It’s Time For Change.
In my days at primary school, I was introduced to the word – tautology. The word has stuck with me ever since. The word is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as – ‘saying the same thing twice over in different words’. I am leaning to accept that we have a phenomenon called ‘budgetary tautology’ in Saint Lucia. If you were to read the Budget Addresses over the last 20 years, you will be surprised to see the series of repetitions contained in these presentations.
This phenomenon speaks to the disjointed way we have pursued development and the need for a coherent and comprehensive approach going forward. We have been developing our country in ‘silos of budgetary cycles’, with one budget not being linked to the other. So you would hear the Minister of Finance speak of the plans of a Ministry in a Budget Address in one year and the objectives were not achieved in that year and then the following year, the same Ministry abandons these plans that were never implemented and pursues a different policy.
If we were to say that all the policy objectives in the last twenty Budget Addresses would be collated and then reviewed to determine present relevance, we would have an excellent Policy Document to chart our future. There are some excellent ideas that were just lost in the silos of budgetary cycles.
I decided to go back ten years to the Budget Address of 2004/5 and test the hypothesis. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony was Minister of Finance. The following are the policy objectives as outline in that Budget address.
The hosting of the World Cup was of primary concern, and the objective was to move the number of hotel beds on the island from 4,500 to 7,500, an increase of 3000 or close to 66%. A special package of incentives was approved, which were very similar to the recent Tourism Incentive and Stimulus Act. A Tourism Fact Sheet developed by Invest St Lucia shows that in 2013, the number of rooms in St Lucia stood at 4,303.
It means that there has been no growth in the number of rooms in the last 10 years. Of greater significance to the tourism Industry, is the fact that every hotel development started in the last 10 years has failed, a most startling statistic. It means that the Ministry of Tourism, Invest St Lucia and the St Lucia Tourist Board must begin to look at the reasons for the preponderance of failed projects in the tourism sector in St Lucia. Not only are we having failures during the construction phase, but the failures continue during operations. In that 10 year period we have seen the collapse of Almond Morgan Bay, Almond Smuggler’s Cove, Cotton Bay, Rainbow, Caribbes, Landings, Discovery, fortunately for us we were able to attract new owners for most of these hotels.
In the health sector, there was the announcement of the introduction of the Universal Health Care. The government was advised by the Task Force that it would cost $ 5.2 million to set up the Universal Health Care system. It was announced in that 2004-2005 budget that a loan was approved in principle to meet the start up cost of the UHC system. Ten years on the UHC is as relevant to the health sector.
The Budget Address of 2004 -2005 spoke to the establishment of a Forensic Laboratory. The building was constructed; however it appears that the organizational structure is still not in place. On national security, the budget spoke about a sum of $ 800,000 for the procurement of the following:
• Stun Guns for the Police in apprehending criminals and less dangerous suspects
• Breathalyzers for measuring alcohol levels
Both are good ideas, however I am unware of the use of stun guns and breathalyzers within the Police Force.
There was also mention of the establishment of a Criminal Division of the High Court. The intention was to end the system of periodic assizes and to establish the Criminal Division of the High Court to provide year-round hearing of criminal cases by the High Court. An excellent idea, that is still in hibernation.
On the prospects for reducing unemployment the following was posited;
1. Assigning priority to the reopening of the major hotels
2. Accelerating investment in public sector construction
3. Deepening investment in Tourism
4. Pursuing investment in the Information technology sector
5. Increasing opportunities for self employment by liberalizing access to credit.
The entire above are still relevant in 2015.
We cannot continue in this cycle and thus we have to move to Performance Based Budgeting. With PBB we begin to focus on accountability. The following are some of the known advantages:
A performance budget has the following characteristics:
• It presents the major purpose for which funds are allocated and sets measurable objectives.
• It tends to focus on changes in funding rather than on the base (the amount appropriated for the previous budget cycle).
• It identifies programmes and government departments that are seeking similar outcomes, thereby drawing such inter-relationships to the legislature’s attention.
• It offers government departments the flexibility to reallocate money when conditions merit, rewarding achievement and possibly imposing sanctions for poor performance.
It is time for change in our budgets.
St Lucia lost one of its foremost architects in Claude Guillaume this week. I have known Claude for over 20 years, having worked with him on several projects. We last spoke when he called from his sick bed in the USA inquiring about the status of a project that we were working on together, such is the commitment and professionalism of the man. Claude, I salute your work, your professionalism, your wonderful geniality. I am sure you are now enjoying the discourses in heaven on architecture, with your maker.