By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- In a New Year’s address to the nation on Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony praised the people of Saint Lucia for rediscovering their spirit of humanity in the aftermath of the Christmas storm, which resulted in severe flooding in parts of the country, as well as loss of property and lives.
Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony
“I am proud of our country; its strength, courage and resilience. If we can continue to help one another, then we can counter any further misfortune that comes our way,” Anthony said.
He praised in particular, Saint Lucia’s children whom he said brought “comfort to other children affected by the trough” by way of donations of clothing, toys, shoes and other personal belongings.
During his national address, the prime minister announced support for students who suffered loss as a result of the extraordinary weather event.
Anthony said that, thanks to collective efforts, commendable progress has been made on returning the country to normalcy following the storm. Destroyed bridges have been replaced and major roads cleared of slides and slippages. There are still, however, slides to be cleared on some secondary roads. Water supply has been restored, though some challenges remain. Electricity has now been restored to all consumers.
To date, Saint Lucia has received cash donations to the value of EC$5,113,354.95. Additionally, the Caribbean Development Bank has made available a grant of US$200,000 and a loan of US$750,000 to finance clean-up and restoration activities. A team from the World Bank is currently in the island undertaking a damage assessment, the likely impact of the damage on gross domestic product (GDP) and the cost of replacing damaged infrastructure.
Anthony acknowledged that the Christmas storm could not have come at a worse time, arriving in the midst of difficult economic times for Saint Lucia and its neighbours. However, he said he believed that the worst is over for the private sector. There has been a good, solid rebound in tourism. Stay-over arrivals for the period January to December 2013 totaled 317,318 visitors, a 3.4% increase from the previous year. The island recorded increases in nine of the twelve-month period with June and September recording double digit increases. Likewise, there was a 5.3% increase in cruise arrivals over the previous year, 2012, particularly between the months of May to October. There is evidence of renewed life in the real estate sector. Some hotels are now engaged in expansion and refurbishment and foreign investment is gradually returning to Saint Lucia.
“I cannot say the same thing for the finances of the government of Saint Lucia. This is where our problem exists,” Anthony said, describing the country’s principal problem as what economists refer to as the “Fiscal Deficit”, which arises when income, especially from tax revenues, is not sufficient to cover expenses.
In 2012/2013, the deficit climbed to $328.0 million or 9.5% of GDP and in the current budget year, notwithstanding the increase in salary to all public servants, an overall deficit of $243.0 million is expected.
“Further taxation is not the solution to our problem. The solution lies in reducing expenditure and improving revenue collection,” he said.
Anthony said that the government has invited the business community, trade unions and other social partners to a retreat on the economy.
“At that retreat, we will share with our social partners the challenges which face the economy in a frank and open manner. No doubt the business community and the unions will also share their concerns with the government. I hope that we can find common ground in the search for solutions to restore sustainable growth to our economy,” he said.
Greater reliance will have to be placed on the private sector to finance new investment in the construction of public buildings, roads and other vital infrastructure, including the construction of the new terminal at the Hewanorra International Airport.
Anthony said that the St Jude Hospital will be completed this year and that Taiwan has agreed to extend a loan to Saint Lucia on concessionary terms to assist in financing the completion of the hospital.
He said that the government will pursue its agenda against crime relentlessly. Efforts will be made to enact the Anti-Gang Bill at the next sitting of Parliament and government will review the legislation that allows for the remission of sentences for convicted murderers.
“A life sentence must mean what it says. Seven years for rape or canal knowledge must mean seven years served!” he said.
The government will also revisit the Bail Act to tighten up on the grant of bail to accused persons, especially those convicted of gun related crimes. The leniency that currently prevails in the sentencing of persons with illegal firearms will be revisited and loopholes within current laws will be closed.
“We need to rethink our approaches to tackling crime and violence. It is vital that we follow approaches that are centered on citizen security and address the real causes of crime. We have to focus on preventative measures, implement youth crime prevention through education and other community based programmes. We cannot and we must not surrender to the criminals in our midst,” Anthony said.