Statistics department under fire! Opposition Leader says ‘I did not concoct economic growth figures’

As the curtains came down on the Budget Debate, Member for Castries North, Stephenson King sought to defend his announcement last year of a 4.4 percent GDP growth while sharing his opinion of the Prime Minister’s Budget Address.
“I listened, I later examined, I clinically scrutinized but after much, I came back and realized after much scrutiny, that what we are being presented with is what I call a ‘des couché budget sans salaizon.’ In other words, it is a stale budget, a stale meal left overnight, warmed up but no meat, no beef, no chicken back, no mutton, nothing—all of which I believe are exempted,” said King.
Before he could move further, King could not hesitate to address, as he called it, “critical statements” made by Dr Kenny Anthony in his Budget Address.
“Mr Speaker, I will turn my attention to the issue raised in Section 3 on pages 3-7 of the Budget Address entitled, ‘Review of the Domestic Economy’ in which the Prime minister stated the performance of St Lucia’s economy has at best been anemic and captured an excerpt of my 2011 Budget presentation in quotations.
“The same section focuses on my statement made in my Budget presentation of April 2011; in which I said that the economy grew 4.4 percent in 2010 compared to an average of 3.2 percent in the OECS as a whole. The Minister for Finance, in referring to this statement says the former Minister of Finance, who happens to be me at the time, threw caution to the wind. To a listener, this suggests or imply that somehow I was irresponsible to report the figure given to me by the same technocrats who gave him the figures of today, which he quoted in his Budget presentation,” said King.
The former Prime Minister explained that if he had misled the country, he did not do so intentionally but was given figures by the Director of Statistics. King went on to say that he “has never concocted figures” presented to the House during his reign in Office.
“If the Honourable Prime Minister is honest, I would expect that in his rebuttal, he will respond to that statement. We don’t create the figures, we don’t put the figures together . . . the technocrats are the ones who put the figures together,” he said.
King further gave several scenarios of what may have possibly happened. Speaking about the ‘technocrats’ King said: “I believe it is intellectual dishonesty; whether it is the Prime Minister or the technocrats, either to mislead the Prime Minister or for the Prime Minister to mislead the nation in giving the impression to the nation that I gave figures created in my own mind to mislead them.”
King said he requested verification and confirmation of the figures before he could go public with it. He also stated that the figures were presented and discussed before a sub-committee of Cabinet on the economy. While not naming the individual, King said a gentleman that the current Prime Minister has praised much attended the meeting and presented the figures before the committee.
“We also asked that he return and verify the information from the sources from which that information came by. Two meetings
later, he returned to the meeting and informed with great confidence and conviction that the economy had indeed grow by 4.4 percent.”
King also argued that if the Prime Minister holds the Statistics Department with such high regard and even showered praises upon the people that manage the department, a department he says, that gave out wrong figures to mislead the nation, how then can he be certain that the figures the PM provided in his Budget presentation are correct?
The Leader of the Opposition eventually called on the Director of Statistics to defend the figures or provide an explanation publicly on the matter. He went on to add that should an investigation reveal that the 4.4 percentage growth announcement he had made last year is in fact incorrect, then the Director of Statistics should be fired because, according to King, he cannot be trusted in providing figures on the subject matter anymore.
But Dr Anthony replied in his rebuttal saying: “There can be no doubt, that the error in the growth rate for St Lucia will cause us and has caused us some embarrassment because, other institutions are aware of the growth rate that was announced and they are aware that subsequent analysis does not confirm that growth rate.”
While stating that the language used in the Budget address could not have been more harsh and hurtful, Dr Anthony explained that there was a reason for not going in that direction.
“I understand the pain and agony for the Member for Castries North where that is concerned because truth told; we are all politicians and we all have to rely on information and advice from public officers.
“Truth of the matter is though; the conventions require that even if we get the wrong advice and we go public with it, we have to take responsibility for it. That is why in a place like Japan, Ministers resign left, right and center.”
As he continued, the PM cautioned everyone in the House to be responsible for all of their actions as a politician and minister, while adding: “I too have learned the hard way; when you are standing before an enquiry or commission of enquiry or otherwise, you are alone. Even if you acted on the advice of public officers, of senior public officers when the time comes, they are not around to protect you.
“It was hurtful, hurtful to watch public officers disowning knowledge of decisions of this Government which was communicated to them, which they read about but the denunciation was restrained. My point is that when you see you act on that advice and the advice is faulty, I am afraid, you have to take responsibility.”
Before closing, Dr Anthony took the opportunity to comment on the call for the Director of Statistics to be fired saying that this is where he disagrees with the Leader of the Opposition. He went on to read a statement from a letter dated April 4th 2011 from the Director of Statistics as follows:
“While we bear some responsibility for ensuring the integrity of these data sources, we do not however, supervise or control their creation. In addition we do have some concerns on the quality of data on imports and we will continue to work on ensuring that these matters are addressed.
“In the event that there are any issues with our data sources or if we receive updated data or data we believe to be more
accurate, we reserve the right to revise the estimates of the GDP which we make accordingly.”

Former Prime Minister Stephenson King has called for a public statement from the statistics department on the information he received.

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