The term “an inconvenient truth” was made famous as the title of a documentary film about global warming narrated by Al Gore. Locally the term had been used repeatedly in articles by talk-show host Rick Wayne. And now it seems the term is a new favourite of Prime Minister Kenny Anthony.
The PM adopted use of the phrase early in the year when he addressed the nation on the state of the economy. In the throes of ongoing negotiations with public sector unions over a wage increase the PM noted: “We can only reach out and help others if we can contain expenditure in the Public Service. When public officers contain their wage demands we are better able to help the distressed, the poor, the marginalized and the unemployed youth. However, we cannot be blind to our worsening fiscal position and we must, therefore, take a long hard look at our expenditure.
“In Saint Lucia, wages have been growing at a rapid pace while productivity has been declining. To put it more plainly, some persons are being paid more for producing less. GDP output has grown by an average of less than one percent over the last three years, and it is projected to remain subdued in the short term.
“If we base wage increases only on inflation and not productivity or our ability to pay, we are actually making our country poorer and making the goods and services we produce less attractive to the outside world.I know that this is an “inconvenient truth” but we must summon courage to face our reality.”
(One wonders if “inconvenient truths” might not have been a more apt campaign slogan during the last election).
Nonetheless, the PM again turned to the matter of inconvenient truths as he addressed launch of the Saint Lucia Chapter of the Caribbean Growth Forum at the Bay Gardens Hotel.
Prime Minister Kenny Anthony first quoted from the IMF World Economic Outlook in October 2012: “Coping with high debt and sluggish growth” which he said “perfectly summarises the state of affairs of the global economy.”
Said the PM: “Many countries struggle with the deleterious effects of low growth, high unemployment, weak financial fundamentals and increasing debt levels. From that perspective, we are not alone in searching for a new model of economic development, in carving solutions to old problems and shaping a new and different future. The most vital asset in all of this is our courage, our shared resolve and our common faith in ourselves and our country. This is not an economic necessity, to be left to the market to resolve. It springs from our collective will.”
He quoted IMF figures indicating that the global recovery is expected to weaken and has revised the growth for advanced economies from 2.0 per cent to 1.5 per cent and the growth for emerging and developing economies from 6.0 per cent to 5.6 per cent.
Dr Anthony’s solution:
“ . . . we need to radically restructure our economy to become more competitive and innovative and this means that we need to find creative ways to more effectively develop and employ our human capital and natural resources to improve productivity and competitiveness in our economy.”
Obviously sending a message to local public servants the PM then turned to “inconvenient truths.”
“Whenever the word “productivity” is mentioned alarm bells are sounded,” he said. “We bristle and become uncomfortable. It is as I said recently, “an inconvenient truth”. The truth is if wages continue to rise and productivity falls then we are in trouble.”
Is this an inconvenient truth that the PM himself has faced? The Dr Kenny Anthony government has already been criticized repeatedly for the hiring of consultants and filling public service posts that are not necessary.
The PM went on: “No foreign investor will look at us, no matter how enchanting, seductive, and beautiful we may be as an island, if we are uncompetitive. And this problem goes to the heart of the challenge that we have. No economy can grow or develop if it is uncompetitive and unproductivity. Every single one of us, from the highest to the lowest, from politicians to daily paid workers, need to be productive and give sound value for what we earn.”
In his address to the packed room the PM called on citizens to “re-examine attitudes toward entrepreneurship, business partnerships and the expansion of business beyond our domestic market space. We need to critically examine issues which hinder our ability to produce and market products and services at superior quality and at minimum costs.”
He spoke glowingly about initiatives by his government that he said “dovetail with the work of the growth forum” citing his government’s three-point plan recovery process that included job creation, construction expansion and fiscal consolidation.
How far along was the plan and is it already bearing fruit? The PM did not go there, he only spoke of the short term employment that he noted “are designed to boost our productive sectors and provide much needed support to our social agenda.”
He praised, too, measures he said aim to encourage private sector investment in construction and housing aimed at creating further jobs and restoring our social and economic infrastructure. “Finally we have introduced fiscal measures to improve government’s revenue base, reduce the deficit and achieve fiscal strengthening.”
The PM then turned to the importance of the forum.
“This forum will involve wide-ranging consultations between public sector officials, representatives of small and medium size enterprises, business groups, firms, labour unions, and civil society. Such dialogues will highlight the likely micro-economic foundations for growth and create a sense of partnership with the business community, which increases the likelihood of successful reform,” he said.
After mentioning these initiatives the PM told his audience he is “convinced more than ever before, that there is no better timing for Saint Lucians to come together to develop a national vision for our country. A common vision that would unite all our reform efforts to create an integrated National Development Plan that would chart a new growth path for Saint Lucia. In the coming weeks, the public will begin hearing much more on this initiative.”