My fellow Saint Lucians: We have had the misfortune once again to witness in our House of Assembly a display of raucous boasting, of spite, pettiness and general bad behavior, all passing for the presentation by the government of its Budget . . . As we witnessed this event taking place, and the comedy of parliamentary snakes and ladders by some pretending to lead the opposition in the House, many of you must have been recalling a similar display during the debate on the Criminal Code and the Abortion Clause. I am sure that many of us could not help thinking how low parliament has descended; how profane this pinnacle of our democracy has become.
I have no doubt, fellow citizens, that this kind of behavior, lowering the standards of public life in our country, represented a desperate attempt on the part of the government to hide the fact of the economic disaster that has been brought upon us; to pretend we are going up, when all of us know we are going down.As the UWP has never ceased to point out, and I repeat, this SLP administration has proven themselves over the years to be Masters of Deception. They came to office in 1997 promising much but have delivered nothing but despair. They announced themselves as the New Messiahs promising to take us to a land of prosperity and good governance. They were to provide healthcare for all. They were to continue the tradition started by the UWP government of promoting a knowledge-driven society. They were to solve all our banana problems. They would unite our people. Crime, and now escalating crime, would be a thing of the past. Saint Lucians were told we would live happily ever after. But what do we find as Judgment Day has come?
We now know that we have been deceived!
When the UWP demitted office in 1997, Saint Lucia had been accustomed to good and prudent management. Even after Tropical Storm Debbie in 1994, our banana farmers showed fortitude and confidence in their government, and went on to export over 105,000 tons of bananas. In spite of the man-made crises of the no-cut banana strikes, which the Saint Lucia Labour Party fully supported and encouraged, the government of the UWP managed to keep the economy of our country growing. Not once during all of those years did our country experience an economic recession or negative growth, in spite of the demands for high salary increases by the unions, demands which came on top of the temporary fall in banana production and income due to the no-cut strikes. Not once!
By contrast, under Prime Minister Anthony’s management our agricultural sector contracted in 2001. Tourism recorded a 7.3 per cent slump in 2002 and a corresponding 21 per cent decline in cruise ship arrivals. These are facts. Indisputable facts. No amount of moaning and groaning about the terrorist attack in the United States of September 11, 2001, can excuse the dismal performance of the agricultural sector.
Manufacturing experienced a 5 per cent decline in 2001. In 2002/3 real GDP growth was 0.1 per cent following a 4.6 per cent contraction in the previous year. And last year alone, we produced a paltry 34,000 tons of bananas and lost about $54 million in revenues—half of the Rochamel debt.
This year, our farmers continue to experience the hardship and hopelessness that this SLP government has brought to this country, as bad government policy and over-bureaucracy at home burden the farmer.
We now know we have been deceived!
The thrusts made in education by the UWP government over the years with the coming into being of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College soon bore fruit . . . The government of the United Workers Party had a deliberate policy of providing scholarships to the gifted but needy, and we continued to support this education policy with stipends to our student teachers and nurses at the College.
But this SLP government has dismantled all of this. Our teachers and nurses now have to scramble to become qualified, while our scholars are frustrated at the few available scholarships. This SLP government has failed to help us help ourselves. Everything now depends on gifts from other people and from other governments.
How can we boast about commitment to the youth while at the same time abandoning the policies that make such commitment real?
We now know we have been deceived.
When the prime minister talks about concern for the health of our citizens, we know as we look at Victoria Hospital that he and his minister are shedding crocodile tears. While the prime minister makes a token allocation for children afflicted with AIDS, he refuses to find the monies necessary for even the most basic medicines needed by our main hospital. Take note, too, that the allocation this year for refurbishing health centers has been reduced from $8 million to $4.8 million, while the prime minister announces that healthcare is a priority for his government.
Yet, for them, the high life goes on! What is it that prevents the prime minister from understanding that the cost of bullet-proofing one BMW would more than keep the hospital in adequate supply of these desperately needed drugs? Saint Lucians are not accustomed to this kind of show-off living by their political directorate, side by side with increasing misery among our people.
