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Commentary: Helping the poor unlock their potential
Published on February 13, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Melanius Alphonse

How could this happen? How should this begin? Probably, the first procedure is to define poverty; but in any case such is relative to income, possession and social economic deprivation. Now, having framed such and setting aside the false premise and false promises, let’s take a look.

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Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at malphonse@rogers.com
Far too often governments over-extend their authority. The Saint Lucia Labour party (SLP) was swept into office on a promise of “Better Days.” However, what has unfolded since is a lamenting cry from Saint Lucia's prime minister and minister for finance, for belt tightening. Frankly, not only is this pitiful, but it speaks to the degree of hopelessness that lies ahead for our nation's poor.

By the SLP’s own creation, they have cocooned and become too afraid to discuss the many problems facing the country on a daily basis. And in so doing, not only have they compromised the trust which was placed in them on November 28, 2011, they have demonstrated without a doubt their inability to produce new ideas that are worthy of pointing Saint Lucia towards a fresh start or a new direction.

Today, the only ideas floating in the hallways of a government led by the Saint Lucia Labour party are archaic ideas of how to expand existing welfare policies that have transformed Saint Lucia into a welfare state.

Saint Lucia can do better; first by thinking better and then setting the stage to performing better. We must adopt a long-term fiscal policy that is not only disciplined, but is aimed at transforming the island's future into one of innovation and technology in the next 10-15 years.

For example, the provision of quality preventative health-care and service delivery at a cost-effective pace is fundamental to 21th century human survival. The adoption of new technology and innovation could help reduce the waiting time in emergency rooms and the length of time patients remain at hospital, as well as the dispensing of better quality treatment to achieving the favourable result patients expect, including, the removal of 15% VAT on medication and the introduction of Universal Health Care, (UHC).

Another is public transportation – labour mobility. This sector needs to operate on business principles, with set hours, uniform vehicles, uniformed driver/operators, a set system for paying and collecting fees, proper bus terminals along the route and a major hub on the perimeter of the city of Castries. To complement the public transportation system, a proper road network is required to facilitate smooth commute, adequate frequency and a fee structure that is fair to the end-user and profitable to the service provider.

A proper road network would also facilitate commerce and the smooth transfer of goods and services; contribute to workers productivity, ease traffic gridlock and the untold cost to the economy.

New immigrants and returning nationals are more likely to start-up businesses and partake in knowledge sharing and economic activity. This sector is a job creation tool that can be used to direct foreign investors coming to our shores with 21st century business equipment, with new methods and networks that can be transferred to our local sectors. To facilitate this and to help reduce the rise of unemployment from a staggering 24% that is having a chronic impact on Saint Lucia’s economic growth; education, training and retraining must be enhanced to reshape the labour force. The other option is apprenticeship and volunteering programs that promote national development goals to help bring about an economic revival.

It is evident that rising food prices and value added tax (VAT) at 15% affects everyone. This serves as a barrier to curtailing food inflation. But more directly, this affects the poor who spends more on food and commodities. Therefore, in order to maintain a standard of living that citizens can afford during these hard times, a greater effort is needed to reverse the poverty cycle and the associated economic cost of under- employment and rising crime. Financial institutions such as the Saint Lucia Development Bank, Bank of Saint Lucia, micro lending institutions and co-operatives must play a bigger role to help unlock opportunities in a timely manner; as economic conditions continue to force nations to re-examine domestic situations and trade in their own best interest.

Now, should we not agree on which methodology or ideology that is best to help the poor unlock their potential, one thing is certain; this challenge will require cultural changes, and leadership that focus on delivering direct benefits to the people; and not self-interest party élites.

Helping the poor unlock their potential must be one based on facts and objective analysis. It cannot, and must not be one based on emotion and feel good sound bites, such as "Better Days." It should not be structured on quick fixes and development projects designed to rewrite history. Nor should such be permitted to reshape the unique eco-system and landscape of Saint Lucian.

Any endeavour to do such will certainly increase the agony of the poor and resort the people to servitude of the colonial past that intertwines with the believability of “Better Days.” Such misleading notions deprive the poor an equitable share of the economic pie. It destroys their potential to rise above complacency and nepotism; the inspiration to fight for freedom and social justice, and contributes to the lowering of the social and economic fabric of the country.

Therefore, in order to unlock the potential and wellbeing of the poor, a measured plan of strategic policies that embrace political and economic consensus is urgently needed.

Such co-cooperativeness would lead to collective empowerment to match economic challenges that are accountable to the people of Saint Lucia and Saint Lucia’s global presence.
 
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