Prime Minister Honourable Allen Chastanet delivered his maiden Budget Address in the House of Assembly on Tuesday and made a promise to the nation: “Our government will not let you down!”
Following are some highlights from the Prime Minister’s address:
“In this policy address I shall outline the context, the vision, the plan, programmes and policies that we intend to implement which will be the foundation for the next four years. The road to our destination will be bumpy. Implementing change is sometimes messy and never easy. I am, however, confident in the people of Saint Lucia. They understand that we will have to choose a different path as the greatest risk is continuing to do the same thing. My Government will provide honest, effective and inspirational leadership to tackle the economic and social policy challenges in an equitable manner.”
Domestic Economic Performance
“Saint Lucia’s 0.9% growth performance in 2016, though meagre, was attributed to expansions in the construction, manufacturing, agriculture, wholesale and retail and financial services sectors. Over the past ten years, from 2006 to 2016, the overall economy has been growing at an average rate of 1.3%.
“Saint Lucia’s economy continued to experience deflation in 2016 with the consumer price index falling by 3.1%. This was mainly due to lower energy prices. The country’s major trading partners experienced negative to low inflation which also contributed to the lower consumer prices in Saint Lucia.”
Where are we now?
“I see high unemployment, high debt and chronically low growth and development. These have been the hallmark of our economy for some time. From 1996 to 2015 the economy grew by an average rate of only 1.6%. More significantly, growth averaged only 1.3% over the last ten years and what is of great concern to this Government is the fact that the economy grew by an average of 0.3% over the last five years. Low economic growth is the number one economic challenge that we face in Saint Lucia today. It is clear from the numbers that I have quoted that growth has become progressively weaker in more recent periods. While one may argue that the economy was severely impacted by the financial crisis of 2008-09, several of our regional peers have successfully recovered and are now doing better than us with their economies growing at higher rates. For example, growth in the ECCU from 2012 to 2016 was estimated at 2% compared to 0.3% for Saint Lucia over the same period. This is not acceptable.
“Over the past decade our unemployment rate has increased significantly from 14% in 2007 to above 20% where it has stubbornly remained. Youth unemployment has followed a similar trend and has remained extremely high at 43.1%. It is an extremely sad reality that over one-fifth, or 20%, of our productive labour force is unemployed and, by extension, this implies unemployed capital in that scenario. This, in effect, means that we have substantial capacity for expansion, growth and development.
“Another major concern that we have to address in our economy is the issue of productivity. It is estimated that Saint Lucia’s productivity has been falling by an average of 0.6% from 2007 to 2016. The low levels of worker productivity can be directly linked to an acute skills mismatch in Saint Lucia. Our workforce is predominantly low skills, as has been revealed by many reports. However, the economy requires an ample supply of skilled and semi-skilled labour, which we are failing to produce. I believe it is worrying to know that jobs are available within the economy but our citizens are not sufficiently skilled to hold these jobs.
“Our debt position has continued to worsen, with the debt burden creeping up from one year to the next.
“If we are to propel this economy on a trajectory of higher growth and development, we must restructure our economy to enhance its competitiveness and productivity. The choices are stark: we either embark on the 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 the path which will restore prosperity to our nation.”
A NEW VISION FOR SAINT LUCIA
“It cannot be business as usual and this new vision will require fundamental and structural changes in the economy. 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, care for each other, can access educational opportunities, receive quality health services, and enjoy a comfortable standard of living without imposing a burden on future generations. Our approach will engage all sectors of our society and be based on dialogue. Therefore, the following strategic areas of focus will be aggressively pursued over the next four years with the underlying aim of achieving sustainable and inclusive growth: creating sustainable employment; reengineering social services; reforming government to make it more responsive to the business community and citizens; improving security and justice; building capacity in renewable energy; adapting to climate change.”
CREATING SUSTAINABLE EMPLOYMENT
“We have pledged to work towards an unemployment rate of no more than 15% by 2021, as stated in our manifesto. The investments within the coming months will create employment throughout the island, particularly in the sectors of tourism, agriculture and construction. We are currently working on a comprehensive incentives package which will create employment within the private sector and provide much needed support to businesses within Saint Lucia.”