We now know we have been deceived.
I had hoped, and the UWP called for this Budget to include, a Special Emergency Fund for equipping and providing medicines at our hospitals and health centers. I insisted that the prime minister address the decline in morale on the part of the staff of these institutions. But what do we get? A commission which is likely to cost this government more than the price of needed medicines. People are asking, why are we paying money to him and his ministers? To scream and shout in the House of Assembly?
Even as the prime minister presented this Budget, praising the tourism sector, we hear the President of the Saint Lucian Hotel and Tourism Association complaining that the hotels in the north of the island have no water and have to spend exorbitant sums trucking it in. Wasn’t the $10 million pipe-laying project to the north of the island, started years ago, not supposed to solve this problem? What happened?
And who, after the waste of money on this project, for which the prime minister should have accounted in his Budget Statement, is going to pay for the desalination plants for the hotels that we now hear talk about? We the taxpayers again? With the John Compton Dam having been constructed by the UWP government, it should have been a relatively simple matter to now bring water to the north. Instead what do we have? After almost three years of digging up of the streets of Castries and the highway to the north of the island, not a drop of water flows. Are we surprised? Of course not! And are we surprised when WASCO tells the public that there is nothing they can do until the pipe-laying project is reorganized?
We now know have been deceived!
Today many Saint Lucian owned hotels fall by the wayside without a second thought by this supposedly caring government of the Saint Lucia Labour Party. For more than three years now I have been calling for special assistance, particularly for the small hotels owned by Saint Lucians, by way of temporary low interest loans to help tide them over this difficult period. Not a word from the prime minister on this in his Budget. Not a word! But scores of new incentives for the foreign sector, under the guise of providing rooms for 2007. Every week we have this loquacious Minister of Tourism telling us how bright the future of tourism is! For whom, I ask, for whom?
Is it only to be for those who profited from the bankruptcy of the Hyatt Hotel and the $110 million dollars of this country’s money which this government has so irresponsibly squandered? Where in the world has anyone heard of a government guaranteeing to pay for cost over-runs on a contract even before a day’s work has begun? $110 million would buy us two fully equipped hospitals!
We say: Irrespective of the decisions of the courts, the prime minister was duty bound to give us an explanation in this Budget session of the spending of these monies which we will have to pay back.
Mr. Prime Minister, let me assure you the UWP, in and out of parliament, will continue to call for it. While I am on this, I must briefly address the statements made by the Prime Minister during his closing address on Monday. When the prime minister of this country suggests that guaranteeing of loans to WIBDECO falls in the same category as his largesse to Rochamel, let me remind him that WIBDECO, of which the government is a part-owner, showed consistent profits after the UWP government established it. That is why WIBDECO was able to subsidise the price to the farmers when it fell periodically.
The government’s investment in WIBDECO went straight back into the farmers’ pockets, and kept prosperity going in Saint Lucia. “By their deeds ye shall know them,” it is said, and my deeds, and the UWP’s deeds, in establishing WIBDECO resulted in direct benefits to the farmers. The facts are there for all to see.
No amount of spinning, bluff or deceit will make the people of this country believe that the guarantee to WIBDECO, or the loan from the NIS for the CDC, and the handing of our money to Rochamel are one and the same.
We want to know where the Rochamel money went. We want an explanation of the Bordelais prison contract and what we owe on it. Last year you said things were not completed, so you couldn’t give us the final figures. Are they ready now? Budget time is the time to give them to us. I fear that we can expect little of the prime minister when it comes to financial accounting.
We listened to him trying to grapple with the mind-boggling public debt with which he has saddled our country. What he described as being one thousand million dollars must now have been 1.5 billion dollars by the end of the financial year. This means at least $10,000 on the head of each St Lucian, including the elderly (whose pensions he has refused to increase), the unemployed, the sick and the shut-in, the newborn and the disabled.
