Back in April 11, 2005, Saint Lucians were informed of a miracle that took place on July 7, 1986, when Pope John Paul II visited the island. The 18-month-old Kevin Jerome, who was very ill and unable to walk according to young Kevin’s mother, Marie Jerome, believed that her son would not die. The next day Kevin was well and began walking.
Given the healing and conversion of faith, trust and belief, which are tremendous attributes to behold, seems far fetch, when it comes to government’s policy decisions in the development of our country. Evidently, the power of politics, and the influence of money, seems more deep-rooted, with a recipe all intended to win elections. With such a focus, this has so far placed governments in an inferior position to advance a practical development plan to embody the nation, but rather helps to harbour decisions towards the long-lasting malfunctioning of Saint Lucia.
Dating back to 1986, the country’s entrepreneurial vision and the development focus have missed out in totality (development potential, marketing, environmental, physical layout) the economic and social implications of major changes. For example, the holy parcel of land and surrounding areas, which facilitated Pope John Paul II to meet and greet patrons, which shortly thereafter ballooned in property value, has not helped government’s policies. Pressing environment and traffic problems are unfulfilled, which gives people cause to conclude that special interest groups continue to influence policy at the expense of everyone else.
The same can be said for areas like the causeway, in Gros Islet, Malgretoute in Soufriere, now Freedom Bay; developments in the Piton management area, Le Paradis in Praslin Bay, and other pristine locations like Pointe Du Cap, Cape Marquis and Marquis Bay in Dauphin that are under consideration with immense political and economic pressures. The most recent is Vigie Vendors Arcade — A Potential Disaster.
Even though these investments extended economic survivability, the approach to development and government’s policy decisions fades, in the transformation of a very clear long-term objective for sustainable development and growth.
Following the conversation on Hon. Richard Frederick television program “Can I help you” last week Thursday on MBC Real television, discussing options to maximize Saint Lucia’s full potential as a tourism destination, including development and real estate issues, that dialogue continue to nudge my thoughts in particularly, on the heels of Economic sentiments and the reality of the market.
However, this reflection illustrates other significant shifts, that Hon. Richard Frederick, in his capacity as the former minister for physical development, housing and urban renewal in the United Worker Party (UWP) government did not present. In particular, the driving principles towards Saint Lucia’s strategic development during his term in contrast to the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) government. And what role, the influence of politics and moneyed interest played towards that strategy? In addition to his observation on the tepid development thrust of the SLP government. These would surely be a robust and enlightened discussion with legitimacy one would endeavour to observe!
Over the years, government’s policy decisions have been unable to develop or adopt development modules to enhance the country’s strategic importance and to gather maximum income generation to meet its annual domestic budget and foreign commitments, evidence of which is available in the budget estimates of 2014/15. The inability to pass that threshold makes it harder each year to turn the economy around and to invest in research and innovation to maintain market share of export products, and to facilitate expansion in any one industry.
Take for example what happened with the banana industry. In short, the Windward Islands at that time, and even now, are subjected to client government’s status, stemming from reasons of low economic positioning, weak international representation, domestic and external security gaps, non-competitiveness, to political support for friendly regimes on energy and transportation needs.
These limitations to a large extent and the obsession with socialism has driven the SLP government to the PetroCaribe agreement to buy oil at market value but only pay a percentage of the cost up front and the balance can be paid over 25 years at 1 – 2 percent interest as long as oil prices exceed US$100 per barrel, and with deferred clauses of 70 percent of payments if oil reaches US$150 a barrel. This agreement is a long term liability to Saint Lucia that serves as a shackle to Venezuela, as long as it sees the need to maximize its welfare unfavourably to economic reality but advantageous to symbolic political mantras.
With market prices at US$80 and projected to reach US$70, not to mention the Venezuelan economy suffering from food shortages and runaway inflation in excess of 56 percent, a weak Bolivarian currency, ratings agencies downgrade of the country’s bond status to junk and the continual loss of oil revenue ranging from US$15 to US$20 billion annually.
