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United Workers Party Leader Allen Chastanet has told the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) government to stop the blame game and concentrate on fixing the economy.
His comments were in response to a press release issued by Press Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Jadia Jn Pierre-Emmanuel in which she accused the UWP of admitting to be a contributor to the country’s fiscal problem.
The press secretary based that suggestion on a UWP statement issued on June 26, 2014, which said that Saint Lucia’s wage bill had been an area of concern for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for at least a decade.
The press secretary’s release said, “In its haste to criticise a recommendation from the IMF to reduce the wage bill, the United Workers Party (UWP) said ‘such recommendations from the IMF are not new and have been repeatedly made almost in the same language to regional government over the years’.
“Indeed, this is an admission that despite reports from the IMF and the performance of Saint Lucia’s economy at the time, the UWP government did not take heed. Instead, they increased the public service by almost 1,000 and granted an increase of 14.5 percent during an economic downturn. As a result, the wage bill increased by $86.66 million and had to be met by borrowing. This is a bold acceptance by the UWP that they chose politics over fiscal prudence,” the press secretary’s release added.
But Chastanet, speaking to Saint Lucia News Online (SNO) in an interview on Thursday, (June 26), said that government should stick to the real issues at hand – addressing the fiscal deficit and the current wage cut being proposed to public servants.
“This blame game has to stop because it this is not going to resolve anything. The issue at hand is that the economy is in crisis and we have a government that continues to live in denial. A government that is proposing a five percent pay cut to civil servants,” he said.
Chastanet said since the Labour Party came into power the imposition of various taxes and cutting of subsidies have negatively impacted the economy.
“What makes the matter worse, is that the money that they are hoping to save from the five percent pay cut is only $18 million. Then they have a further $55 million to solve. Where is that gonna come from?” he asked.
“Everybody is saying, to stop beating around the bush, be transparent and show your holistic plan of what you intend to do. Furthermore we’ve now had two years of contraction. First year by 1.5 percent and we’re projecting a contraction of 2.3 percent this year and matters seem to be getting worse than they were before. The Labour Party inherited a government in 1997 in which the GDP was 37 percent and the country was running on surplus budget. Sir John used to have over $100 million a year,” he added while pointing out that a GDP of over 80 percent and almost 25 percent unemployment rate now exists.
“The Labour Party does not see whats going on the ground and if you cannot empathise with what’s taking place with people then it’s a very sad day for St. Lucia,” he said.
Chastanet said he believes that the only solution to St. Lucia’s problems is for the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Dr. Kenny Anthony to resign since the “people have lost confidence in his ability to run this country in those two departments”.
Chastanet said his party has some serious problems with a number of matters which have surfaced during the SLP reign.
“This is a man that misled the public and parliament when it came to Rochamel. This is a man who did not handle the NCU affair in a transparent way. This is a man who oversaw the greatest era of cost overruns in the history of Saint Lucia. This is an individual who signed a document for Grynberg who kept it a secret for nine years and now that it has surfaced still cannot say to the public of St. Lucia what transpired. Did he in fact sign the contract? Why didn’t he bring it to Cabinet? Why didn’t he bring it to parliament? Why wasn’t the governor general not involved? Why would the ambassador be asked to keep the documents at his home,” he asked.
“The next question we wanna know is how much is this case costing us and what is going to be the potential outcome if we lose? And what is the case he is making about Grynberg in this particular case? There are too many unanswered questions Dr. Kenny Anthony has,” he said.
Chastanet again called for Dr. Anthony to step down.
“He had suggested when he won election… that he would be leaving midterm. I think it’s time for him to honour that statement and do all of us a favour and leave and the Labour Party to find somebody else who can bring this to fruition,” he stated.
“As I have said, the United Workers Party (UWP) is the opposition party, we do have plans. We don’t agree with a lot of the things that Dr. Kenny Anthony is doing, for instance, $6.5 million to pave Clark Street, the $2 million he spent on building a concrete road – a four-lane concrete road to Bruceville. He came in, he said that he was not going to give contracts to people who were non-contractors. My understanding is that a relative of his was given the contract. That bridge is now collapsed. You’re telling me you’re gonna take $18.5 million to build a… building for the prime minister? When is he going to realise that his blueprint is not working?”
Chastanet said his party will be prepared to make its plans available to the people of St. Lucia nearer to the elections.
“Right now our job is to hold the government accountable,” he told SNO.