The social and economic issues facing Saint Lucia were put in stark terms by the island’s prime minister in his Policy Statement at the May 9th budget in the House of Assembly. Long before he delivered what his opponents called ‘bitter medicine’, he had given clear indication that it would not be business as usual. He had announced changes to the jazz festival and the tourist board, and hinted that his government could no longer support quasi-state agencies that had become dark holes into which taxpayer dollars disappeared, with little to show.
He had therefore given his critics much to chew on. And they ate to their hearts’ content. His intended cost-saving measures, particularly at the National Trust, soon became an issue for the venting of rage and animosity by failed politicians. The prime minister may have known how animated his opponents within and without the parliament would be, and he deliberately handed them the issues on which to gorge themselves. The sad reality is that few, if any, of his opponents questioned the need for change.
They may never openly admit it, but they knew in their hearts that the voters made the correct choice on June 6, 2016. His opponents seemed more concerned with the manner and timing of his decisions. They grudgingly intimated that they were caught unawares and would have preferred his hard medicines delivered with a touch of honey. Their attitudes have inadvertently pointed to the very thing that caused the former minister of finance – their putative leader – to fail and the country to take a downward slide into economic purgatory. Someone had to rescue the people from that uncertain purgatory; that unsavoury place of repentance. And to be effective, repentance must be seen and expressed in heartfelt remorse.
In his address, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chastanet laid down five clear and concrete steps by which his government hopes to achieve the goal of economic recovery and sustainable growth. Creating sustainable employment through economic growth is job number one. Job number two is re-engineering the social services. Job number three is reforming government to make it more responsive to the business community and citizens. Number four is improving security and justice, and job number five is building capacity in renewable energy and adapting to climate change.
This was simple and uncomplicated to those whose minds are open to think freely. It reminds us that those who know of what they speak do so simply, no matter how complicated the matter at hand. When a person cannot explain himself in simple monosyllables, he/she has not fully understood his/her subject. Nuff said!
By way of introduction, the prime minister (PM) had described the social and economic situation of the island as he saw it. He said he saw high unemployment, high debt, chronically low growth and development. “Over the past decade the island’s unemployment rate had risen from 14% in 2007 to around 20% where it has stubbornly remained,” he said.
The PM also cited productivity as an issue that needs to be addressed. He said that Saint Lucia’s productivity has been falling by an average of 0.6% from 2007 to 2016. Surely, even the most vociferous opponent of the government will concede that such a trend needs to be reversed, regardless of which political party holds office.
The PM also indicated that the island’s debt burden continues to worsen, creeping up from one year to the next.
Perhaps no statement in his entire presentation put the problem facing the people of Saint Lucia more strongly and clearly: “The choices are stark: we either embark on a journey of transforming our economy or we continue to wallow in the vicious cycle of low growth, high debt and high unemployment. My government has chosen a path which will restore prosperity to our nation. It cannot be business as usual and this new vision will require fundamental and structural changes in the economy.”
And the coup de grace, as far as this writer is concerned, is the following from the prime minister. “We want to build a Saint Lucia which instills pride; a place where businesses can flourish; where people can get jobs, not handouts; where people feel secure and care for each other; where educational opportunities and healthcare can be accessed without imposing too high a burden on recipients. We want to build a country where people can enjoy a comfortable standard of living without imposing a burden on future generations.”
The vision would not be more clearly stated. What the prime minister needs to do now is for him and his experts to visit the various towns and villages and hold town hall meetings to further explain his government’s vision.
There is one small detail the government needs to put together. It is a matter I had written about and suggested some years ago. The idea is to choose the three or four villages to host Jounen Kweyol 2017. The planned Programme for Village Tourism ought to be launched in these villages. A special location within these villages must be found for future jazz festivals. The road infrastructure, bridges and large parking facilities for visitors ought to be properly planned and executed. These parking areas can afterwards be used for recreation and as temporary business markets.
Finally, the government must remember who voted it into office. It is my prayer that the people of Saint Lucia will grasp the vision and wisdom of Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s budget and take the long road to prosperity or else suffocate in the quagmire from which they escaped in June 2016.