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The folly of avoidance (commentary)

By Melanius Alphonse

2016-11-14-10_00_53-the-folly-of-avoidance-docx-google-docsCOMMENTARY – There is still a wide view and pretty confident that the symptom of weirdness in Saint Lucia today, adds to the old Chinese proverb: “May you live in interesting times.”

And why is this? After Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s poorly recorded and delivered message broadcast “Live” on November 7, that barely lasted ten minutes, average persons benefitted nothing substantive.

The performance was short on specifics, disgraceful and intolerable.

There was nothing deep and fundamentally sound relating to trade, climate change, economic or strategic development plans, foreign policy, national security for the country.

This was unedifying and tragic except to re-assure the traumatic experiment of June 6, when Prime Minister Chastanet was elected that, while democracy is the best system that exists, poor candidates get elected. And on this point, the American election victory of Donald Trump shows that democracy does not always get things right. 

How much is actually going on productively in the country is very little, outside of trickledown economics like ducks 

paddling in a frenzy underneath the water, and periodically ducking underneath for a catch of the day, exposing its rear. 

This is tragic and dangerous, as the facts and the statistics are undeniable, evidenced by reports from numerous institutional bodies. 

Motions in the House of Assembly on Tuesday November 8, 2016, down for consideration, have not shifted anxieties and faded public consciousness as follows:

  • To guarantee a loan for the Water and Sewerage Company Inc. in the sum of US$14,798,000 from the Caribbean Development Bank for the John Compton Dam Rehabilitation Project;
  • That Parliament by affirmative resolution approves the draft Value Added Tax (Amendment of Rate) Order, which varies the rate specified under section 10(1) of the Act; and 
  • Approves the draft Value Added Tax (Amendment of Schedule 3) order which amends Schedule 3 of the Act.

The ensuing debate in the House of Assembly was an echo chamber of rhetorical politics, a stage craft of hyperbolic delusions by some exotic caricature parliamentarians. 


Others delivered a performance based on empirical data in a well informed and educated manner, although at times it seemed to be a referendum onThe Fiscal and Structural Reforms in Saint Lucia: Towards a Comprehensive Agenda prepared by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), St Lucia’s spiral to happy VAT reduction and the political promise of Five to Stay Alive, rather than the essence of governance that transcends all political thought.

The deputy speaker saga was still not resolved, in a blatant disrespect for the citizens, and the constitution, still pretending that it is not “convenient” at this time. This is intellectual dishonesty. Meanwhile, the political leader of the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), Phillip J. Pierre, served notice of filing legal action against the government. 

Perhaps the one conclusion is such that the people are being pushed too far and for too long while the reality of day to day life alleviates nothing.

Nonetheless, the experience of the past decade tells us that: Any fool who won by deception has actually lost, with ties to cleansing schemes and a cabal itching to take over the country by cutting taxes on the rich, destroying unions, increasing welfare budgets and diminishing the rule of law, pushing wealth up to the top one percent.

Five to Stay Alive, although touted as exemplary is just another folly in a recycled format and, when the padding is removed, the overall deficit will increase to in excess of EC$128 million and further paralyze the economy:

“… the decrease in the vehicle licence fee which became effective on September 1st. 

“… that we will achieve in this school year is increasing the school bus subsidy and expanding the School Feeding Program.

“… the three-year Residential Tax Amnesty, takes effect 1 January 2017 until December 31, 2019. 

“… the proposed targeted amnesty on healthcare which we expect to begin on 1st December 2016. This would mean that pensioners who earn less than $1,000 monthly would have their healthcare bills waived. This would also apply to unemployed persons and individuals on the poverty list. 

“… government will reduce the standard rate of value added tax from the current 15 percent to 12.5 percent… effective as of February 1, 2017 and will mean that an estimated $52.5 million a year will be pumped back into the hands of the people of this country.

“…the Airport Redevelopment Charge which we are proposing to reintroduce as of April 2017. Reintroducing this charge will also be less onerous on the citizens of this country and will significantly contribute to decreasing our national debt as a percentage of the monies raised will be allocated to a sinking fund. This is additional revenue which will be set aside so St Lucia can begin to take care of itself. “

In the noise of paranoia, protectionism seems to be the offering to a short term boost to an economy, but serious economists know that, in the long run, the economy loses competitiveness and will move along more or less at the same rate it was before, or slower.

Meanwhile, there is the lack of clarity around the government’s obscured economic policy in reaction to inflation.

On one hand, expressing grief and, on the other, shedding crocodile tears over the need in excess of EC$18 million for recurring expenditure to operate the Owen King Hospital, while there is no mention of the government intentions to tax exempt or zero rated items.

Reduction in the VAT rate by 2.5 percent is superficial because, almost as quickly, new ways to taxation and then some more, tells the conveniently simplified story that boutique taxation is absurd.

In a Facebook post, one recent comment read: 

“Well done for what? For reducing the country’s revenue by EC$52 million and don’t have a clue how he [the prime minister] is going to replace it? We as St Lucians want everything free. We beg the Taiwanese to give us their taxpayers’ dollars to help us but we don’t want to pay one damn cent to help our country. What a shame!” 

But then again, the government is really thinking upside down and in most cases putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps its uncharted waters of a wimpy syndrome and the integrity of a system that’s incalculable, stuck with even more debt and still higher taxes to come. 

But just wait until the bill arrives, together with the real scenario regarding the state of the economy – a cash flow problem. 

Not everyone agrees, but I have said repeatedly that the Prime Minister Chastanet-led government does not have any kind of a fiscal anchor, and has yet to lay out some kind of credible path to get the core of the economy back to fiscal balance. 

Either the result is by no means clear and the so called economic plan has failed or we’re in big trouble as, with each awkwardly delivered national address or press briefing, the economy is weaker and the island’s fiscal position is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

As such, Prime Minister Chastanet could not articulate his vision for the next four years, from either a short-term or long-term perspective to prosperity. 

Notwithstanding the professed commitment to transparency, the April budget of 2017 seems the gold standard in another attempt to give an obscure account of the government’s finances for the past nine months.

And amid ongoing audit of St Jude Hospital, the Soufriere Enhancement Project [now aborted in an illogical fallacy] and other constituency development programmes (CDP) for alleged financial profligacy and cronyism, demanding accountability that is carried out in naked self promotion, bypassing procedures and disregarding the rule of law, the desired results will become meaningless, and is nothing but a dramatic game show.

Prime Minister Chastanet has admitted that his party, the United Workers Party (UWP), is affiliated to the Republican Party. If so, there is a stark similarity between America and Saint Lucia. The people got conned by a flawed candidate.

In both situations, the people misunderstand what the establishment actually represents, convincing anti-establishment voters and appealing to the disaffected and disempowered, as someone who can cut the crap and get things done. Right?

On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt writes, “Bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.” At least with a liar, you can present evidence to the contrary. The bullshitter doesn’t care about facts.

It is not difficult to tap into the sense of the powerlessness, pulling the strings and manipulating the system for one’s own benefit.

Perhaps the little guy, the poor and powerless, thinks this is going to work for his benefit and become part of the tale with feverish enthusiasm for anti-establishment populists. 

Guess what, it’s a matter of being pragmatic! You got conned!

Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and NewsNow Global affairs and economic analysis. He can be reached at: melanius@newsnowglobal.com

 

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