Guy Joseph echoes Governor General: ‘There is no good news for the people . . .’

The total Budget figure for 2012/2013 is EC$1,457,859,100. So says the Minister for Finance of his report to the Standing Finance Committee (SFC) that was presented to the House on Thursday April 26, 2012.
Dr Anthony did not waste anytime explaining the report and even announced that there were a few matters discussed at the SFC meeting that needed to be made public. As the Opposition followed closely while making notes, Dr Anthony explained that the total Recurrent Revenue is EC$922,135,621, an increase by six percent from last year. Dr Anthony explained that such an increase is only made possible by the implementation of the Valued Added Tax (VAT) that will take effect on September 1st this year.
Also, he says, another area where the Government will increase its revenue is with the collection of Radio and Television Broadcast Licensing with an estimated EC$1.02 million. According to Dr Anthony, arrangements for the payment of these licenses were not put into place and have been this way for 12 years now.
The Recurrent Expenditure, he announced is EC$962, 935, 100. $447 Million Dollars or 46 percent, he said has been allocated for salaries and wages. $227 Million is for Debt Servicing and the remaining $288 Million or 30 percent is for Other Operating Expenses.
“This level of Recurrent Expenditure is approximately 27 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and represents a 7.5 percent increase from the previous years’ estimates.”
The PM later announced that the Government is committed to a specific statement on the Pass Through Mechanism later on in the Budget.
He went on: “Capital Expenditure is EC$494,921,000 which is 12 percent higher than last year’s and 44 percent of total expenditure. Fifty percent represent ongoing programs, five percent of the 50 percent for ongoing programs represent commitments to completed projects.”
In Education, Dr Anthony announced a total Recurrent Expenditure of EC$168,135,800 while Ministry of Health has $97,948,600, Ministry of Sports has EC$4,967,300; Ministry for Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology has EC$11, 669,000; Ministry for Local Government and Community Empowerment has EC$29,635,600; Ministry for Physical Development, Housing and Urban Renewal has EC$9,188,600; Ministry for Tourism has EC$5,214, 300; Ministry for External Affairs has EC$21,209,700; Ministry for Infrastructure, Ports and Services and Transport has EC$29,547,600; Ministry for Commerce has EC$18,165,000; Ministry for Agriculture has EC$15,471,000; Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security has EC$102,087,300; Ministry for Legal Affairs has EC$14,894,600; Ministry for Public Service has EC$25,142,200 and Ministry for Finance has EC$387,331,100.
Before the Debate on the Estimates began, the Speaker reminded Members of the adoption of the correct procedure as outlined in the Constitution of St Lucia and Standing Orders of the House at which point the Member for Castries Central stood up on a point of Observation. Before Richard Frederick could even explain his observation, the Speaker immediately interrupted and dismissed his attempt stating that he is not allowed argue with the laws of the House.
Arsene James then stood up to begin the debate. In James’ presentation
he did make some very good points. Even Dr Anthony nodded his head while writing in his book, indicating that he may be taking James’ recommendations into consideration but the highlight of the day was the Castries South-East Member of Parliament. Of course, as with every time Guy Joseph speaks in the House, Dr Robert Lewis and Philip J Pierre would begin their jeers directed at him and Thursday’s sitting was no exception.
Joseph did not seem to be bothered by their remarks but attacked the Estimates head-on stating that the SLP administration is hanging its hat where its hand cannot reach. But he first began by commenting on the Throne speech delivered by the Governor General on Tuesday.
Said Joseph: “In the Governor General’s opening statement, the Governor General said she wished she had good news but alas the news is not good but if this is the tone of the Budget then this is the tone that I have to follow because there is no good news for the people of Castries South-East in particular. Given the circumstances in which we have to manage, I begin with recurrent expenditure and recurrent revenue where you have a situation where recurrent expenditure is $962,938,100 and we have recurrent revenue at $922, 135,621. This leaves us with a deficit of $40,802,479. I am expected as a Parliamentarian to represent the interest of the people who voted me into office. That is why I made reference to what the speech of the Governor General entails because these were the same situations that led Greece down the slippery path of economic collapse. Because they were spending more than they were earning. Every average person knows you cannot give what
you don’t have neither can you spend what you don’t have. And so I have my concerns.”
Joseph says the Estimates are not balanced properly and that the recurrent expenditure is over the recurrent revenue.
“I have my concerns about this very summary of this Budget, while we are being charged some exorbitant prices for electricity which makes our manufacturing sector
almost non-existent because we cannot compete with other persons that Government is actually collecting dividends from Lucelec; in other words, on the profits of Lucelec, the Government is collecting its dividends because it has shares in Lucelec. I have always been of the view, that these funds should be used and passed on to people to help reduce the cost of electricity,” said Joseph.
Joseph explained that if the cost of electricity is reduced it will have a positive net impact for the Government. He made reference to the “Waste to Energy Project” and advised the Ministry of Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development to explore the initiative in depth as it may help reduce the cost of electricity for every St Lucian.
“There are a number of things that can be done to reduce the cost of Government operations but what are we seeing; we are seeing rather than a reduction in the cost of operation of Government, an increase which further widens the gap between recurrent revenue and expenditure.
“I am calling on the powers that be to review the situation as it is being presented and make the best decisions for this country,” said Joseph.
Referring to VAT, Joseph held back no reservations on the matter but expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed plan laid out by the Government.
“I have problems with the timing of the implementation of VAT. I am raising this with the particular concern that the perception that VAT is going to solve all our problems is a myth. It has not happened anywhere else. Look at the countries that implemented VAT; is their economic situation better than St Lucia today?”
At this point, the Speaker of the House interrupted Joseph to remind him that he should remain to the confines of the debate and not venture along government policy of whether VAT should be implemented in September or not.
Joseph defended himself saying: “I will try to be guided accordingly but Mr Speaker, I am expected to vote on a Budget that includes VAT and I am just trying to draw the line; where do I make the separation to decide what I should say about VAT? Because VAT is accounting for one hundred million dollars of the Budget and so, I have to raise concerns in relation to VAT; it is part of the estimates.”
“What I am seeing with this Budget is that the most essential areas that touch the lives of the everyday people are some of the places I am seeing the cutbacks are being made in the Budget and I must be concerned,” Joseph said while adding later, “When I see the deficit that exist between recurrent revenue and recurrent expenditure, I have to be particularly concerned  because it is an indication that the increases have not been put into the places where it is going to benefit the average St Lucian.”
Joseph further questioned that although his UWP Government initiated the Financial Center deal at Pointe Seraphine, “could the recent ground breaking ceremony indicate that this Government is going into another rental agreement where as they can own
their own property. Are we going into further rental when there is a property purchased by the previous Government and this Government is now saying that we are not going to proceed?”
As he approached the final aspect of his presentation, Joseph complemented the allocation made available to Tourism. He explained that if this money is well spent, the country will be in a good position to get the
returns as the numbers would show. He made reference to the extra monies spent in Tourism by the UWP administration which saw a growth in revenue in that sector.
The House adjourned for lunch but returned later in the afternoon for more excitement as Moses Jn Baptiste, Emma Hippolyte, Dr Desmond Long, Dr Robert Lewis and Philip J Pierre made their presentations.
Our review will continue
in the next issue of the STAR!

MP Guy Joseph on VAT, Lucelec and deficits.

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