On Saturday, May 13 we featured the introduction of an article by Francis Reynolds entitled ‘Prime Minister Silences Critics and Applies Business Approach to First Budget’. The following is a continuation of the article that sought to analyse Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s budget address last week.
Agriculture-led strategy –
Banana Resuscitation: The Ranju farms have been identified as available farm lands which will be utilized for banana cultivation. These lands will be leased to farmers, through Winfresh.
Banana Productivity Improvement Project during this financial year. In addition, to addressing the issues related to leaf spot control, that project will oversee the expansion of the current acreage by 600-1,000 hectares, arrest the decline in production, rebuild farmers’ confidence, increase productivity to 37-49 tonnes per hectare and restore production to satisfy the requirements of the market. With these efforts an export target of 60-70 thousand tonnes is anticipated by year three of the project.
Agricultural Diversification: New opportunities will be created for generating income and employment in rural areas by expanding and diversifying production. Specific crops will be targeted and grown using greenhouse technology in an effort to reduce the seasonality of these crops.
Agricultural Transformation Programme (ATP) of the Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM) project, a number of components will be undertaken. The first component is the refurbishment and retro-fitting of agro-processing facilities on the island. The second component is the construction of the National Diagnostic Facility. This activity is designed to enhance our research and technology capability.
Road Infrastructure Programme
The rehabilitation and maintenance of the road network will include the following:
• Repairs and maintenance, potholing, drainage and retaining structures and grills on primary, secondary and tertiary roads;
• The acquisition of a Road Maintenance Management system which will assist the Department of Infrastructure in planning its maintenance programme;
• Reconstruction and rehabilitation of bridges, culverts and water crossings. A bridge condition assessment has been undertaken island-wide. This study has identified the bridges to be maintained or replaced;
• Rehabilitation of roads within the city, towns and villages;
• Road works associated with the Choc to Gros Islet Highway;
• Rehabilitation of the Millennium Highway roadway and junction improvement;
• Procurement and acquisition of road safety equipment; this includes traffic lights, guardrails, road signs and other equipment;
• The government will endeavour to undertake the rehabilitation of approximately 38.9 km of agricultural and feeder roads in various parts of the island.
The Castries to Gros Islet Highway: Feasibility studies for the north-south highway are complete and all indications are that this is the long-term solution to the issue of congestion in the city and on the Castries to Gros Islet highway. Our government has decided that a holistic, long-term solution is necessary.
The Desert Star Holdings Project – Pearl of the Caribbean
There has been much discussion regarding the DSH project, but regrettably a lot of it has been ill-informed. I am now grateful for the opportunity to clarify the details of this exciting investment which has the ability to transform the face of the south and to provide much-needed hope to the thousands of unemployed youth who have been neglected for far too long. Finally we can bring some relief to the south.
The Government of Saint Lucia has entered into a framework agreement with Desert Star Holdings Limited for the development of the ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’. This project has three phases and will include a racecourse, residential properties, casino, hotel, marina and recreational park. The project will be phased over 20 years, with the racetrack at Beausejour, Vieux Fort comprising the first phase of the project. This is the only phase of the project that has been approved by my government. All other plans are under consideration and are being reviewed, and on completion of the review we will continue consultations with all stakeholders, particularly residents and property owners in the south.
Please permit me to show the most recent details for phase three of the project. As you can see following the initial consultations, the developer has listened to the concerns of the people and fulfilled his promise that the design will not connect to Maria Island, but is looking to enhance the Pointe Sable Bay.
The DCA has granted approval, in principle, for the racetrack pending an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment. This assessment is now complete and has been submitted.
We know that this is a bold and sweeping project and that the scale of the project is unprecedented – but at the time, so was the Pigeon Island Causeway, the Millennium Highway, the John Compton Dam, the Hess Oil Refinery, and the Rodney Bay Marina. We cannot be afraid to embrace development because without it there is no hope for our people. The jobs they need so desperately will not fall from the sky – we must create them. And this government will do so. And we will do it in a manner which marries respect for our environment with the need to develop. For the two must go hand in hand.
During the construction phase there will be an estimated 500 to 800 persons on site, with a management team of 10 to 20 persons.
Once the racecourse is operational, persons will receive training and employment in the areas of horse husbandry, maintenance of facilities, and management of the racecourse and training of the racehorses. On average in the horse racing industry three to four jobs are created for every thoroughbred, such jobs being jockeys, trainers, barn managers, grounds-keepers, groomers, veterinarians, vet’s assistants and blacksmiths. It is estimated that we will have over 400 horses.
The DSH project will transform Vieux Fort from the ghost town that it has become under the Labour Party administration into a modern, progressive city full of opportunities for its citizens. No longer will high rates of joblessness plague Vieux Fort and no longer will the people of the south feel like abandoned children. This project will also make use of underutilised lands in the south, particularly in Beausejour, and create several ancillary industries and linkages with existing businesses. The opportunities this project presents are endless and our government is grateful to the developer for expressing this level of confidence in our country and in our government to make such a large-scale investment here. We welcome this development and look forward to the job opportunities it will provide to our young people, particularly those from the south.
