Castries North Member of Parliament Stephenson King has called on Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony and his government “to take a step back and re-examine their approach towards the development of the economy.”
King made this comment during his contribution to the budget debates, today (May 16), while citing the recent move made by government to hold discussions with trade unions after the fact that reductions were made in the Estimates of Expenditure 2014/2015, among other burning issues relating to taxes.
“The people are calling for a cease fire … a break to recover from the onslaught of increased water rates, VAT and general high cost of living,” he lamented.
The former prime minister said while the decision to reduce personal income tax is commendable, this may very well be a strategy to distract people and eventually lead to a cut in public servants’ salaries by five percent.
He questioned the research and analysis undertaken to measure the impact of that measure by government.
“It is quite possible if the speculations are right, the possibility of a wage cut and a reflection of 4.6 percent reduction in the estimates … then the prime minister must address the parliament in greater detail on this move,” he added.
Meanwhile, King recalled that he had written Prime Minister Anthony last year suggesting a reduction in VAT on prescription drugs.
“I am pleased and thankful that the prime minister has responded and has seen wisdom and yielded to popular demand, to use his (Anthony’s) own words to zero-rate VAT on prescription medication.”
Turning his attention to the removal of subsidy on brown sugar, King said government has not justified in full the complete removal of that subsidy. In addition, he noted that an increase in the levy of fuel from 20 to 50 cents is a 150 percent increase, which will impact the cost of fuel surcharge for electricity.
Further, King said while the prime minister also spoke of improving education and employment, he believes that the National Skill Development Centre (NSDC) and the National Enrichment Learning Programme (NELP) should both be expanded to meet the needs of the people.
While admitting that it may be an expensive undertaking, he suggested that such investment will guarantee greater competitiveness and employment opportunities for youths. He recommends engaging the public and private sectors in discussions to move this initiative forward.
He also advised government to start an education investment fund for young people.
Despite his recommendations, he endorsed government’s Cruise Ship Employment Programme using an example of a similar programme in the Philippines.
“I am happy that the government has institutionalised the Cruise Ship Training Programme …We have to think beyond the traditional means of providing employment to our people. Apart from the land and the sun, our only resource is our people,” King stated.
The prime minister had announced that $3 million will be made available to the Saint Lucia Development Bank for lending to unemployed youth seeking training and employment in the cruise ship sector. Five hundred and fifty people are expected to benefit from the programme this year.