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Opinion
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Commentary: St Lucia finance minister's 'Judo budget' was predictable
Published on May 8, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

By Melanius Alphonse

The second session of the eleventh parliament of Saint Lucia got under way on Tuesday, April 25. However, much the same as the first, lying and deception was even more confounding and self-serving, with a EC$1.5 billion Judo budget, namely, the 2017/18 estimates of revenue and expenditure.

The political Judo

After all, the handwriting was on the wall. Throughout the general elections, the hypothesis of “Five to Stay Alive”, “Five to Revive” and “Five to Thrive” was the mechanism for change that would bring economic reform to Saint Lucia. But, this well- proven fraud was the first Judo, the United Workers Party (UWP) inflicted on the country.

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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 analysis. He can be reached at melanius@newsnowglobal.com
While in opposition, January 29, 2015, the UWP staged a protest march against rising petroleum prices. They used the churches for political campaigning literally and figuratively. Now they can’t come to terms with each other, the Catholic Church has become an enemy of the state.

The UWP identified with the plight of the poor, single mothers, inadequate housing, opposed deficit, high debt and rising interest payments. Allen Chastanet even “cried on demand” and still does.

Now in the seat of power and temporary control of government, “morals” are not so much different. The irony, of course, is perfecting the art-form of the second Judo on Saint Lucians.

But, naive and inexperienced, the frequency of errors has taken its toll with rejected claims and ridicule and no funding for security operation by the US government continue to unnerve investors, banking, finance, diplomacy, the intelligence community, while government ministers are unperturbed to answer bribery allegations and continue to play games, expecting to accomplish political results on IMPACS/ORC.

On a strategic level, prime minister and minister for finance Allen Chastanet should be thinking about trade, security and the impact of adding significant new debt, expecting to achieve growth, in a nation facing human rights and democratic governance concerns and investigations.

But the 2017/18 estimates of revenue and expenditure seem on the level of “generational theft” and bait and switch crony capitalism and a systematic method of wealth transfer that excludes natives.

The 2017/18 estimates of revenue and expenditure

‘Building a new Saint Lucia’ and the start of a new phase of change, (exchange) intended to inspire confidence, is the third Judo.

In particular, the fiscal expansion of brinkmanship towards EC$1.5 billion in the 2017/18 estimates of revenue and expenditure, in a country where arrogance, ignorance and hypocrisy confront good governance and the cliché is “the country is broke, 2017 is to tighten your seat belt and to embrace the change.”

Understandably, many experts and investors remain cautious about the Chastanet-led administration’ manuscript of alternative facts.

Current structural problems recognize the need for growth; however, the administration is growing faster than the economy. In this Judo budget, total revenue and grants underpinned on VAT (302.9), CIP (43) other non tax revenue (45.9), other taxes (88.8) and service charge (72.2), etc, are somehow no longer punitive.

At the time of the CDB study, “Saint Lucia was in the range of 26 percent, while the entire Caribbean is around 21-22 percent.”

Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said: “Saint Lucia may be among one of few countries in the Caribbean that collect way too many taxes. “We have been effective at collecting taxes or we are collecting way too many taxes, whichever way you want to be able to put it…we are overtaxed.”

Nevertheless, for FY 2017/18, any idea what happened to the “…ultimate removal of the dreaded value added tax. We will find a more creative way and a less onerous way of raising revenues now generated by VAT.”

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Sources of government's $1.073 billion in recurrent revenue in FY 2017/2018

Government continues to expand, therefore, financing needs have surged to EC$345 million, the highest level in almost four years. But, while this is happening, stabilizing state finances and preventing wild gaps in liquidity is unsettling. But, more dependency is placed on T-bills and bonds, external borrowing, and other undefined revenue sources.

In fact, foreign exchange and bond markets movements are more conservative than the FY 2017/18 , and that includes Saint Lucia’s ability to borrow, as crafted in the overall deficit from -1.4% to -4.7% of GDP (EC$220.9 million), a widening of EC$158 million.

The debt-to-GDP ratio previously reported at 81% and GDP outlook for 2017 at one percent. This measure-up to larger budget deficit, high interest charges on debt, at EC$170 million, akin to an expeditious form of “economic terrorism and treason”. 

The capital allocation of EC$$362 million (represents a $36.2 million or 11.1 percent increase over last year’s approved estimates); however, relying solely on the economic services sector to drive 72% for redistribution in the agricultural sector, infrastructure, housing and tourism is unrealistic in the current economic environment and superstructure layout.

