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On the heels of last week’s vigorous public debate about whether businessmen are suited to become politicians, sparked by a fiery lecture by Dr. Tennyson Joseph of the University of the West Indies, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has sought to further clarify his thoughts on applying business practices to the running of the government.
“I have said that there are disciplines that you have in business that should be applied, or can be applied to government,” he told reporters at Monday’s pre-Cabinet press briefing.
Chastanet, who last week characterised the tenor of Dr. Joseph’s comments about him as “racist”, expounded further on the idea of applying business practices to the administration of a sovereign state.
“There’s a fundamental difference between government and business. Business’ objective is to maximise the returns to the shareholders. Government does it differently in that it maximises the returns to the citizens of the country,” the prime minister added.
He went on to outline the country’s fiscal trend over the past several decades.
“I’ve always been at pains to explain to everyone in Saint Lucia that we’ve had 20 years where we’ve been running a deficit. A deficit government means that you have less revenue than what your expenses are. So there’s this gap.
“So what that means is that the monies that you’ve been investing over the last 15 to 20 years have not yielded any significant increases in the size of your economy, and the government has refused to tackle the deficit. As a consequence of that, we’ve continued seeing a deterioration in the ability of the government to provide the necessary services that the citizens require,” he explained.
Chastanet supported his claim by pointing to the quality of the island’s road network, school plant infrastructure, healthcare system, and national security network, all of which he says have diminished over time.
“When I came in as prime minister…none of the Coast Guard boats were working. None. Zero. There was no DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions], in fact we only had three lawyers in the DPP’s office. The forensic lab was closed. You had judges who did not have chambers, you have magistrates that don’t have offices, and there was a grossly inadequate amount of security for your judicial system…so the responsibility of government is to earn enough revenues in order to be able to provide those services. It is not difficult, in my mind, to determine a way forward.”
It was very clear, Chastanet continued to say, that Saint Lucia’s GDP was not of sufficient size to “generate enough cash that’s turning over for us to be able to provide the resources”.
Therefore, he said, the government may choose to rely on taxes to make up the much-needed shortfall. However, in his opinion, an increased tax burden would be counterproductive in the long term, as that would cause a barrier to increased investment in the country.
The only alternative, in the prime minister’s opinion, is to increase the size of the island’s economy, by expanding infrastructural and human resource capacity – exactly what he says his administration is attempting to do.