A little over two weeks ago, the prime minister delivered a televised Address to the Nation titled “Facing the Options,” but by the time he’d arrived at the fourth paragraph it was clear his speech might’ve been better headed “Facing the Consequences.”
He began by needlessly reminding his heard-it-all-before, long-suffering audience that only a month or so earlier he had sought to explain to them “the fundamental challenges confronting our country.” Four in all, he said, conveniently lumping together the last mentioned two: 1) low economic growth rates; 2) persistently high unemployment; 3) high vulnerability to economic and natural shocks, and 4) fiscal deficits and high debt levels.
For the record: Fiscal deficits are what a government is left with when total expenditures exceed the revenue it generates, excluding money from borrowings. Deficit differs from debt, which is an accumulation of yearly deficits.
Of course the discerning would’ve recognized from the May 13 presentation of the prime minister’s budget that the Godzilla threatening defenseless Saint Lucia was the consequence of just one recurring problem: government spending as if the green, green grass of home were actually limitless dollars, not inedible leaves of shrubbery that for the moment had somehow escaped the merciless STEP cutlasses and hoes.
Self-delusion and immeasurable arrogance being the two characteristics Caribbean HOGs have in common, our self-proclaimed leaders could barely wait to flaunt their annual billion-dollar budgets in each other’s face, while their handicapped opposition in and outside their Houses looked on without comment. At any rate, without effective comment.
While local government MPs saw only stars in the 2014 budget, Her Majesty’s hardly united opposition saw the perfect opportunity provided by live-TV coverage to subtly accuse one another of corruption and opposing for opposing’s sake—to the extent that the normal air-conditioned House atmosphere was overwhelmed by the unmistakable aroma of sewer rats.
Nevertheless, on June 10 the prime minister had insisted on repeating himself, doubtless convinced by past experience he could in his whale-in-a-sardine-pond circumstances get away with, well, almost anything.
“For some time,” he lectured, his government knowingly had been spending more than it could afford. Consequently, it “has had to borrow more and more money to finance its operations.”
Additionally, most of the borrowed money went toward salaries to public employees and debt repayments.
“As you would know,” he said, looking directly into thousands of doubtless perplexed eyes island-wide, borrowing to pay ever-rising debts was “neither healthy nor prudent.”
By this point an obvious question must’ve confronted his audience, hacks and detractors alike: Why have you continued to increase government expenditure despite decreasing revenue collection? But then the prime minister was not at a Jadia-controlled press conference where at least one journalist may have found the courage to seek an explanation for such recklessness .
Indeed, had a sufficiently curious viewer taken the trouble to drive to Choice-TV, DBS or HTS, perchance to ask the prime minister why in his circumstances he continued to add more and more names to the public payroll, that seeker of truth would quickly have learned he had earlier been watching a poorly rehearsed performance prerecorded for public consumption.
Especially discombobulating was that part of the show when the tele-prompted prime minister said: “Sadly, we have now arrived at the point where the operations of the government cannot be sustained in the long run without some form of adjustments.”
It would’ve been nothing but the truth had the prime minister acknowledged the point had been reached where business as usual could no longer be accommodated by the government’s creditors. Instead, the prime minister chose to be ambiguous.
Could he have been referring to “we” the people who had absolutely nothing to do with the hiring and more hiring of personnel and the consequent non-stop borrowing to pay their salaries, in many cases greater than the salaries of elected officials?
I need add that in some instances both parliament and the governor general had been left in the dark. Consider, for example, the secret arrangements with a company named Frenwell (still clouded in mystery), to which the government had handed some $45 million—borrowed money that according to a commission of inquiry amounted to a gift to characters of ill repute.
Spilled milk, you say? And you’re absolutely correct. The trouble is we the people are now required to pay for the price of that spill. What the prime minister euphemistically referred to as “fiscal deficits and high debt.”
Moreover: “The reality is two-fold. Firstly the Debt/GDP ratio of Saint Lucia is already high. Secondly, investors no longer have any appetite to lend to governments in the region on a long-term basis . . . We can no longer borrow to finance our deficit . . . so we have no choice but to reduce our current expenditure.”
Some might say of the above, better late than never. And certainly this particular discovery was made very late indeed, never mind the writing on the wall that first appeared in the early 90s and continued to be ignored by our government until it was no longer permitted such recklessness.
“The only way to put our fiscal situation back on a viable path is to make a cut in salaries and wages across the board,” said the recorded voice of the prime minister two weeks ago. But easier said than done. For the same reasons he had refused years ago to do the right thing, as far back as 1997 when he had the whole world, so to speak, in his hands; when he could take a one-legged walk on water and barely get his soul wet; yes, for the same reasons he is reluctant now to act in the nation’s best interest.
Well, not altogether true. He is ready to act. But only if he can be guaranteed total immunity. He’s ready to act but only if there is no risk attached. And I speak particularly of no risk to his own lofty stature.
So he reads out for the umpteenth time the wrong that others, not him, have done to the nation, then demands the victims supply their own panacea, which he refers to as “Your Proposals.”
Meanwhile he warns that if the victims big and small don’t offer a proposal he considers palatable, which is to say, one that leaves him safe and comfortable, it’s the big stick for them. I think the word for that is blackmail, but then I could be wrong.
How the prime minister can possibly expect ordinary Saint Lucians, some 60 percent incapable of taking available jobs (according to the prime minister himself), to supply answers that his government and its blood-sucker specialists cannot, leaves me totally off balance.
But then we are living in an age of miracles and wonder. We are “a nation used to hardship.”
And let’s not forget we’ve produced not just one but two Nobel Laureates and more Doctors than have nations five times our size.
Surely, we’ll come up with the proposal that keeps Kenny Anthony out of Purgatory!