The Hewanorra International Airport
Our government is committed to the development of the Hewanorra International Airport. On assuming office, SLASPA had engaged the International Financial Corporation (IFC) to serve as lead advisor to develop and advise on the feasibility of implementing a public-private partnership transaction for the development of the HIA. On review of the IFC proposal our government decided to embark upon exploring alternative financing arrangements within the context of the broader vision for development in Vieux Fort, which includes the development of the HIA.
The Castries Redevelopment Programme
Traffic congestion must be addressed and the construction of a new cargo port at Cul de Sac will enable the relocation of cargo operations. The port will be enhanced to accommodate larger cruise ships and a marina. The freed land area will become available for significant cruise-related commercial, entertainment and residential developments. These redevelopments will include shops and plazas, duty free shopping zones and restaurants.
Sewage treatment in Castries has long been unacceptable. The construction of a sewage treatment facility to handle the black water generated by the areas of Central Castries that are connected to the sewerage network is a priority as well as a pre-condition for the expansion of cruise and water-related activities in the Castries Harbour.
RE-ENGINEERING SOCIAL SERVICES
We must pursue a more equitable and just society. All sections of our population, particularly the most vulnerable, must have access to a system that provides support and services. And we must build a society that is proactive and embraces risk in a positive way. This new society must be anchored on the pillars of the individual, the family and the community. Accordingly, our social services regime must be reoriented. Our newly configured Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Culture and Local Government and Youth Development and Sports has been tasked with the responsibility of bringing life to this vision. At the core of this new system for administration of services and programmes within this sector is the Local Government Authority. Every intervention, every extension service must now be placed within that context. It means our Social Transformation Officer, our Family Case Worker, our Youth and Sports Officer all must work within the framework of that local government jurisdiction and the same must apply to those agencies like SSDF, Belfund and CDF. Every provider of service will determine its role within the broader mandate of facilitating the growth of compassionate and resilient individuals, families and communities. Our government will develop the After School Programme as the model to demonstrate this new arrangement. In recent times, this programme has been regarded as a stand-alone intervention, administered through the Community Services/Development Unit but we recognize that there is the potential to realise even more significant benefits.
In the area of sports, we intend to focus on sports like football, basketball and athletics, where we believe the greatest opportunity exists for our young persons to progress academically and professionally. We will endeavour to engage coaches at the community level as opposed to the more recent school-based efforts, which can lead to a dilution of the overall coaching impact. Similarly, within the creative arts sector we will create an avenue for CDF and other creative arts facilitators to enhance the quality of talent at the individual and community level.
This approach will link school to community, community to sporting and cultural organisations and ultimately ensure that our youth, primarily those at risk, are productively engaged. It will also serve to maximize the use of our school plant and community centres, which traditionally are underutilized for significant periods of the day. We will try to engage – through our Youth Empowerment Service Programme – those out-of-school, out-of-work boys and girls who are unoccupied through initiatives such as an After School Programme. We will do this through our partnership with the CDB and USAID.
We must reform our social protection system in order to assure access to services for those most in need. It is unacceptable that in this era of technology, where the need for data and evidence-based decision making is incessant, that we are referencing poverty data that is over 10 years old. It is equally unacceptable that we have not established an architecture that enables us to be more client-friendly. We will therefore initiate this new system by supporting the conduct of the country poverty assessment, inclusive of a quantitative and qualitative assessment. We will also (after years of delay) finalize a targeting instrument, the SL-NET Proxy Means Test to ensure that we can categorically identify those who require the state’s support.
We are living in a rapidly changing world, one which continues to evolve through globalization and information and communication technology. We must prepare our students to compete globally by modernizing our curriculum and incorporating technology into the delivery of lessons. The use of ICT must be embraced by students and teachers and a greater effort must be made to incorporate ICT into our education system.
The Ministry of Education will work with our teachers to develop digital content catered specifically for students. It is our intention to reduce the dependence on textbooks and create an environment which embraces electronic learning. It is our intention to create a generation which is technology literate, who can use ICTs for productive means and are capable of functioning effectively in a globally, technologically driven society.
Additionally, the Ministry of Education will source platforms which allow for independent learning by students and cater to individual learning styles.
Advancing the Health Reform Agenda
‘The highest attainable standard of health care as a fundamental right of every human being’ is enshrined in the World Health Organization’s Constitution. My government is committed to providing improved health care to all the citizens of Saint Lucia.
The health sector requires an immediate overhaul. The quality of health care, the legislative framework, human resources for health and, very importantly, health financing are all areas on which our government will focus. Too many of our people are denied access to health care because they cannot afford it. Too many of our children are dying because their parents cannot pay for critical care. This cannot continue.
