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Brief remarks at the signing ceremony for the financing agreement between Saint Lucia and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to establish a National Competitiveness and Productivity Council, delivered by Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Economic Affairs, Planning & Social Security on January 21, 2013.
INTRODUCTION: A TABOO SUBJECT
Just a few days ago, I had the privilege of receiving, on behalf of the people of Saint Lucia, a gift from the European Union of almost $7M EC, to address some of our critical health and safety needs.
However, today’s signing ceremony which we are gathered here to witness, is different. It is different because it addresses a need that we as a people, too often conveniently cower from accepting. It is different, because the funds we are about to receive from the IDB is part of a broader initiative that this Government is engaged in, to address a desperate need to strengthen our own ability to help each one of us survive these turbulent times and rise to the top.
This is a “taboo subject” that we all want to shun, but there is no doubt that generally, amidst our brilliance and academic prowess, we are a society characterized by patronage and skepticism.
With the effects of a global recession still impacting Saint Lucia’s economy, coupled with the damaging effects of Hurricane Tomas in 2010, Saint Lucia will never survive if this philosophy of patronage and skepticism is allowed to thrive. This Government is therefore determined to address this issue in a systemic manner, both at the public and private sector levels.
Protectionism is a thing of the past. So, we have to face up to the realities of competitiveness and productivity.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
Only recently, I drew to the attention of the public in language that some did not like, the need to deal with issue of productivity. I said:
“In Saint Lucia, wages have been growing at a rapid pace while productivity has been declining. To put it more plainly, some persons are being paid more for producing less. GDP output has grown by an average of less than one percent over the last three years, and it is projected to remain subdued in the short term. If we base wage increases only on inflation and not productivity or our ability to pay, we are actually making our country poorer and making the goods and services we produce less attractive to the outside world.” [“A STITCH IN TIME SAVES NINE”. Address to the Nation on the Current Financial Situation and Wage Negotiations for the Public Sector.]
A COMMITMENT TO COMPETE
The only way we can survive this as a country, is if each individual, whether it be at the firm level, Government departmental level, or personal level, makes a commitment to compete. By ‘compete’ I do not only mean competing with one another, but importantly, I refer to the nurturing of a character that would allow you to compete with your own best – to continuously strive to do better: achieve more with less, and constantly ensuring that you are achieving your purpose.
But I know each of you can’t do this on your own. Responses to crisis often, require a paradigm shift. That burden is often left at the doorsteps of the Government.
Government must do whatever is necessary to address not just the ‘bread and butter’ needs of our people, but to bring empowerment back to each Saint Lucian. This can only be done through the creation of jobs, and more jobs.
However, I recognize that sustainable jobs can only be achieved through sustainable growth: growth in business activity, and consequently growth in the economy.
SET-UP ON NATIONAL COMPETITIVENESS AND PRODUCTIVITY COUNCIL
While Government is in the process of implementing a number of strategies: short-term, medium term, and long term, we recognize that the chance of success in dealing this ‘growth challenge’, lies primarily in our ability to come together a people, not just informally, but through coalitions that would link the public and private sectors in a structured way. These coalitions should allow for inclusivity and encourage the exchange of ideas.
Saint Lucia is therefore indeed extremely grateful to the inter-American Development Bank for providing a grant to the Government totaling just over EC$1.3M to establish a National Competitiveness and Productivity Council (NCPC). This amount contributes to almost 70% of the total project which is valued at almost $2M.
The implementation of this project demonstrates this Government’s commitment to fulfilling its pledge to the people of Saint Lucia to strengthen the dialogue between the private and public sectors. We recognize we each do not have the answers to solve any problem that is facing us. And so through the establishment of this mechanism we would create a medium to analyze the issues affecting business operation and growth. The country should then begin to tackle the twin issues of competitiveness and productivity.
GRATEFUL FOR PARTNERSHIP
Ms. Dohert, please convey the deepest thanks of the Saint Lucian People and its Government to the IDB. We are grateful for this unique level of assistance. Assistance, that while it may not be characterized by the handing over of something tangible, I have no doubt that its benefits will transform the way we do business in our country.
I thank you.