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St. Lucia Opposition Leader Critical Of Government’s Budget Proposals

St. Lucia Opposition Leader, Phillip J. Pierre, speaks in parliament. Photo credit: CMC.

St. Lucia Opposition Leader Critical Of Government’s Budget Proposals

CASTRIES, St. Lucia, April 17, 2019 (CMC) – Opposition Leader, Phillip J. Pierre, said that the EC$1.59 billion budget, presented by Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, “does not address the voices of genuine concern, being expressed by the majority of St. Lucians”.

Pierre, responding to the fiscal package that Chastanet brought to the Parliament, earlier this week, said the hopes and dreams and aspirations of St. Lucians, “cannot be fulfilled by this government, and it is time that the government faces the reality that they cannot deliver what the people expect from their government”.

“It’s a St. Lucia, where health care is getting worse, cost of living is increasing, and people have no confidence that the government is transparent in its dealings, and will be fair and equitable.  It’s a St. Lucia, where the people were promised a reduction in value added tax (VAT), with a view to its elimination,” Pierre noted.

But, Pierre said, the island has only seen VAT reduced by 2.5 percent and fuel taxes increased by 60 percent.

“Mr Speaker, the budget presentation, of the Prime Minister, was simply a repetition of the other two budgets presented.  It contained the same promise of hotels, DSH, Port Development and changes in the financial architecture.  Mr Speaker, none of that has happened,” the opposition leader outlined.

Pierre added that the budget is yet another heap of empty promises.

“This budget is a par-ici-par-la budget, with no focus, but only reveals the inept, empty and incompetent nature of the government of the United Workers Party (UWP),” Pierre said, adding that a new St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) government would offer St. Lucians a new developmental focus, within an enabling policy and program environment that will ensure poverty reduction, through the promotion and encouragement of a multiplicity of micro, small and medium-sized businesses.

He said that the SLP program would include an integrated, rural development program to help stem some of the rural-urban drift that causes the increasing unemployment, particularly among the youth.

There would be a  new entrepreneurial culture to enable the expansion of existing enterprises and creation of new ones, a  far reaching reform of the education, training and human development institutions, and improving business facilitation, with the aim of making St. Lucia the best place to do business in the Caribbean, Pierre promised.

Pierre explained that there would be the establishment of at least one new major economic sector and that the party would be creative, and offer effective communication, information sharing and community engagement that allows ownership and acceptance of the policies and processes, by St. Lucians.

He said that the SLP is committed to pursuing a green economy, as one of the pillars for inclusive economic growth, sustainable development and prosperity for all St. Lucians.

“We will ensure a national understanding and commitment, by sharing, explaining and embracing ideas and strategies that would promote the Green economy model. The St. Lucia Labour Party will make a concerted effort to develop an economy, with special opportunities for the youth to develop and expand their entrepreneurial talents.”

In his budget response, the Opposition Leader said that annually, the country is told of the need for 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,” Pierre related, noting that all economic policy must be practiced in an atmosphere that fosters good governance, fairness and equity for all.

“The people must believe that the system is managed properly and there are adequate checks and balances that will ensure proper ethical practices,” Pierre elaborated, adding that the antidote for corruption is good governance.

“Conversely, when there is an absence of good governance, corruption is alive and well.  Good governance must transcend partisan politics.  Good governance is about securing public safety, good public education, affordable health care and responsible debt management.”

Pierre promised that a St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) government would strengthen the integrity in public office legislation.

“The strengthened legislation will ensure there are sanctions against public officials, involved in corruption. Mr. Speaker, this process will commence, while we are in opposition, so that the people of St. Lucia will see the determination of my party to stamp out corruption in government,” he said.

The Opposition Leader said that recent political economic history will show that most Caribbean islands have had to undergo structural adjustment programs or home-grown austerity measures, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to stabilize their economies to avert economic ruin.

He said that these austerity measures have always reduced social, health and educational expenses, causing hardship to large sections of the population, particularly the lower income groups, pointing out that in each individual case, the constant factor has been unsustainable high public debt.

Pierre said that in St. Lucia, the public debt is over three billion dollars and, according to the IMF 2018 report, it is projected to reach 81.3 percent of GDP in 2023.

He added that by the end of last year, the official stock of public debt increased by 4.1 percent to EC$3.3 billion.

Pierre said that this year, it is estimated that the public debt will increase to over EC$400 million, which he noted does not reflect the EC$275 million worth of borrowing, approved by the St. Lucia Parliament, during the last fiscal year.

“Current trends, Mr Speaker, may see that national debt, including guaranteed debt, reaching nearly four billion dollars by the end of the fiscal year 2019/2020,” he said, adding that the SLP would not want the island to have to undergo any more painful restructuring, because of reckless election borrowing, from a government that has not implemented one viable economic project, since its win in 2016.

“Mr Speaker, excessive debt is not only our responsibility but a burden for our children and generations, yet to be born.  It is our duty to be responsible.  St. 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 crisis has to be averted and the St. Lucia Labour Party, when in government, will design a creative, transparent set of private-public sector partnerships, the avoidance of fiscal excesses, wastage, and corruption, and an imaginative growth program that will improve the fiscal position of our country.”

Pierre said that Prime Minister Chastanet, in his budget presentation, did not elaborate on the fiscal measures relating to the taxes on the tourism sector.

“The St. Lucia Labour Party calls for some consultation and that consideration be given to the small hotel sector, when the final computations are made.  The measures must not be unduly beneficial to large properties that have the benefit of sophisticated accounting procedures.

“Mr Speaker, the re-introduction of property tax must take into consideration the hundreds of house owners, who do not have the disposable income available to incur any more taxes,” he added.

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