The Senate met on Thursday April 28 to debate the Appropriations Bill 2011/2012. It was business as usual save for the empty seat of former Junior Minister Gaspard Charlemagne. On Wednesday April 27, a government press release indicated Charlemagne was no longer a member of the Senate and would be replaced by Dr Gail Rigobert.
Rigobert took the Oath of Allegiance on Thursday morning and was welcomed into the Senate by President Leon Theodore-John.
Leader of Government Business who is also the Minister for National Security and Home Affairs, Guy Mayers, led the proceedings by reinforcing his colleagues points in the Lower House.
He outlined the government’s strategic priorities as reducing crime, laying the foundation for improved fiscal performance, expenditure reform and strengthening the tourism and financial sector among other goals.
In terms of policies, Mayers said the government’s top priorities are reducing youth unemployment, improving the health status of citizens, improving human capital, reducing poverty and adapting to climate change.
He echoed Prime Minister Stephenson King’s call to the youth to “make our society better now.” To support this call, Mayers said the budget was prepared with the nation’s youth in mind. He went on to speak of the National Youth Core in detail, indicating this year would be exciting year for the nation’s youth.
Regarding the Ministry of National Security and Home Affairs, Mayers expressed satisfaction with the rate of implementation of projects and revenue of collection, 90 percent and 88 percent respectively. Addressing the Bordelais Correctional Facility, Mayers informed the Senate of the success of the CXC inmate program and announced there has been a 35 percent reduction in inmate on inmate attacks and 85 percent reduction in inmate attacks on staff. A half way house for inmates who have completed their tenure at Bordelais is in the pipelines as well as more skills training to enable inmates to better cope when they leave the facility.
Mayers praised the Royal St Lucia Police Force’s Operation Restore Confidence and told the Senate of government’s plans to better equip St Lucia’s protective services, that is, the police force and the fire service.
Opposition Senator and Gros Islet hopeful Emma Hippolyte commenced her presentation by welcoming Senate Rigobert but she chastised Mayers for not acknowledging Senator Charlemagne’s contribution to St Lucia.
Hippolyte reiterated her recommendations from the previous year calling for good governance, transparency and accountability for persons in key positions. She also asked government to reveal to the people the total amount of monies received from the Taiwanese Government.
Independent Senator Everistus Jn Marie spoke “without fear or favour.” He posited the 2011/2012 would have been challenging for any government bearing in mind the obstacles confronting the global economy and uncontrollable natural phenomena.
Though he did not dispute the government’s 4.4 percent growth, he made it clear it was extraordinary for any country, however, Jn Marie said it was not translating to St Lucians.
He went further to address the issue of crime and offered that the government not look at it from the angle of a law enforcement issue but rather a social problem which needs to be dealt with. He called for the Acting Police Commissioner to be confirmed in his post so as to be more effective. On that point he noted there are too many police officers sitting behind desks when they should be on the beat.
For Jn Marie, the $3 million budget allocation for CCTV is unnecessary at this point. He believes more should be invested in community policing because “there are seven policemen to every 1000 citizens in St Lucia whereas in the UK, the ratio is 2.3 policemen to every 1000 citizens.”
Dealing with the issue of rising fuel prices, Jn Marie stated he is fully in support of the government’s pass through mechanism however, he believes there should be a reduction in tax the government collects on fuel. He told the Senate that government subsidies on fuel will cause a strain on the economy. He called the subsidy on the 20lb cylinder of gas an “ill conceived policy.” He proposed government collects $2 on every gallon. Also, he believes the 35 percent government tax on fuel needs to be reduced and instead of prices fluctuating on a monthly basis, prices should be reviewed every three months. Jn Marie also proposed policies put in place to encourage minibus drivers to use diesel vehicles.
Senator Rigobert was the final speaker for the day. She rose in support of the budget. Her maiden speech focused on the caring nature of the government and the well-thought economic policies the government has proposed in the budget.