The Ministry of Health estimates that a minimum basic package of health services for the population will cost approximately $179 million. This cost will allow for the provision of primary, secondary and tertiary care services.
The funding will be used to cover the operating and maintaining of the two new hospitals, improving primary care services by increasing hours of operation in support of the hospitals and strengthening mental health services. Currently the budget for the Ministry of Health is $110 million. Hence, there is a financing gap of $69 million.
We were given the option to increase NIC by 5% which would generate an additional $55 million, this would only allow us to open up the hospitals. It meant that people who could not afford health care before would still not be able to. And so this was not an option.
Our objective for this sector is to transform the government’s role from a direct provider of health care services through hospitals and clinics and a direct funder through budgetary subventions to a policy maker and regulator. My government aims to achieve this by implementing a two-pronged strategy, which pursues public-private partnerships for provision of services and the introduction of national health insurance. My government believes that to preserve the future sustainability of the sector we must establish a financing mechanism.
My government aims to utilize the resources of the National Health Insurance Fund to finance health care. A number of matters will be addressed including purchasing and contracting with public-private service providers, consumer choice, the administration of the fund, the regulations and the finalization of the packages of services to be provided to all registrants for health service. The aim is to provide health coverage for all our people as too many are falling through the cracks.
Reforming Government to make it more responsive to the business community and citizens
I am pleased to announce that the Inland Revenue Department’s Electronic Payment Platform has gone live as of March 21st, 2017. Electronic payments are now possible for all major tax types for both individuals and businesses using either a debit or credit card. This is just one practical example of steps taken by the government to improve the business environment, thereby improving the ease of doing business in Saint Lucia.
I mentioned earlier that there was a need to improve productivity economy-wide if we are to build a competitive and robust economy. This will no doubt require a comprehensive re-engineering of the public service given its size and influence on the rest of the economy. The public service continues to operate as it did in the 1980s. Since then the world has changed dramatically but the public service has continued to operate ‘business as usual’ being guided by the Staff Orders for the Public Service of Saint Lucia issued in the 1980s.
The Public Service of today must be fixed. I intend to ensure that we have the Public Service Management Bill tabled in this House within this financial year. The citizens of today are more demanding and require a better and higher quality of service.
The public service must therefore have as its fundamental objective the provision of excellence in service delivery. Many services ought to be accessible and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But in order for this to happen there must be comprehensive changes in the legislation, the accountability systems, and the introduction of relevant ICT.
Expenditure on wages and salaries inclusive of NIC contributions on behalf of public officers is just under $410 million or about 35.4 percent of the total recurrent expenditure budget. It is important that we ensure that the taxpayers get value for money and that proper accountability systems are put in place in the public service. In this regard, we have started the work of developing a results-oriented framework for the budget. This framework is to be cascaded to the level of the public officer so that accountability is established at all levels. I am convinced that unless we hold every public officer accountable for the work that they do, we will continue to perpetuate a situation in which the public service continues to operate inefficiently with everyone playing the blame game.
We need to embrace ICT in the public service to reduce costs and improve efficiency and service delivery. I am keen to see the introduction of online services to better serve our people. Once a person has access to the internet, services can be accessed from the convenience of their homes. In the case of driver’s licences there should be no need to drive to Union to apply for a licence renewal. There is no reason these applications cannot be made online.
The departments in the public service continue to operate largely in a vacuum, and turf control is the order of the day. This has resulted in widespread inefficiency about which our citizens complain from year to year but which only seems to be get worse. We can no longer afford to allow the public service to operate in this manner and we must put in place systems and processes to ensure that a holistic government approach is taken in making decisions on critical policy matters which have implications for more than one agency. It is for this reason that we have created a system of clusters, whereby relevant agencies are grouped within a particular cluster to work together. This approach should allow for greater collaboration and cooperation among agencies within the cluster and therefore lead to better policy formulation and implementation.
After reviewing the state of the economy it has become quite clear that we must embark upon a strategy to significantly grow this economy if we are to manage debt, provide sustainable productive employment and improve the standard of living of all citizens.
My government believes there is sufficient potential within Saint Lucia that from 2018 onwards we can generate and maintain high levels of growth. This growth will initially be driven by the Construction and Tourism sectors with linkages being capitalised on in agriculture, manufacturing and, real estate. This growth will not be localised to any one group of individuals but will be a growth that will be felt throughout the economy and enjoyed by all our people.
We have begun the consultative process with stakeholders on the development of a growth strategy which focuses on productive employment, equity, enhancing the business environment, building our innovative capacities and upgrading the skills of our human resources. Thus far we have identified a number of bottlenecks to growth including low productivity, lack of skilled workers, limited access to credit and the high cost of operation. We will continue our work with the private sector and civil society on sustainable solutions to these challenges as well as the eventual development of a National Growth Strategy.
See next week for the finale of this article which will touch on improving security and justice, and strengthening border control.