What a welcome change, to have good reason to begin this column on a positive note, by which I refer to the recent announcement from the prime minister’s office that the government has made good on its campaign promise of tax relief. It is to be hoped the relevant mechanisms have also been put in place that will facilitate the declared arrangements, otherwise it will be déjà vu all over again.
Too many times have government departments failed to deliver on parliamentary promises—inland revenue and customs immediately come to mind—on the flimsy basis that only when the government’s words are backed up by appropriate documentation can they be honored.
I might also point out that as appreciated as is the prime minister’s acknowledgement of the problems facing taxpayers at this particular time, businesspeople in particular, the caring among us will realize that with its own revenue cut for whatever good reasons (including the earlier cited new tax arrangements) the government will have an even harder time than usual delivering expected regular services, including health and security. That is, unless it also discovers the courage to cut back on recurring expenses—by far the largest of them being the public service. A question posed in an earlier column deserves repetition: Is there absolutely no way to reduce its operational costs?
As I think about it, would it not serve all of us if the government should assign some of its highly touted economists to discover ways by which to save money? Again, I mention the overseas embassies. What have they done in the past, what do they do now that we cannot do without even temporarily? Do we really have to own real estate in the most expensive sections of Manhattan, Toronto, Ottawa, London and so on—all with their own headaches, property taxes and other bills? Is it imperative that we have diplomats all over the globe and enjoying at public expense the kind of luxury synonymous with hip-hop stars?
What exactly do these chosen people do that could not be done as effectively at home—or from less expensive overseas addresses? What have we accomplished through them that might not have been otherwise achieved? What would happen if some were recalled?
As for the STEP program: correct me if I’m wrong (I’m sure you can hardly wait) in saying it costs taxpayers close to a million dollars a month. Might someone break that up for public information? Since, as I understand it, the money comes out of the consolidated fund—therefore easily accounted for, by all I’ve heard!—it shouldn’t take another four years and an inquiry to discover what qualifies STEP-pers, who verifies their work claims, and so on.
Also: Are STEP workers doing what city council workers already are paid to do? How many of the recommendations from two related inquiries have been implemented? It is good to hear the government has not yet committed to the idea of taking over LIAT—even though the fact that we cannot do without a regional airline remains indisputable. By whatever name, LIAT is a dog-eat-dog business and should not be operated as if it were a WASCO-type charity that exists largely to accommodate otherwise unemployable party hacks. Before this government agrees to put into the company money that obviously the government does not have, the reasons for the airline’s failure all these years must once and for all be identified—and action taken to eliminate them.
Speaking of which: Why have other airlines that set out to serve the region also failed to stay financially afloat? Might the reason have something to do with LIAT and the preferential treatment it has always received from inastute OECS politicians, despite its several extremely expensive, quite unnecessary burdens—not least of them outrageous nepotism? But these are early days yet and the government should be congratulated (yes, I actually wrote that!) on its most recent efforts in behalf of taxpayers. It has only scratched the surface, however, when it comes to the ocean of problems threatening our survival. Still to be delivered are at least a few of the promised jobs-jobs-jobs—by which I mean jobs not sustained by the public purse.
It makes no business sense to have hired Vaughan Lewis as the foreign affairs minister’s special advisor. If his past posts are what got Lewis the job in the first place, then why wasn’t he made a senator with responsibility for foreign affairs? Why pay two salaries when one could’ve bought the evidently essential services of Dr Lewis?
Meanwhile, I can’t help wondering when the latest appointee acquired the CV that recommended him for the job of foreign affairs advisor on matters relating to the OECS, Latin America and so on. After all, to recall all that was said about his performance as OECS boss, before he took up Sir John’s most famous offer in 1995, is to come away absolutely perplexed. But then, is anything about Saint Lucian politics as it appears?
Witness the disaster currently confronting what’s left of our once booming banana industry. Am I the only one who has read about Taiwan’s success in dealing with Black Sigatoka? Or could the official ambivalence toward Tom Chou be standi
ng in the way of dialogue that could be good news for our hurting banana farmers, not to say the rest of Saint Lucia? We should be ever careful not to cut our noses just to spite our faces—however disagreeable!