In early July, stakeholders convened in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, to discuss progress towards the development of a Regional Investment Promotion Strategy and Implementation Plan for the CARIFORUM Region.
As part of the initiative to position the Caribbean as a destination that is ready for investment, the Invest St Lucia office, in its concerted endeavour to sell Saint Lucia to foreign investors, is duty-bound to paint a favourable picture of Saint Lucia’s workforce that would impress potential investors. This is understandable. But when they use a high-gloss finish to cover up the liabilities, complete with flowery language, somehow it gets close to misleading the house.
Consider this reference to our “highly qualified labour force that is poised to meet the demands of international business.” Does that not suggest we measure up to the high expectations of internet browsing, potential foreign investors? If the local labour force can truly deliver, then no problem. But what can we expect should it turn
out our estimation of the local work force was highly exaggerated?
The website’s creative baiting sounds like it may have been prepared with another work force in mind. The promotional language certainly dispels the need for the fears expressed by the prime minister during his 2013 Budget Statement entitled “An agenda for Economic Growth and Fiscal Sustainability” wherein he outlined the findings of a 2012 analysis of the local work force. Said the prime minister a mere 14 months ago: “The unemployment data suggests that a large number of people have remained unemployed for extended periods. In addition, a large number of individuals are unable to find jobs, which match their skills. The results of Saint Lucia’s Labour Market Needs Assessment undertaken in the final quarter of 2012 revealed that 60 percent of the labour market has not attained secondary school education and therefore does have the requisite skills required for gainful employment. Also underscored was the mismatch of the skills set for the available jobs in the labour market. Currently, only 3 percent of the population is employed as technicians and associate professionals.
“However, there is a far greater demand for such individuals to partake in the reorganization and expansion of businesses. Similarly, craft and related work account for only 2 percent of the employed population while significant demand exists for such workers. Central to dealing with the issue of unemployment is the need to train workers to meet these demands. Increasing the pool of talent in these deficient areas will increase competition and could lead to increased quality and productivity. This, in essence, is the route towards igniting our hidden growth potential and taking Saint Lucia up the development ladder. The task ahead is certainly challenging.”
Now factor into this scenario Invest Saint Lucia’s peacock assessment of Saint Lucia’s work force. It appears to badly contradict the prime minister’s publicly aired analysis that several red flags punctuate Saint Lucia’s Labour Market Needs Assessment. The situation has certainly not dissipated significantly.
The website then attempts to offer more data for the benefit of probing investors. At the bottom of the page, a link is provided that says: “For more information and statistics about the labour force in Saint Lucia, please consult our labour fact sheet.”
The systems administrator should ensure the link is active. Potential foreign investors would definitely appreciate access to enough information to build their own convictions regarding business in Saint Lucia.
Promoting Saint Lucia as an investor’s paradise has to be a very judicious exercise to spare the island becoming a laughing stock. People might just find themselves skating on the thin ice of false promises; promises that may be misconstrued by an outsider as having the prime minister’s endorsement. Investors know what they want. Foreign investors require an educated work force, solid infrastructure and legal protections.
The priority areas are all outlined on the website: from Taxation to the Bureau of Standards. Government investment promotion agencies—when managed well—can educate foreign investors about the advantages of investing in a particular location, without credibility issues.
Says Steven Globerman, author of Best Policy Practices for Promoting Inward and Outward Foreign Direct Investment: “In general, transparent regulations, solid infrastructure and an educated workforce create a positive framework that is attractive to investors.”
If Saint Lucia cannot deliver to investors the claims of Invest St Lucia’s website, we will all pay the price. The website’s content needs to be adjusted to more truthfully reflect our current reality—if only to spare us further embarrassment at home and abroad.