemic rates of economic growth. In 2010, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a US $1.27 billion dollar loan to Jamaica, to support their reform efforts, which, to a large extent, were derailed. Jamaica had then to turn to the IMF once more, and this time, the measures required by the IMF are harsher, more painful, more exacting, more excruciating.

“Closer to home, in the ECCU, St. Kitts & Nevis and Antigua & Barbuda have followed in the earlier foot steps of Dominica and have turned to the IMF for assistance to undertake adjustment programs.

“These programs called for debt restructuring and the implementation of expenditure cuts, including wage freezes, outsourcing of government services, corporatization of state owned organizations, decreased spending on goods and services and pension reform. Grenada is also showing signs of financial distress, evidenced by the recent
default on the March interest payments of its sovereign bonds.”

But of the plight of Saint Lucia – not a word, not a word, not a word! Actually, no words were necessary. What he said, basically described the Saint Lucian situation. Just recently, I heard a ridiculous promo for the K-government that proclaimed, as a success, the fact that Saint Lucia had just negotiated the biggest loan ever in the country’s history.

Our sad state compels us to borrow more money than ever before, and that is hailed as a success? Interesting economics …

In 2014 K admitted that the efforts of his first two terms in office from 1997, and the two years since regaining power in 2011 had not been successful or sustainable: “This has been … the most challenging Budget address since my first address in this Chamber on November 4th, 1997.”

However, K did reassure us that he had been “guided by the philosophy espoused by Africa’s first elected female Head of State, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate,” (as if we cared) which might explain his somewhat novel approach to harsh economic realities. Actually, the lady got her prize for fighting for “the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in the peace-building work” – nothing to do with economics, but it does show how “international” K is, and what a model of democratic success Liberia is!

K more or less admitted that his words in a budget speech were meaningless. Evidently President Sirleaf said, “History will judge us not by what we say in this moment in time, but by what we do next to lift the lives of our countrymen and women. It will judge us by the legacy we leave behind for generations to come.” Well, yes, K will be judged by how well he has lifted our lives and the legacy of debt he leaves behind him.

Then comes 2015 when K suddenly discovers that he is “blessed.” Out of nowhere his “message … is that we are on the right path, but we must complete the job to secure a brighter future for all Saint Lucians.” Did the promised “Better Days” arrive without my noticing them? Did things get better during 2014? Well maybe they did for those who spent their expense account days off island, but for the rest of us 2014 was pretty dire.

He goes on to say, “After assuming office in 2011, I was confronted by the stark but hidden realities of our state’s public finances.” Is that why he had problems finding the 100 million dollar injections into the economy within days of his election victory? Wouldn’t
any sane, responsible politician do a little research before making such rash promises? He should have known the economy was in a poor state – that is, after all, what he campaigned on!

K goes on, “I was confronted by … rising unemployment and a debt-to-GDP ratio climbing ever higher by a widening fiscal deficit.” So what? Has anything changed?

“Government revenues were insufficient to meet salaries, wages and the cost of services to the public.” Again, is there anyone in the country who does not believe that foreign loans and Taiwanese money are, in reality, paying public sector wages despite the opacity of Salome’s Seven Veils of Seductive Transparency that cloak the Minister of Finance’s juggling acts?

K added, “Foreign direct investment had abated”, but failed to add that foreign investors continue to flee or shun the country, perhaps because of his inability to curb crime and create an attractive investment environment.

K indicated that he “had to reduce expenditure, even dispensing with funding for some cherished programs” which apparently, in his mind, has resulted in the country being “stronger and better than we were before.” So the fewer the programs, the lesser the funding, the better off we
are? This might appear to some to be indicative of the utter contempt with which politicians view their constituents. If they keep saying the same thing, in the end, it becomes accepted as true. Soon we’ll all be begging him to stay on and continue the Better Days he has brought to us.

And to cap it all, experienced businessman and entrepreneur that he is, K assured his people that although he “must introduce some new fiscal measures, these will be manageable for citizens and companies.” “Common citizens” by the way, have no say in anything these days. K knows best, and brooks no dissent! Among primitive tribes, there can only be one Chief!

In 2012 it was “we must manage differently, we must be visionary, we must be willing to cast aside non-enriching traditions, divisive and regressive
attitudes and improper practices. We must imbue ourselves, each one of us in our own way, with a zeal, a drive and a love of country.
Our ambition, our collective will and desire, must be to be “simply the best” in everything we do.” Such hyperbole,
which means “exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally,” forms the core of most of K’s speeches.

K went on to say, “We must be ever mindful of how easy it is for us to become irrelevant. (Well, aren’t we? On the world scale?) We must define our relevance in this world. (Nice one!) We must compete more than we ever have, create more than we ever have; and yet cooperate more earnestly than we ever have. (And we can’t even feed ourselves to judge by the import bills.)”

Hallelujah! But he did go on to say he would “focus on how we can redefine and reconstruct our economic space to promote much needed growth, how we can engender confidence in
our society, to be more productive, effective and participatory, while maintaining social peace.”

Confidence? More productive? Social peace? Has all this happened without my noticing it? Help me someone, please.

In 2014, presumably after much soul searching during his two-and-a-half years in office, K admitted that he was still seeking “a path of higher and sustained growth and employment … sustainable, fulfilling jobs, particularly for our youth … and steering the country’s public finances away from a fiscal cliff; and the resilience to bounce back from future economic and natural shocks.”

Time and again, in an apparent attempt to mask today’s failures, K harps back to his perceived successes of yesteryear.

“I remember the enormous challenges we faced in 1997, when the Labour Party had just formed Government for the first time in 15 years. We found a rapidly deteriorating banana industry, a manufacturing sector in decline, worryingly high levels of unemployment and a tourism plant that had stagnated.”

Has anything really changed? Were the claimed changes brought about during his first ten years in office so fragile and unsustainable that five years of UWP rule completely destroyed them? And now, in K’s third term, is the banana industry any better off? Is the manufacturing sector on the up and up? Do we have a vibrant tourism industry?

Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but isn’t it a fact that in 2006 a dissatisfied country booted out K & Co? It was never a question of K leaving a fabulously successful economy behind – surely they were ejected from office by a dissatisfied electorate!

But of course, the electorate might have been wrong. Perhaps they were too stupid to realize how good they had it, just as they are today too simple to realize that “better days have come.”

By Regina Porterhouse

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