By Melanius Alphonse
Probably, Saint Lucia’s director of statistics, Edwin St Catherine, has known something that to the rest of the population up until now was a well kept secret.
Well, there you have it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The island is experiencing fewer than 2,000 live births annually, compared to roughly 3,500 babies born in the 1990s. Approximately 6,000 Saint Lucians have left the island to reside in a foreign country (US, Canada, UK, etc) in the past ten years. Not surprising at all, the persons leaving Saint Lucia are our more educated, better skilled and generally in the age range of 19 - 34 (with more females represented in that group). The number of deaths is about 1,000 and has remained fairly stable; while unemployment figures increased on average at approximately 1 or 2%.
Is it fair to describe this as the natural process to rebalance a population of approximately 176,000 with no job growth prospects? Or, is this a coincidence to stabilize the labour market, much the same as Europe and Japan is currently experiencing?
On the other hand, with low birth rates, no new jobs and decreased wages, who will provide the revenue streams needed to pay for retirees and other pressing obligations currently on the plate of the government.
Sadly, though the writing is on the wall in terms of where Saint Lucia is headed, the government continues to operate as an entity that has lost its mind; immersing itself in backward approaches which seek to lavish generous gifts on the chosen, while rendering favours to the party faithful at the expense of Saint Lucia's ailing economy.
Mindful of our party's motto, which states that "history is our lesson", there can be no doubt in the minds of those who have paid close attention to the Lucian People's Movement (LPM)’s consistent warnings to the decision makers and business leaders, that a timely and concerted action plan is needed to address the dysfunctional process at hand.
In light of this, we once again note the appeal by the president of the Saint Lucia Employers Federation (SLEF), Joseph Alexander, alluding to the fact that there are a lot of companies that are “teetering on the brink,” and that he is worried that there isn't much time left to act. He also called upon the private sector and government to “leverage their comparative advantages to work together to address the problem."
At last, another voice has joined the LPM in speaking truth to power, and making it abundantly clear that, unless knowledge and ideas are shared, Saint Lucia can expect more of the economic stagnation that has thwarted its growth for decades now.
But then, listening to the Hon. Philip J. Pierre, the island's minister for infrastructure, one gets the sense that he is either living in denial, or simply does not understand the seriousness of the economic challenges which confronts the nation. While the president of SLEF is calling for all hands on deck, a national dialogue, and efforts to help free the country from the choke-hold of economic stagnation, the minister seems content with the trivial efforts of his government.
This is very discouraging!
“Unemployment is an issue, a problem that the government is very concerned of and that is why despite of tight fiscal constrains that we have, we invested directly in programs like the NICE program and the SMILE program –particularly NICE… which employed over one thousand people. Albeit temporarily for a year in the first instance. That is the government’s approach. You see, government can’t employ everyone; employment has to come from investment from the private sector. We know how the investment climate is in the country, but the government continues. We’ve done our share and this is why we always ask for understanding when the government has to put direct resources in terms of getting jobs for people,” Hon. Philip J. Pierre.
Is there any doubt why the island seems unable to get out of this mess? Is the minister admitting that the new figures have changed nothing to address the island’s employment problem, in light of the understanding that this remains a priority for his administration; and that the promised $100 million has gone full cycle with nothing to show in return?
“The goal of government now is to seek cooperative strategies to address the pressing issues of anemic growth high unemployment and high debt, while maintaining social stability and cohesion,” he concluded.
If that’s the case, then that time has arrived! An audit is due!
But first, spare us, oh lord, from false equivalence because, clearly, the minister seems “off duty,” and indifferent to the prime minister’s 2012/13 budget address when he stated: “There is an urgent need for proactive measures to strengthen private investment to absorb the pool of unemployed persons on the island.”
If this sound like more of the same, then you would be correct!
Therefore, from now on, policy makers who foolishly continue to believe that the "winner takes it all" system of governance does not lend itself to taking advice from others had better prepare themselves for the fallout. And since politics has been placed above what is right for the country, and does not envision a shared or participatory system of governance, then it is government’s responsibility to fix Saint Lucia's economy.
Time is not on your side. The people of Saint Lucia are no longer willing to get drunk on fancy slogans and sound bites of "En Rouge” that cannot deliver sustainable jobs, or is incapable of fixing the economy.
That false notion that the "best brains" lie in a cabinet of doctors is no longer suitable or relevant in an enlightened age.
Moreover, doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result is an expression of delusional and psychotic tendencies, including getting high on a stimulus package or loyalist bonanza in disguise that is proving to be another recipe for disaster.
One simply has to refer to the music of the Mighty Sparrow which says, “No money, no love” to better understand the personal sentiments of the people of Saint Lucia at this time.
How do you expect them to sing your praises when their personal spending has fallen and businesses are experiencing shrinking sales? The numbers don't lie, and the statistics department has not misled the public in any way by stating the following: “Local manufacturing has significantly trimmed with small losses in financial services.”
It is common knowledge that the economy is in reverse and is currently experiencing negative growth. Therefore, as huge deficits continue to accumulate, the writing on the wall becomes clearer: Saint Lucia is in deeper trouble than the government is willing to admit.
The situation that exists now is a government trapped within itself, and can't seem to acknowledge that its obsession and preoccupation with politics rather than governance has rendered it unfit to offer the kind of collective leadership that is needed, and is likewise incompetent to encourage national participation to fixing the economy.
This dangerous posture is giving rise to a “poverty class” fueled by part time employment and low wages; worsening and rising household debt, and a vanishing landscape for a better life in which to raise a family.
The slow and shameful unwrapping of the empty gift box, which was handed to the people of Saint Lucia on November 28, 2011, must be returned promptly to the sender.
Sadly, the package contained no seeds to plant, and no hope for a bountiful and prosperous harvest.
Therefore, with such false hope, a more realistic and fiscally responsible government, with a leader, who can rise-up, and is capable of telling the truth, without having to pander to economic special interest, or from political and physical paralysis is worth pursuing.
Change is needed.
And hopefully, the LPM, with its centrist ideology and practical ideas on how to restructure the economy, revamp foreign policy, (including embassies and consulates abroad); and work towards changing the mindset on crime, and national security; along with making tertiary education in markets such as South Africa more accessible to students, will be pursued soon after this failed and politically obsessed style of governance in Saint Lucia has come to past.
The wind of change is in the air, and Saint Lucians should opt instead for a system of governance that is committed to meaningful change and respects the principles of social equality.