Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Dr. Kenny Anthony painted a gloomy picture of the present state of the economy when he met with the business community of Vieux-Fort last Wednesday. The prime minister is also the parliamentary representative for Vieux Fort south.
In his presentation the prime minister harped on the need to reduce public sector workers salaries to deal with the situation; he was able to garner some support from the community, which comprised prominent individuals from the island’s south. In his remarks to the gathering, he told his audience that he was not there to seek their support on the issue relating to government’s proposal of a five per cent salary cut on public sector workers. Instead he said he was there to inform them on the present state of the economy.
“I am not here to ask you for your support . . . I just want you to understand the nature of the problem the country is facing,” he said.
Present at the meeting were the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Planning and National Development, Tracy Polius; Minister of Education, Human Resource Development and Labour, Robert Lewis; Minister of Social Transformation, Local Government and Community Empowerment, Harold Dalsan and officials of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs.
Polius, in her slide presentation which was loaded with statistics, dwelled on the same issues the prime minister presented to the various trade unions whom he failed to convince that a cut on public sector workers salaries is the best way to deal with our economic woes. Some of areas she dwelled on included the country’s low economic growth, spiraling national debt and high unemployment.
One member of the business community of Vieux-Fort described the government’s presentation as an eye opener. She said that she now has a clearer picture of the state of the economy, adding that she was being misled by the information she had received from certain quarters.
Another member said he could not understand why civil society finds it difficult to support the government position on the issue, despite seeing such a detailed slide presentation on the terrible state of the economy.
And as these comments were made, there were nods of approval from sections of the gathering.
Many of the concerns raised by members of the business community were related to the various sectors in which they operate.
However, the discussion which was held in a rather cordial atmosphere, almost generated some heat when the president of the Southern Taxi Association, Francisco Jn. Pierre pointed out to a problem at the Hewanorra International Airport which his association is experiencing. According to him, taxi operators who are not members of his association encroach on their business by transporting tourists from the airport, the effects which he indicated they feel deep down in their pockets.
In response to his concerns, Minister of Infrastructure, Hon. Phillip J. Pierre said that there is a bigger issue to deal with, identifying it as the runway that needs to be improved. “If there is no runway, there will be no airport . . . no taxi,” Pierre said.
“The issue is not the runway…” Jn. Pierre retorted.
The argument came to an abrupt end when another member of the business community interjected by raising another topic.
General Manager of Baron Foods Ltd, Ronald Ramjattan, in his contribution said he share the concerns of the government on the state of the economy.
However he pointed out that the business community needs to be more efficient and produce world class products if it is to remain competitive, adding that it needs to invest much more in its human resource.
General Manager of the Windward Island (Winera) Packaging Co. Ltd., Luciano Perez called on the government to repair the machinery at Port Vieux-Fort, adding that it is seriously affecting the packaging company.
“We have a problem…The Vieux-Fort Port needs to be upgraded. The situation is affecting our livelihood,” he lamented.
Some of the other concerns raised by the business community were the need for Invest St. Lucia to utilize the land it owns more efficiently and the non-disclosure of the amount of money Value Added Tax (VAT) has been generating in the economy.