Remember Prime Minister Stephenson King’s April 2011 announcement that Saint Lucia had experienced GDP growth of 4.4 percent? In any event, we were reminded three weeks ago. The update returned to the forefront of the public mind all the associated bad memories, especially the wall-to-wall criticism of the day’s prime minister by the leader of the opposition and his surrogates, much of it based on wild speculation that went so far as to hint at co-conspirators in high places. How could it be that all the islands of the OECS had suffered zero growth, except for Saint Lucia? That was the question almost everybody asked.
To be fair, there was also much talk about a new ECCB yardstick, which may have encouraged the whispered suggestions of collusion.
Oh, but thanks to the current prime minister, we learned that his predecessor’s growth figure had been something of an exaggeration. We discovered, too, that the first the now leader of the opposition heard of the discrepancy was during the current prime minister’s 2012 budget presentation, when he said: “Mr. Speaker the performance of Saint Lucia’s economy has at best been anemic. In his budget presentation of April 14, 2011 the former minister for finance threw caution to the wind and declared thus”:
‘While the recession was still strong in the rest of the OECS member states, all of which experienced negative growth in 2010, the economy of Saint Lucia grew by 4.4 percent in 2010, compared to an average -3.2 for the OECS as a whole. The Eastern Caribbean Bank estimates that Saint Lucia will grow by 5.4 percent this year. Our own forecast is a more modest 4.5 percent as we concentrate on the implementation of a job-creating growth strategy.’
“Mr. Speaker,” said the prime minister, as if solemnly quoting Old Testament Scripture contradictive of pro-abortion beliefs, “the economy did not grow by 4.4 percent in 2010, as proudly announced by the former minister of finance. The growth rate was no more than 0.6 percent.”
No surprise that King could hardly wait to clear the air. Where he was concerned, the prime minister had with his slick tongue painted him in the colors of a lowdown prevaricating good for nothing betrayer of the public trust; a misleader of parliament and the people; a damn liar, if you will, when he knew only too well that technocrats provided the figures that finance ministers release to the nation, whether or not “proudly”—not the ministers themselves.
The prime minister would have none of that. Once you announce what the technocrats have given you, he said in his rebuttal, you own it; it becomes your responsibility, regardless. And I concur.
But then the technocrat who had provided King’s too-good-to-be-true growth figures also had his own truth to tell. Ironically, what the director of statistics said on the issue hardly justified the former prime minister’s election-time reputation as “de lyin’ King.” Rather, it tended to exonerate him.
In an exclusive interview featured in last weekend’s STAR the statistics director recalled the following details: “It was quite an unusual situation where we had to produce a figure by the end of February, our usual deadline. I wrote the specific letter (read by the prime minister in parliament) somewhere in the middle of April or so last year. That letter indicated we were having problems with the data source and so we could not decide with confidence that it was correct. If we cannot validate the input then we have no other choice but to respect the process and go ahead with the number. And that is what happened.”
He blamed flawed Customs records for the exaggerated figure on the import of construction supplies and wholesale and retail goods—which contributed to the 4.4 percent growth in the economy. They were revised down from 4.4 to 2.59 percent, he said. He could not say whether his warning letter read out in parliament ever reached King when he was prime minister. He knew only that it went to the then prime minister’s technocrats, addressed specifically to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance (Editor’s Note: See page 5).
In any event, the final confirmation process before the statistics department can release definitive figures took place in March this year, the statistics director revealed. By which time, of course, Stephenson King was leader of the opposition under to account for his stewardship as prime minister.
So how should he have handled the suspect figures back in 2011—if indeed he knew they were suspect? Tell the nation he wasn’t sure about the GDP growth figure, for whatever reasons? Or should he simply have kept his mouth shut on the subject of growth? And what would the opposition have said then? What would regular citizens have said?
Let us revisit the statistic director: “If we cannot validate the input,” he told the STAR, “then we have no other choice but to respect the process and go ahead with the number!” So, the, what’s all that guff about de lyin’ King?
In all events, I can’t help wondering why—in the advertised newly fostered atmosphere of parliament that leaves absolutely no room for imputing false motives, let alone for possibly sub judice pronouncements—the current prime minister never informed his immediate predecessor about confirmed GDP figures until his House shaking revelation and the lecture that followed it.
As elsewhere I have said: some things are better left unsaid—especially when the only possible result is more devastating divisiveness. The prime minister might easily have corrected the growth discrepancy of 2011 without pointing fingers, literally and otherwise at his predecessor.
The correct announcement might easily have been made upon the March confirmation of last year’s GDP—even before the Budget presentation. But come to think about it, it really was not what the prime minister initially said about the discrepancy that proved the problem. Rather, it was the opposition leader’s altogether understandable defensive reaction that shaped the prime minister’s rebuttal speech.
I mean, it’s not as if he had never found himself in similar pea soup: back in 2005, as I recall, few people demonstrated any faith in the prime minister’s announcement that GDP growth was 3.5, for the same reasons so many had doubted King’s 2011 figures.
BTW: A recent HTS poll revealed the majority of questioned Saint Lucians see no reason why King should apologize to the director of statistics, a suggestion twice proffered by the current prime minister, not once demanded by the director of statistics.
Whichever way you look at it, we now have still more reason to distrust government declarations—or, for that matter, their motivations. As do such bodies as the IMF and the World Bank that depend on government agencies for their quarterly outputs.
Indeed, the current suspicion is that the acknowledged customs glitch that had handed King reason to crow, if only for a short time, had also occurred on the watches of other prime ministers, albeit unacknowledged. The government is duty-bound to restore public faith in our public sector departments. The prime minister might begin the process by requiring the Finance PS to explain why it took more than a year to confirm the 2011 GDP figure, and why upon receipt in March he did not release it to the general public!
Some things are better left unsaid—especially when the only
possible result is more devastating divisiveness. The prime minister might easily have corrected the growth discrepancy of 2011 without pointing fingers, literally and otherwise at his predecessor.’’