Opposition Leader Dr. Gail Rigobert has said the budget presented this year does not contain any firm policy that could trigger change and development on the island.
During her presentation on the budget debates, Dr. Rigobert said it does not “inspire hope” and she stressed that there is no single strategy included in it, which is tailored towards arresting the unemployment situation and tackling ‘bread and butter’ issues. Worst of all, she said the high fiscal deficit is far from being addressed.
The opposition leader said the fact that Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony has already highlighted how much of a burden the public sector employment bill is to his government, is an indication that they will press for public servants to go home or reduce salaries.
Either way, Dr. Rigobert said if such a move is to be taken, it will affect thousands of households, especially since the public service sector represents a large number of the working population on the island.
She said plans to reduce public servants’ salaries by five per cent may take effect and registered her disappointment with the administration for contemplating such a move.
During most of her presentation, she quoted statistics from the 2013 Social and Economic Review, which she explained is a clear indication of the financial situation the island is faced with. The report, she said, speaks frequently about downturns, contractions, decrease and reclines.
“Whether we are speaking about growth or debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio or the unemployment figures, the tale is a stark one, the realities troubling…and though those on the other side have tried their very best to numb the reality of the hardships that currently confront this country, the figures tell the truth,” she added.
Dr. Rigobert said the figures tell a troubling tale of a budget that was laid before the House last year and the inability of government to deliver on a promise made to the people of Saint Lucia. The government, she said, is “masking the reality with all kinds of excuses and explanations, but the truth is that a promise was made to the people, as spelt out in the budget, and the government failed to deliver.”
“Things are hard in Saint Lucia. Let us not endeavour to pull wool over the eyes of the people when the country has found itself in an economic crisis…the truth is embedded in the figures therein,” she stressed.
Preliminary estimates of the economic review indicates that the growth of the economy contracted further in 2013 by 3.3 per cent, while most of the productive sectors recorded declines in 2013, led by the construction and trade/distributive sectors.
As it relates to the decrease in construction activity, Dr. Rigobert said the stimulus package introduced by government failed to achieve growth levels of construction activity. The opposition leader believes that this downturn in the construction sector and lower activities in both the public and private sector, all led to greater of unemployment on the island.
“Regrettably the budget that was presented last year and the figures presented in this year’s estimates do not reveal to this honourable house and the people of Saint Lucia any innovative measures to correct the unemployment problem in this country,” she added.
The political leader said people have families and children to feed and want to see improved conditions in Saint Lucia, but this could only happen if the government addresses the current financial crisis. This could lead to better avenues of investment and the creation of jobs that will be sustained for generations to come.
Shifting her attention to government’s borrowing, Dr. Rigobert said while there is information that the administration has been borrowing, there is no clear evidence to show how the money was spent.
“The question must be asked: borrowing to do what? There is no inherent danger in borrowing necessarily, it is that what you do with the money that is borrowed,” she posited.
She believes that the money borrowed should have been pumped into the productive sector, which could have helped to generate revenue for the island, while creating employment.
“What is the borrowed money being used for? Are we borrowing to feed the endless consumerism of this government or is the government borrowing to finance productive enterprises that would realise themselves the multiplying effects of generating jobs that they promise, but by the government’s own admission in the very pages before us, everything seems to be on a downward,” she argued.
However, she cited the fiscal performance of central government, which showed improvement in 2013/2014 and preliminary estimates indicate a reduction in the overall deficit from $320.6 million and 9.2 per cent of GDP in 2012/2013, to $208.0 million 2013/2014.
“I am not sure the government has yet been able to convince us that this is by any feet of their fiscal innovation necessarily, but perhaps a pure accident of their inability to borrow on the regional and international market. This is worthy of a further interrogation and in the spirit of transparency and good governance,” she stated.
Dr Rigobert advised government to have an honest engagement with the people of Saint Lucia on the current situation.