Construction Stimulus Package: Where is the land?

I recall in the aftermath of Dr Kenny Anthony’s humiliating defeat at the hands of octogenarian Sir John Compton in the 2006 general elections, the Labour Party plastered stickers on cars and buses of their support with the slogan, “Don’t blame me, I voted Labour.” What are the supporters now saying with the evidence of a sluggish economy and lamentations from former SLP supporters, with the state of the economy which the Prime Minister himself has acknowledged is in crisis?

In a similar vein why not plaster slogans stating “Kenny promised better days. What we have are bitter days.” There is a pervasive feeling of gloom that hangs over the country that the announcement of a Construction Stimulus Package will not erase. Rather than a proper analysis and approach to the prescriptions that would effectively deal with the problem, the PM offers on the evidence, a hurriedly put together ill-conceived plan that even those devoid of critical thinking realize will not bring about the solution to our economic woes.

I came across a word coined by a political writer in a British newspaper which describes people who do not think independently, or are easily influenced and accept blindly whatever comes from authority, as ‘sheeple’ rather than ‘people’. Those who thrive on power understand this, and do anything to hold on to power by manipulating the masses with no critical thinking who are unable to separate reality from fiction. In his presentation of the Construction Stimulus Package, the Prime Minister announced that the economic crisis facing St Lucia requires a re-engineering of government’s role in the economy. For that purpose he had fashioned a partnership between government and the key private sector bodies of the Banking Sector, The Chamber of Commerce and the Bar Association. I believe that there are persons within the St Lucia Society who have the knowledge and skills which enables them to think and devise strategies that would give us solutions to better handle our current economic predicament.

I have suggested that this government needs to harness all the available academic and intellectual talent in the country, for the benefit of the state regardless of one’s perceived political persuasion. Instead Kenny surrounds himself with some gargoyles and quixotic people well known to be the equivalent of drones in their productive capabilities, as consultants and advisors on the public payroll, to give advice that is not worth the paper it is written on, relegated to gather dust on the shelves of government departments. Just another way of squandering our tax dollars, like the ludicrous idea of appointing a committee headed by a man once respected, now derided in the person of Dr Vaughan Lewis, to decide which country St Lucia should choose to establish relations with, China or Taiwan?

Do these countries really care? Since when does the servant dictate to the master? But based on recent statements by Dr Lewis, he is evidently singing for his supper, a man once admired prostituting his intellect—for a cut. His recent pronouncements in which he fails to enlighten or elucidate some kernel of wisdom, is to regurgitate what every school child in the country knows. Rick Wayne unmercifully demolished and diminished Dr Lewis in a piece in the Star of Wednesday, August 29. Has he ever heard the term the ‘Global Village?’ It is now ten months into the term of this administration and the Foreign Relations Committee lumbers on at taxpayer’s expense. A clever ruse to be sure to extend the period of payment to them. But I digress with an observation that needed to make.

Anyone familiar with sound economic principles would know that there are three critical factors necessary for economic growth in any country, which are land, labour and capital. One of the most crucial elements is land which it seems the Prime Minister has excluded from his unique equation. Land in St Lucia is limited and the price of private land is prohibitive to the lower or middle—income earners. Speaking from first hand information, the lowest price of land in St Lucia in any lower of middle-income area with the requisite infrastructure is $15.00 per sq ft, which is the bottom line. The exclusive areas in St Lucia such as Rodney Bay/ Heights, Bonne Terre, Cap Estate, Coubaril, Sunny Acres to name a few, range from $25.00-$30.00 and upwards for a sq ft of land, beyond the reach of the average St Lucian.

A small house lot in the middle-income area measuring between 5,000-6,000 sq ft costs in the region of $80,000.00-$90,000.00, and when the banks add on their myriad of fees, application fees, processing fees, and the absurd bank visa fees, and your own lawyer’s fees, and government taxes and duties, the cost of a small lot of land escalates to well over $100,000.00. How many working St Lucians can afford such astronomical prices for a piece of land and then build a house? Therefore the ownership of a home will remain an elusive dream for most St Lucians. It is clear that in order for construction to take place, one must own a piece of land. Therefore, the most essential component of a successful Construction Stimulus Package is the availability of large areas of land at affordable prices which can only be provided by government.