These excruciating losses mean undeniably that PetroCaribe is in jeopardy, on the heels of President Nicolas Maduro’s approval rating that has plunged into the low 30 percent range, as his party prepares for congressional elections next year. Perchance, Henry Kissinger’s latest book, “World Order,” comes in handy: “Wisdom and foresight are needed to avoid hazards and ensure that technology fulfills its vast promise.”
In a previous commentary, St Kitts-Nevis an example of growing economy, regional consultant tells St Lucia opposition, I examined one situation of government policy decisions and the benefits derived from that development thrust. Recently, the IMF op-ed on ECCU performance reported on the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union: Disappointing growth. However, St Kitts-Nevis is projecting a growth rate of 3.5 percent in 2014 that “is attributed to the expansion in construction and public sector investment, as well as support from the People’s Employment Programme.”
The same focus can extend to the Antigua and Barbuda’s government, which seems to have a rigid and strategic approach to remodeling their economy that, in 2013, brought in around $138 million in foreign direct investment, according to data from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, a 3 percent improvement from the previous year.
Antigua and Barbuda’s government says its objective is to turn the country into an “economic powerhouse in the Caribbean, not unlike tiny Singapore in Southeast Asia,” according to the country’s new Governor-General, Dr Rodney Williams.
Recently, Prime Minister Gaston Browne visited Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore to meet these policy goals.
After all, it is no surprise to further reference, though briefly, the IMF op-ed on ECCU performance, of disappointing growth, to substantiate the necessity to mend the mischievous ways of government’s policy decisions that have stifled Saint Lucia’s socio-economic and political kinship.
“St Lucia’s economy, on the other hand, is in recession, and despite strong growth in visitor arrivals, it is projected to decline — by 1 percent in 2014 — for the third consecutive year. The average debt for the region is expected to increase to 85 percent of GDP in 2014 rather than make any headway toward the 60 percent benchmark by 2020 agreed by the Monetary Council. Prompt and more decisive action is needed to reduce fiscal imbalances and put public debt on a sustainable path.
Many governments have embarked on various initiatives to improve the business environment and spur growth of the private sector. More can be done through systematic and comprehensive frameworks and development strategies – at the national and regional level including through such initiatives as the Caribbean Growth Forum. Labor market reforms that are growth friendly and improve flexibility are needed, for example, to reduce high severance costs and eliminate restrictions on part-time employment. Greater regional integration and supportive reforms to address structural bottlenecks to investment (e.g. through reducing red tape, addressing skills mismatches and improving education systems, and tackling the high cost of energy and intra-regional transportation) will also be important. Finally, the region needs a financial system that inspires confidence and attracts adequate funds to allow it to finance the private sector and longer-term investment.”
In such a situation, you understand how difficult it is to summarise what or where the SLP government policy decisions are heading, much less to understand the significance of government ministers’ overseas travels bearing fruits of any harvest. As a result, the economic, social and political trap deepens, while the country and more people are falling deeper into debt, thus making it more difficult for investments in emerging business enterprise.
It is no longer a necessity but rather a requirement for responsible legislation that takes action on economic development and the opportunity to lower taxes to bring jobs to Saint Lucians. To achieve this, it is imperative to change the political incompetence and economic corruption and replace such practices with a new force that is capable of pushing forward an appealing environment for economic development; and to close existing disparity between government’s policy positions and declining strategic relationships.
Accordingly, government’s policy direction would no longer be an issue of privileged guessing games, whisper and secrecy that taxpayers are continually required to pay for regardless of the consequences. These mischievous ways ought to be the ghost of the past, whereby matters of national importance are a subject of public debate and where necessary for civil society to respond to significant policy deficiencies using their ability to resolve problems and re-energize communities, and not experience weekly closed businesses.
The state of affairs in Saint Lucia, as present, is a matter of leadership, confidence and trust, to the extent that the entrepreneurial vision of the commercial sector to what the country’s development focus should be and government’s economic policies are moving in opposite directions; instead of working to influence power blocs of nations for access to each other’s markets to possibly raise from the dead Saint Lucia’s development goals for the exponential benefit of the people.
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) www.lpmstlucia.com critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at [email protected]