Yet the borrowing continues with no end in sight, in spite of the IMF’s warnings. The prime minister seems fascinated by the willingness of the commercial banks to float bonds on this government’s behalf. Forty-six million dollars of recurrent expenditure this year is to be found through bonds. But some of us know better. We know the future cost to us, of which prime minister Anthony never speaks.
Let me repeat: the UWP, which rescued this country from debt after the Labour Government’s reign in 1979-82, remains extremely concerned by the debt burden which this country now has to carry. This debt burden has more than doubled in the seven years during which this government has been in office. Yet the prime minister has given no serious indication in this Budget as to how he intends to deal with it. What he has been telling the IMF in response to their concerns, he must tell the people of St Lucia.
Our policies with respect to the development of our youth have been widely articulated . . . and do not attempt to put plaster on the sore of youth unemployment which this government does with its YAP programme in seeking to imitate, seven years later, the UWP’s YES Programme. Let us hope that YAP does not just turn out to be a yapping STEP.
The young people of this county require access to low-cost financing, linked to appropriate training not only in schools and colleges, but also in established private sector institutions which must be subsidised for this purpose. The government institutions established to help them must be centrally involved in helping them to prepare their projects or ideas for self-employment. This must be done on a large scale, and the World Bank and other aid institutions must be persuaded to channel funds in this direction, not simply towards make-work projects which they refer to as “poverty reduction” The poverty reduction of individuals must be organised to be permanent, not temporary and continually dependent on Government. This is what my YES programme was about: not simply to make apprentices of our young, but to recognise that growth of our country can only be achieved when our youth are a central part of the process of adjustment that we need to undertake.
Without such involvement of our youth, not only will economic growth be stultified, but we will have the accompanying evil of high crime rates—something with which every Saint Lucian is now familiar. As our youth remain unemployed, and as the cocaine trade looks like the only attractive future, the incidence of crime and accompanying violence will increase.
So, fellow citizens, in this Budget presented by Dr Anthony I see nothing to suggest that the prime minister is even remotely aware of the desperate situation of a large number of our businesses, be they hotels, manufacturers or retailers. For them there is no relief.
The prime minister has now, eventually, threatened us with the VAT, and threatens to force you to vote for it in a general election. This, my friends, is his way of confessing to you that he has already agreed to it and that there is no turning back. I, and the UWP will continue to force more confessions out of him . . .
What I and most of us see are flashing mirrors of opportunism here, a sleight of hand there and spin-doctoring to cure everything except the need to generate meaningful growth in our economy. Who will recall that Labour opposed the establishment of the National Lottery, but now praise it for its contribution to the Beausejour Grounds?
We must seek to utilise qualified and experienced Saint Lucians who have been living abroad in the industrialised countries, to return to help upgrade the skills of our youths. While doing this we will review the conditions for attracting Saint Lucians working abroad to invest in Saint Lucia and return to develop our country. We will provide tax and other incentives just as we do to the foreign investors.
Fellow Saint Lucians, this is the difference between this government and a UWP government: they operate from a platform of incompetence, guesswork and PR. They wait on manna to fall from heaven, a project here, a project there; a gift here, a gift there.
We operate on the basis of experience and proper planning. There are many who seek to impose their so-called deep knowledge of economics on us, as if this is the prime qualification for good policy making. We saw much boasting about this in the House of Assembly.
Fellow St Lucians, a prime characteristic of good policy making is a government with a vision. Their Contract of Faith was not a Statement of Vision, just a set of pie in the sky promises intended to deceive. My friends, what our country needs now, and needs more desperately than most of us are willing to admit, are a few persons of goodwill and good character who are able to put country before self.
A new time is at hand, fellow Saint Lucians. It’s only a matter of time.
Editor’s Note: The preceding was the political leader of the UWP’s televised response to Kenny Anthony’s Budget address in 2004.