POLITICAL Leader of the United Workers Party (UWP), Allen Chastanet, has issued a renewed call for the government to address what he says are several outstanding factors responsible for the local economy’s poor performance. Moreover, Chastanet says the current Minister for Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Kenny Anthony, should be replaced.
Chastanet made the unflattering remarks about the current Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration last Wednesday during a press conference held in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. Citing the recent World Bank’s 2015 “Ease of Doing Business Report” which ranks Saint Lucia at fifth place in CARICOM, Chastanet said the government had done poorly to maintain its number one position in the region. Once ranked at number one in the region, Saint Lucia’s worldwide ranking among the 189 countries cited in the report has slipped from 100th place to 95th place. Just five years ago, the island was ranked 45th worldwide.
“We’re very concerned right now that we’ve seen a report by the IMF (which states) that the economy has contracted by another 1.1% this year,” Chastanet told reporters. “We heard no statements by the government to clarify this statement or actually what the position is. We’ve also not seen any unemployment reports since Budget of last year and our understanding is that several financial institutions in this country have had massive layoffs. Major companies have also had job layoffs. We’ve heard no comments by the government. As of last year, we had lost 4,000 jobs since this government had come into office.”
The IMF report also states that Saint Lucia’s economy is expected to experience a 1.7% growth next year. Moreover, the report states that “starting a business here requires five procedures, takes five days, costs 17.8% of income per capita and requires paid-n minimum capital of 0% of income per capita.”
Chastanet accused the government of doing poorly at explaining to Saint Lucians what the real state of the economy is and what concrete measures are being employed to steer the economy out of its present situation.
“By this time I would have expected that we should have seen a revision of last year’s performance. Remember that last year (the economy) contracted by 2.4%. So it means now that we’ve had three consecutive years of contraction. In economics, if you’ve had three quarters of contraction, that’s considered to be a recession,” Chastanet said.
The UWP Political Leader said government needs to convene a special Parliamentary session as was done for Ebola to discuss specifically what measures need to be taken to ensure a turnaround of the local economy. He also chastised the current administration for having special sessions with the private sector without inviting the Opposition to give its input. Chastanet said that while the Opposition is being blamed for not coming up with solutions to the problems, they (the Opposition) are being left out of crucial decision-making meetings.
“The government needs to face up to the fact now that we are in a crisis and this hiding cannot go on for any longer. We need to know how we’re going to solve this problem because from what we’re seeing, we believe there’s been a further contraction in tax revenues. In meeting with Customs and other entities within government that raise money, they’re all saying that their quotas are down. So where is the money coming from to finance this government?” Chastanet said.
Chastanet said that based on sentiments expressed to him by sections of the populace he speaks with, Dr. Anthony’s performance as Minister for Finance and Economic Development has come into question. He added that given the lengthy period of experience Dr. Anthony would have had in such a capacity, the results have not been promising.
“The present Minister for Finance has been in that position for (many) years in this country and I think that maybe 10% of the time that he’s been in there he has something positive to report. The remainder of the time has seen contractions and bad performance.”
When asked what a UWP government would have done in the present situation, Chastanet said a freeze on government expenditure and an improvement of the efficiency and effectiveness of existing spending would be in order. Another priority, he said, would be to revise the number of people who have consultancies as well as the Ministry of External Affairs’ budget.
“The next thing we have to do is freeze debt… You’ve also got to do things to be able to stimulate investment. We’ve said repeatedly that the new incentive bills they recently passed for the agriculture and tourism sectors and Invest Saint Lucia are going to amount to nothing because they’re not competitive with what’s taking place today,” Chastanet explained.