Government must of necessity provide an alternative to the private market in land in St Lucia that is exorbitant. Government needs to first identify land owned by the state suitable for housing, or by private individuals, that have been lying idle for decades and acquire those land as Sir John did, for public housing. In large countries where land is unlimited there is the concept of ‘eminent domain’ in which governments compulsorily acquire lands which are not being productively utilized, for the public good. Instead of foregoing the $45 million in revenue the government should instead inject this money into providing homes for St Lucians and utilizing lands under government control. No matter what the construction companies do in terms of seeking loans from the banks for construction, if the people cannot afford to purchase land at the astronomical prices that exist in St Lucia today from private land owners, how are those companies going to build homes that are affordable?

Therefore the onus lies on government to release lands and explore the acquisition of private lands for housing. Evidently, this is a long-term projection where the time factor is another crucial element. The identification of land suitable for housing, the survey of the land, the engineering requirements, then the establishment of the necessary infrastructure which includes preparation of land, sewerage facilities, electricity, water, drainage, roads, etc, will take a minimum of three years. There is the additional design of the homes by architects, and engineers, planning approval and finally construction. Kenny should come to the realization that he is in government and in control of the economic performance of the country.

The panic being displayed by the government, is understandable, because it is based on the promises made when in opposition. Remember the $100 million stimulus offer? Kenny never acknowledged the calamitous economic situation in which the entire globe found itself when he was in opposition Instead he lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of the former administration as if St Lucia existed in another galaxy to the rest of the world. Now he is shedding crocodile tears over the economic downturn because of the continuing economic crises crippling the most powerful countries. No government has done more to empower St Lucians through ownership of a home than the United Workers Party under Sir John’s visionary social policies.

In a recent article, after Kenny’s desultory statements about the UWP, instead of elevating the political debate, I chronicled all the existing low and middle-income housing projects in St Lucia today which are the legacy of Sir John and the UWP These housing projects have dramatically changed the landscape and the social life of St Lucians. I would like Kenny to point out one house that the SLP has ever built to house St Lucians or make them first time homeowners. What we need now is an innovative approach to housing in St Lucia today, because land is limited and only the well off can afford a house on an individual lot of land. The government needs to examine the construction of multi-storey apartment complexes available to alleviate the vexing crisis that exists in housing in St Lucia today, on a rent-purchase arrangement. The financing should be sourced by government entitles such as the NIC and St Lucia Mortgage Finance Company, with commercial banks as secondary partners.

When Dr Anthony talks about a Stimulus Package with the Banking Sector as a major partner, since when was the Banking Sector in St Lucia constituted of two banks only, CIBC FirstCaribbean, and Bank of St Lucia? Why have the other banks in St Lucia not been incorporated in this questionable enterprise? The suggestion also that the interest rates being offered by these banks for a period of five years at 5.99 percent is generous and enticing is another duplicitous ploy. Banks in St Lucia have been practicing usury in

Should home and land ownership not be a priority?

St Lucia for decades charging interest rates of 12 percent to 15 percent. Many a business or homeowner has been bankrupted by these exorbitant rates. With the advancement of technology in which information and knowledge is available instantly at one’s fingertips, interest rates for housing loans in the United States are 3.25 percent for the duration of the loan, and the legal costs for closing a transaction for the ownership of a house costing approximately $500,000.00. Canadian, as disclosed to me by a Canadian friend is $500.00 Canadian.

The fees charged by banks and lawyers in St Lucia are ruinous. This is the world of technology; verify my assertions with friends living in Canada or the United States. In the final analysis, certain benchmarks and targets should be set and announced by the government. The whole scheme has been vague with no specifics and one wonders whether the enterprise is meant to serve business only and ignore a critical need which is housing for the people of St Lucia, which if injected into the programme with the $45 million tax waiver and projected to build at least 200 homes in the eighteen month period would provide more widespread jobs, and make a greater impact on the economy and be a real stimulus package.

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