By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate managing editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia – In response to Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s budget address, leader of the opposition, Philip J Pierre, pointed to the model of imperial governance and adherence to “economic treason” in the absence of “economic policy, good governance, fairness and equity for all,” and “conversely, when there is an absence of good governance corruption is alive and well.”
“Others are fed-up with the governance of the country as they see a government where scandals abound-they await the next cover-up,” Pierre said, pointing to the “ review of the economy commissioned by the United Workers Party (UWP) that there was improvement in fiscal performance over the years 2012-2016, however, the prime minister refuses to accept instead he prefers to perform economic treason by stating that the country experienced cumulative economic growth under the UWP.”
Pierre explained in parliament that “economic growth is measured on an average basis or for a fixed time period. It is never added and stated in total. It’s the same way the prime minister added deficits in a previous statement. This is never done in any serious discussion of economies.”
“Every year we hear of fiscal responsibility legislation that will ensure accountability. However, the government continues to award contracts of millions of dollars by direct awards while a procurement bill already passed in parliament remains not assented by the governor general.”
Saint Lucia’s public debt is over $3 billion and according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) 2018 report it is projected to reach 81.3 percent of GDP in 2023. The IMF declared that a fiscal adjustment of 2.7 percent of GDP was needed to attain the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) debt target of 60 percent of GDP by 2030. The IMF advised among other measures use of citizenship by investment (CIP) revenue for building “a savings fund for natural disasters of 5 percent of GDP by 2021.
Pierre added: “The feeling of hopelessness, fear and insecurity aboards. The government of Saint Lucia will have by the end of this financial year borrowed or refinanced nearly $1 billion’ worth of loans since assuming power in 2016. Current trends may see that national debt including guaranteed debt reaching almost 4 billion by the end of the fiscal year 2019/2020.
“Saint Lucia is in danger of experiencing the same kind of debt crisis which has derailed the growth and development of other Caribbean islands with disastrous consequences for the quality of life of the people.”
“This budget does not address the voices of genuine concern being expressed by the majority of Saint Lucians. The government must ensure that the public receives value for money” relative to the 2019/20 budget, government legislative agenda, and financial legislation that according to the prime minister “will control debt accumulation by government,” Pierre said.
The prime minister “has refused to act when ministers of his cabinet issue ‘to whom it may concern’ letters seeking finance that will increase debt” and or “agreed to enter into a contractual agreement with PAJOAH’s limited and associates; meanwhile the minister in question, has not suggested forgery and nor has he been clear that the letter was not written by him,” Pierre continued.
Former prime minister and member for Castries North, Stephenson King, in his answer to questions from the press about the letter in question, “which was written on the official letterhead of government from the ministry of economic development, he agreed that if the letter were authentic then the minister should be disciplined because he would have been in breach of the ministerial code of conduct.” Minister Guy Joseph has been publicly accused of offering bribes to former prime minister King and Richard Frederick in the 2006-2011 UWP administration.
“More disturbing,” Pierre said, “the accused minister has made no effort to protect his name. There can only be two interpretations of the accused minister’s inaction. He either does not care about his public image, which is a worrying sign as a public officer, or he is guilty of the accusation of bribery.”
The prime minister’s budget address outlined “government plans to merge the National Lottery into the Gaming Authority to handle the regulatory aspects of the Lottery also fits into this vision,[ sports development]” but “I believe” Pierre said, “that is to allow his adventure into horse race gambling.” And questioned, “Who will regulate the business of gambling in Saint Lucia if the operators are also regulators?”
“There can be no meaningful economic prosperity for all in that environment,” Pierre stated, citing governance that is inherent to ‘economic terrorism’ and ‘treason’, caught in their own malignant and paranoid squabbles.
Regarding major infrastructure projects, Pierre stated: “We support the improvement of the airport because it is necessary to meet the demands and standards of an international airport. Our disagreement with the government is with the financing arrangements of the improvements.”
“We believe that a loan of US$175 million is an unnecessary burden on the people of Saint Lucia when a debt-free alternative was available. Hundreds of airports are being constructed using the public-private partnership (PPP, 3P or P3) model, including the Norman Manley International Airport, Jamaica and the Barbados government is seeking a PPP arrangement for its airport.”
“Given Saint Lucia’s limited fiscal space it is highly irresponsible to take on debt when it can be avoided and make it more difficult and expensive to secure funding for vital sectors like health and education,” he said.
Pierre also illustrated that: “In the estimates of revenue and expenditure presented the government intends to spend EC$25million on the St Jude Hospital reconstruction project in the next financial year; however, the prime minister states that US$30 million will be used.
“Further, the estimates do not reflect the $275 million worth of borrowing approval by the Saint Lucia parliament during the last fiscal year, but only $197million is reflected in the estimates.
I have no confidence in the budget presented by the prime minister,” Pierre concluded, adding that, “The promised change is nowhere to be found. This budget is yet another heap of empty promises with no focus, but only reveals the inept, empty and incompetent nature of the government of the UWP,” Pierre concluded.
“Our country must be for the many, not the few. Government policy must be aimed at improving lives, not dividends or profits,” he said.