I’ve shared with the publisher of this newspaper, and with others, my aversion to the local run-of-the-mill radio and TV talk shows. I much prefer reading a good book or taking in an interesting CNN interview. I remain convinced that an instance of superior insight, call it a moment of illumination, is more likely to reach me in one of the weekend journals. I enjoy perusing regional and international newspapers, far more than listening to wannabe social climbers spewing shallow untruths. I like the written word because it has been more often than not carefully weighed.
Thankfully, one does not have to wait long before a gem detaches itself from its crude surroundings and forces us to take notice. We pay attention because its quality touches our better spirits. I’m referring to the insightful contribution by Senator Adrian Augier during the last sitting of the Senate, and also featured in last weekend’s STAR. Augier’s “Make Saint Lucia Grow Again” pitch is the stuff of erudition and firm grasp of concept. It would do both Houses good to study that address.
Evidently Senator Augier had borrowed into Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” then tweaked it to fit his call to stop growing government at the cost of the citizenry. “Make Saint Lucia Grow Again” reminded me that the former government had alluded to growth in the economy as it frittered away taxpayer dollars on unsustainable short-term government jobs. Economic growth sustainability is the key to the new Ministry of Finance, headed by Allen Chastanet. Its work has encapsulated Augier’s adopted slogan on the economy as a challenge to be rigorously pursued.
By now the island’s politicians should have learned that economic growth is not a one-card trick, or a one-horse race. It requires sustained effort from all sectors of the economy and the society; in particular, the private sector and young entrepreneurs. Some persons have put their all into their businesses and have been burned by excessive taxation imposed by the last government. Easing the tax burden is surely a commonsense way of helping businesses grow and expand. But there are some politicians who appear determined to follow a failed socialist/communist path of social and economic development. Businesses, especially wholly owned or joint ventures must be assisted to grow and expand by sensible taxation. The failed system of over-taxation is worth pondering as there are still some who defend it, either because of weak-mindedness or an inability to acknowledge failure.
Tax-funded programs such as STEP are bound to fail, simply because they are not sustainable. These “make work” projects will never show a return on investment. Organized instructions that teach STEP workers how to fix a weed whacker or a chainsaw would be a vast improvement on the system. STEP can be sustainable, if it were to include professional landscaping, tree planting and beautification and the growing of fish in streams and ponds.
There is however, an important twist to “Make Saint Lucia Grow Again.” It involves swallowing the bitter pill known as belt-tightening. Growth involves time, effort and sacrifice. The Ministry of Finance and its entire staff plus the Cabinet must be convinced that small sustainable steps are the best way to make Saint Lucia grow again, socially and economically. Pointless dreaming of some rescuing Messiah from abroad, to paraphrase Adrian Augier.
The poor cannot be expected to be satisfied with living hand to mouth with no expectation of respite while a selfish and inward-looking government spends wildly on party hacks regardless of inevitable consequences. There is always a heavy price to pay for bad governance and unsustainable spending. This is as true for governments as it is for business. It is no secret that some talentless politicians have driven their countries into the hands of the IMF even as they grow fat at the people’s expense. What kind of government chokes the life out of its private sector? Who suffers most when businesses are forced to shut down? Who but the same people some politicians claim they love and whose pain they claim to feel?
Whatever one may think of the Chastanet-led UWP government it is cleared not intimidated by red devils. The new prime minister wears as many blue and yellow ties as he does red ones. As for refusing to communicate with opposition politicians, Allen Chastanet has made a point of doing the very opposite. He treats his House opposition with deserved courtesy. Perhaps the most important change that has taken place since June 2016 is the determination of the government to fix the judicial and legal system. People will fall in line and wait their turn for a fair trial if it is seen that the system is working fairly for everyone, without discrimination. If it is seen that government is working to grow the economy for the benefit of all Saint Lucians I believe the good people of this country will throw their support behind government initiatives. That is the essential distillate from Senator Augier’s Senate speech. I pray he continues to share his insights and scholarship in subsequent sittings of the Senate, and that the STAR continues to feature his addresses.
The author is a former agriculture minister.