Debt is a moral imperative and FY 2017/18 should not be used as a means to score short-term benefits and political points with pet projects. The promises of lucrative a la carte deals, fraught with speculative foreign investment, which kick the can down the road leads to long-term insolvency.

Innovation and responsiveness

With such vast speculation in the introduction of a sovereign / sinking fund, stock markets and open-market operations, direct investment in small enterprises, public-private partnerships in housing, infrastructure and agri-business and a viable export market are key linkages to immediately improve trade imbalance, the food import bill and energize the economy from within.

The implementation of a debt ceiling while working towards budget discipline to build a Saint Lucian brand not a charity economy, is even more pertinent today. Alongside this is the emptiness of a bipartisan comprehensive national plan of action and foreign policy. 

It is worth keeping an eye on opportunities in trade and investments, the revitalization of global markets to boost growth alongside the travel industry, foreign capital flow.

However, ongoing difficulty in doing business is an impediment to producing sustainable jobs in a competitive blue and green economy to sufficiently raise wages, increase prosperity and protect our sovereignty.

On assuming office, the finance minister’s first major “accomplishment” misguidedly, rolled back constituency development projects including (STEP, NICE, laptops, 500 bursaries’). He stopped capital projects, increased the size of government and now powered by National Apprenticeship Program (NAP) in the ministry of finance, the dubious distinction of a masturbation fatwa has a legitimate methodology to stand-up on.

In continuance of the misalignment of priorities the finance minister cut funding for the National Trust and the Distress Support Fund.

When pressed on the latter, the finance minister claimed the allocation has been reallocated. Presumable, very few persons know where to find it. But historically, politicians who take from Peter to pay Paul have been rewarded for it adversely.

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The fourth historic Judo on the social and economic dysfunction of Saint Lucia is the 2017/18 estimates of revenue and expenditure in and of itself by Ernst & Young.

If the finance minister has his faculties right, to pretend a hole does not exist: “It didn’t cost us 1%.” He is perhaps oblivious to the arithmetic of approximately EC$15 million and the impact in poor communities in Saint Lucia.

Once again, the larger message seems to be the National Trust and the Distress Support Fund, meant to provide a buffer for nationals, equate to the finance minister’s utterances of “mendicants”.

From now on persons who cannot afford and/or get insurance, dysfunctional and broken homes may have to pledge loyalty to the minister of finance and /or his own fantasy.

Who knew this would have been the preferred kaleidoscope to administer servitude?

Observations

Many experts are convinced government vision and mission, management and leadership that claim to represent the people have become a practical joke.

The trade-off here speaks to the importance of understanding a development vision precious expressed in my writings on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), climate change adaptation, renewable energy and innovation.

“The extracts from this evolution is the opportunity for a unique growth model and comparative technologically advantage to drive modern services, agriculture, (agri-business and reducing the food import bill) manufacturing, engineering transportation and expand export growth.

“Similar, comparative advantage in research and development (R&D) can lead to demand and expansion. At the same time this will generate high quality jobs and a better quality of life.”

Yet again, exchange and dysfunction are quite apparent. “One would think, the anticipated opening of two new hospitals, a mental wellness centre already in operation, health facilities and medical schools on the island, that present opportunities for strategic partnerships between business and academia, research and development as well as an expansion proposition to create a thriving life sciences business hub would be aggressively pursued.”

But consider the foreword of the 2017/18 estimates of revenue and expenditure:

“The ultimate is goal is to ensure that our expenditure policies will significantly improve our growth prospects for the next 10 years.”

“The information is unaudited and as such is subject to revision.”


In this context the Chastanet-led administration’s ideological rhetoric is the fifth Judo in the face of uncertainty on tax and trade, crime and security, government deficit dry cry, a Robin Hood classic, no different from that which constantly takes from Peter to pay Paul and is adverse to economic connectivity and long-term stability for Saint Lucia.

And while tax reform is much needed, government is far off to accomplish a base-broadening, revenue-neutral system, increase operational efficiency, and capable of re-engineering vast tax concessions that slip back overseas.

Conclusion

A lot rests on the policy proposition scheduled for Tuesday, May 9, not excluding, regime change, albeit a cabinet minister who is technically bankrupt has lost the voice of reason, to live in agony. On that basis, another cabinet minister pleads: “I don’t want the government to fall. I need my pension.”

Saint Lucia is much bigger than what passes for governance. The call for nationalism is now and a conscious decision to build a nation of prosperity is serious and business. Or else, there will be no generational transfer and transfer of wealth for future generations – except a very hefty tax bill for life.
 
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