Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce Brian Louisy has proposed measures to be considered by the private sector and government which he believes can improve the country’s economy, while pinpointing what he considers inefficiencies in the 2014/2015 National Budget.
He was speaking at a First Citizens Investment Services organised 2014 Budget Review Seminar on Monday, June 2 at the Rex Hotel in Rodney Bay.
Addressing an almost 25 percent unemployment rate, Louisy said stimulating business activity, increasing linkages between sectors and building climate change resilience are some key ways government and the private sector can strengthen the economy.
On the issue of unemployment, the executive director said that urgent action is needed to help create sustainable and fulfilling jobs, particularly for the youth.
“If we do not deal with the unemployment problem we are in a serious mess as a country. I think it has been very clearly stated in the budget that government recognises that issue.
“I have traditionally been not very supportive of the programmes like STEP and NICE and SMILE but if you really think about it, if you think seriously, you would probably understand that in the current environment we need to do what we can for those persons on the margin. I have spoken grimly about borrowing money to employ persons in particular jobs, but what is the cost if we do not do it,” he said.
Louisy criticised the recently presented budget for not giving a “strong enough signal” as to where “we’re going to get some sustainable jobs.”
He was adamant that there needs to be an identification of different scopes of employment in order to better things.
“Some people have thrown us back to the issue of agriculture, as being not just an economic sector but a social sector that helps retain persons in the communities…. I think we probably need to look a little closer and further at that component as far as unemployment goes,” he said.
Louisy, in agreeing with a point made earlier in the forum by Ministry of Finance Permanent Secretary Reginald Darius, said that a mismatch of skills is also a contributing factor to the island’s unemployment problem. This occurs when job opportunities exists but much of the population is not qualified for these vacancies.
“I think we need a little more focus on that. [The Sir Arthur Community College], they actually give people high level skills – skills that are marketable,” he said.
Louisy believes that the country needs quality craftsmen who are able to get the job done efficiently.
“There was a time we were importing persons from St. Vincent to do tiling because the quality of work and the productivity was so high … I don’t think we are focusing on producing master craftsmen – high quality persons who will get the job done because they are the best,” he said.
He stated that this matter needs to continue to be resolved.
“… We need to look at that in terms of bridging that gap and I think that is how we will deal with some of the unemployment issues,” he said.
Another recommendation made by the director was making it easier to do business in St. Lucia. He said that while he agrees that changes are necessary to improve the investment climate to attract more long term investment, the manner in which business is conducted here needs to be revisited.
“Yes the investment climate needs to be improved, but what is more important is the business environment in which you operating because you are bringing an investor here and he cannot do a good job, he cannot turn a profit because the business environment is too difficult, too cumbersome, too costly. This is why the chamber has for the last few years set out a single agenda item – making it easier to do business in St. Lucia,” he said.
“…Unless we deal seriously and aggressively with the business environment we are not going to get far in promoting and sustaining investment, because investors speak to each other,” he said.
Louisy added that if the processes of doing business are not improved the country is being denied of real improvements within the sector.
“We need to look at it seriously. It cannot be the typical support… we have some very practical problems.”
In relation to tourism, the island’s highest income earlier, the director said that continued investment is needed. He believes also that linkages between that sector and others, need to be identified and strengthened.
Climate change resilience is another issue Louisy said will in time affect tourism.
Today’s 2014/15 Budget Review Seminar saw deliberations by a panel of both local and regional private and public sector officials.
First Citizens Investment Services Regional Manager Carol Eleuthere Jn Marie, Head of Research at the company Vangie Bhagoo-Ramrattan were among those who made presentations.
Deliberations were held on the content and implications of the budget along with proposals for a way forward for St. Lucia.
Among the topics covered were the global and economic performance and macro economic review of St. Lucia and the Eastern Caribbean.
More on this forum in a future publication.