St Catherine speaks out!

Perhaps, one of the most striking remarks made in the House during the 2012/2013 Budget Presentation was a statement made by former Prime Minister, now Leader of the Opposition Stephenson King.                 In response to Dr Kenny Anthony’s correction of the actual GDP and not the figure announced by King in 2011, the Leader of the Opposition spent the first quarter of his presentation trying to explain to the House and by extension, the people of St Lucia what had transpired during his 2011 announcement of a 4.4 percent growth in the economy. King defended his position on the matter by shifting the attention of the country to the Director of Statistics who he claimed was responsible for the figures and not him, eventually calling for the Director to be fired if he did in fact provide the wrong figures.
Since then, Edwin St Catherine has been the subject of much media scrutiny. Many are asking, “how” and “why” did the Statistics Department allow such a faux-pas. On Tuesday, St Catherine responded to King’s call for him to be fired saying that the statement is rather unfortunate but did not go in depth with details on what had really transpired with the original figure and the now publicized 0.6 percent growth in GDP.
On Thursday, St Catherine sat with the STAR and explained what had transpired. He admits that there was a poor medium of communication.
“It was quite an unusual situation where we had to make a decision and we had to produce a number by the end of February, which is generally the deadline for us. I wrote that specific letter somewhere in the middle of April or so of last year. That letter indicated that we were having problems with the data source and we cannot decide that this is the number and we are confident, you can go ahead. It is only when we are forced, for instance, a week before the Budget, we would have to make a decision to say, you know what, this is the number. We may have a problem with the input in the process but we respect the process.
“If we cannot validate the input then we have to respect the process and go with the number and that was what we did,” said St Catherine.
The Director also took time to explain what caused the figures to drop from 4.4 to 0.6 percent. He said although figures for tourist arrivals were up significantly that alone was not enough to maintain a high GDP.
St Catherine blames poor records at Customs for an exaggerated high figure on the import of construction supplies and wholesale and retail goods which contributed to a 4.4 percent growth in the economy.
“We were seeing a huge increase in construction materials and wholesale and retail goods and it was reflecting in the GDP. These are the only two sectors that have changed in the GDP in any significant way; they were revised down significantly from 4.4 to 2.59 percent.”
Referring to the announcement made by King in 2011, St Catherine said that while it was unfortunate for the then Prime Minister, there is a process the Department goes through before a definitive figure can be released. The final process which took place in March of this year, according to the Director, confirmed the revised figure. St Catherine says while the letter did provide a warning to the technocrats and Prime Minister, no actual revised figures were produced in 2011 leaving only the 4.4 percent which was announced by the then Prime Minister Stephenson King.
The letter, St Catherine said was sent to the office of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and specifically the team of ‘technocrats’ who looked at the figures and advised the Prime Minister. He added that he does not know whether the Permanent Secretary, Isaac Anthony delivered
the letter to the Prime Minister. Attempts to reach Anthony before we went to press were futile but according to the Leader
of the Opposition, he had received no such letter and had never heard of its existence, not until
Dr Kenny Anthony read its contents in the House.

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