“It is possible to expand the tourism room stock by 2,000 rooms over the next four years throughout the island. Major tourism investments are expected. We have already witnessed the opening of The Royalton where, at minimum, 900 jobs have been created during operations.”
“The Harbour Club is expected to be opened towards the end of the third quarter of the calendar year, where 117 rooms are expected to be available and it is envisaged that a minimum of 150 jobs would be available.”
“Coconut Bay plans a 200-room expansion and is expected to employ a minimum of 400 persons during construction and an additional 320 jobs on completion.”
“Work will begin on the Fairmont Saint Lucia Resort in Sabwisha, Choiseul in September of this year. This development will employ 150 workers during construction and 250 workers upon completion. This resort will be a unique space that integrates local nature, a low-rise building complex and a wide range of recreational facilities. The hotel will include 120 five-star hotel rooms, 37 villas, three restaurants, a spa, commercial areas for local producers and traders, and three swimming pools. A special central place in the development is provided for local tradition – a number of shops for carvings and paintings will feature at the property.”
CURIO BY HILTON
“The Reduit beach will be redeveloped and will become the home of a luxury five-star dual-branded hotel called Curio by Hilton. This property will be built where the Rex Resorts was previously located. The Curio by Hilton will feature 500 luxury rooms: 350 rooms assigned to the Hilton and 150 assigned to the Curio by Hilton. Estimated cost: US $100 million; jobs: 650 workers during operations.”
“We are expecting work to commence on the Honeymoon Bay Resort in Canelles very soon. This resort will consist of two hotels; the first is a 250 room 5-star luxury, family all-inclusive hotel and the second is an 80 room, 5-star luxury hotel. This resort will feature an 18-hole golf course and club house and a museum. Estimated cost: US $360 million; jobs: 600 workers during construction and 750 full-time and 300 part-time workers during operation.”
“The Range Developments signed an agreement with the Government of Saint Lucia to acquire the Black Bay lands and develop Black Bay into an integrated, master-planned, luxury touristic community. The Black Bay Master Development will consist of a luxury branded hotel and villas, and other amenities set on 180 acres on the southern tip of the island. The hotel is expected to have 180 rooms and will be the central anchor of the Black Bay Master Development. Estimated cost: US $130 million: jobs: 300 direct hires and 400 during operations.”
“Sandals Resorts International has confirmed plans to add a fourth resort on Saint Lucia. The property will offer 350 rooms and suites inclusive of the exotic Sky Pool Butler Suites, all-butler signature swim-up Rondoval Suites and an infinity-edge sky pool bar. Estimated cost: US $250 million; estimated 600 jobs during the construction phase and an estimated 875 jobs during the operation phase. Ground-breaking for the project is set to begin in 2018.”
“In addition to these developments we will focus our efforts on increasing the number of three-star properties on the island, as we recognize this is a preferred property type for our European visitors and yachters. The Government’s policy is to reserve three-star property developments for Saint Lucians to invest in, in keeping with the village tourism. We will create and capitalize on the concept of village tourism. Eight fishing villages will be transformed into unique tourism villages based on their attributes and strengths.”
NATIONAL APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMME
“Our Government will continue to provide support, including financial support for persons in hospitality training. Once these persons have successfully completed their programmes, they will be eligible for employment with many major cruise lines.”
EMPLOYMENT IN THE SOUTH
“To generate employment opportunities, especially within the south of the island, for example, our Government has partnered with OJO Labs International to develop an artificial intelligence training and call centre to market and sell the products, services, software and technology of OJO and its clients, including the fastest growing real estate company in the United States. By September OJO will occupy leased retro-fitted premises within the Saint Lucia Freezone to house this facility. Employees will be recruited and trained starting this month. It is anticipated that 50 jobs in the area of artificial intelligence training will be immediately created, with the plan to expand ultimately to over 200.
To be continued in next week’s STAR newspaper.