By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — On the heels of earlier calls on Prime Minister Allen Chastanet by the opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) to explain what happened to approximately US$20 million in citizenship by investment programme (CIP) donations, SLP member of parliament, Shawn Edward, demanded an explanation of the use of approximately EC$17 million in national lotteries revenue.
According to Edward, since coming to office in June 2016, the United Workers Party (UWP) government has collected the money via the National Lotteries Authority (NLA) Act, which can only be used for youth development and sports, not road rehabilitation, airport development or disaster relief.
The SLP said it is extremely disappointed with the current state of affairs in the youth and sports fraternity of Saint Lucia, after the UWP promised so much to the young people of Saint Lucia during the campaign leading up to the 2016 general elections.
“The current condition of community sporting infrastructure – playing fields in particular – is totally unacceptable. The number of abandoned playing fields in Saint Lucia today is not an indictment of the government but very importantly, it is a demonstration of the cluelessness and the blatant disregard for sport as a vehicle for national development and also critically the condescending manner in which the young sports men and women in our country are viewed in contrast to some foreigners and highly suspicious characters who masquerade in/under the guise of investment/investors,” Edward said.
“In light of the foregoing, the question must be asked to what use is the NLA revenue being put?” he added.
The issue of sporting facilities in Saint Lucia has recently become a matter of intense debate in the country after a Cabinet document was leaked reflecting the award of a ‘no-bid’ US$12 million “sports consultancy” contract to one of Chastanet’s friends and cronies, Don Lockerbie, as well as the ongoing failure by the government to address the almost ten-year ‘temporary’ use of a local sports stadium as a hospital.
Meanwhile, the recent announcement that the World Bank has approved a US$20 million loan to the government of Saint Lucia to extend and expand health coverage in the island has added fuel to the debate, with questions being asked as to the point of borrowing money for health coverage when the health care infrastructure is itself in crisis.
Moses Jn Baptiste, SLP chairman and spokesman on health, noted that the vast majority of Saint Lucians do not have the resources to access the health systems of the United States, Martinique or other countries, while the government is negotiating with a Cayman Islands health care company to take over a European Union-financed hospital.
“We believe that the Cabinet of ministers is acting in their own self-interest and are pursuing secret deals with foreign companies to take over our health system in a ‘wholesale’ manner,” Jn Baptiste said.
Opposition leader Philip J Pierre has made it very clear that when the SLP is returned to power in Saint Lucia, it will seek to undo any arrangement entered into by the current government that seeks to privatise the Owen King EU (OKEU) hospital, which was funded by the EU.
An open letter was also written to the EU Commission stating, “We do not want or accept privatisation of the hospital built by the EU in Saint Lucia.”
Recently, Pierre called on Chastanet, as the minister of finance, to exercise fiscal responsibility and halt the borrowing that the government is pursuing, which will increase the national debt to over EC$3.5 billion by the end of the fiscal year.
Then there is the legal requirement to present the financial obligations on the US$20 million credit from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) to parliament for approval.
Pierre noted that the government has provided no details of the World Bank loan.
“However, we hope that a loan from the World Bank will not be used to fund private business,” he said.
“We will never oppose any initiative to improve healthcare in the country. We believe in universal healthcare, affordable and quality healthcare for all the people of Saint Lucia. Our problem is information, and we hope that taxpayers’ money, which will repay the loan, will not be used to fund private foreign enterprise,” he added.