By Alexis B. Montgomery
THIS SLP Government owes it to Saint Lucia to deliver on the grandiose promises that had been proffered to an electorate that would bring positive change, create increased opportunities, build optimism, attract greater economic prospects, promote the greatest level of transparency and facilitate overall a higher standard of living for Saint Lucians – in short, they called it “Better Days”.
Three years later, instead of basking in jobs, jobs, jobs, prosperity, money, foreign direct investment, a private sector boom, employment opportunities and a well-oiled economy– the government is running the country on “E” – Empty. Why is that so? The answer is simple. Labour came into office by pulling off a brilliant charade. They had neither the answers nor the solutions that the country needed then and obviously, they do not have them now. But they sure made the voters think they did. Give it to them, this ability to entice and mesmerize has been and remains the true hallmarks of the Labour Party and probably their greatest and only feat since coming into office in 2011.
Inspiring hope is one of the most significant roles a government should undertake by keeping its faith with the people. This government is fully aware of the debilitating effects of a contracting economy, stagnated salaries, depleted disposable incomes, increasing taxes, VAT, unemployment, diminishing incentives and concessions, a strenuous and opaquely adjusted three week market pass through fuel mechanism, very costly, vindictive government lawsuits and questionable deals, and scandals – not to mention the never –ending scourge of ongoing senseless criminality. Undoubtedly the Kenny Anthony crew realizes that the cadence and mood of this country would not be this sombre if they were doing an average good job of running things. Many people believe this administration is simply depriving the country of much needed hope and optimism.
To their credit, the Kenny Anthony Government has made some lame attempts to make the country believe that they have the luxury of options from which to choose a path to the evasive “Better Days”. It appears that the “blue print for growth”, along with “Better Days” predictions are not just permanently misplaced documents but also had never been intended for implementation. For them, (SLP) it was mainly about winning an election. Nothing more.
So we ask: can a government that is bereft of answers to meet its own economic objectives “to put the nation’s finances in order” truly provide options for addressing national issues? Well, this government has attempted to do so, while relying heavily on their perennial spin cycle.
In June 2014 Dr. Kenny Anthony attempted to provide options to ostensibly slacken the tightening grip of hardship on the nation by using the public servants.
In June last year, in an address entitled “Facing the Options” the island’s leader said:
“THE AVAILABLE OPTIONS – Therefore, unfortunately, the only way in which we can get the reduction in current expenditure that we need to put our fiscal situation back on a viable path is to make a cut in salaries and wages across the board. Three different scenarios were developed. The first seeks to achieve a savings of $37 million, which, if you will recall, is slightly less than half of our recurrent financing gap. To realize these savings, we would need to make a 10% reduction in salaries and wages across the board or send home a total of 990 public officers. The second option, which would give us savings of $26 million, would require a 7% reduction in salaries and wages or the retrenchment of 696 workers. However, it would still leave a financing gap of $50 million. The third option is for a 5% adjustment in salaries and wages, which gives savings of $18.5 million, but leaves a financing gap in recurrent expenditure of $57.5 million. If the decision is not to embark on a 5% wage adjustment, we would have to terminate the employment of 495 workers. We have said to the unions and associations that government does not want or intend to retrench any workers unless it is placed in a position where it has no other option. We already have a high unemployment problem to deal with and sending workers home only worsens that situation. We think this is a time when all should be willing to make a small sacrifice to preserve the jobs of their fellow workers.”
The unions viewed the rhetoric as an act of intimidation and use of scare tactics by the government. It is just over a year later, and just this week a union spokesperson implied that through negotiations the government has finally agreed to relinquish the heartless five percent pay cut proposal.
This was a callous proposal, coming from a government that promised a rose garden; a clearly defined case of bankruptcy of ideas as regards providing so-called sound and proven leadership. This is a sad commentary on Prime Minister Anthony’s approach to coping with national challenges. It was a proposal that would prevent civil servants from meeting the basic needs of their families – food, clothing and shelter and without question would cripple lives in immeasurable ways. Public servants should never permit themselves to undermine this threat to their livelihoods that was averted only by the persistence and tenacity of the Civil Service Association.
The island’s challenges have been seriously exacerbated since the entry of this Labour government into office. Perhaps it is time to cut this administration some slack; they have been trying to confess the dismal state of the “Better Days” team and the apparently incompetent think tank this administration relies on. All they seem efficient at doing is devising ways and means aimed at making the people fix the country’s economic problems, make the sacrifices and find the solutions all by themselves, while “Team Better Days” will of course reap the credit. Is that how it was supposed to be Mr. Prime Minister?
It is well known that one leading workers’ union staunchly resisted those unconscionable so called options for good reason. They did so while some other influential public sector unions caved in, by agreeing to a wage freeze, and even considering that baffling five percent pay cut. This union had the integrity to step in to protect public sector workers from the government. What a shame, because the Labour government should have the best interest of the worker at heart.
Interestingly, when certain sections of the public raised their voices to object to the incessant belt tightening options of the Prime Minister and his “Better Days” team, by suggesting that they likewise demonstrate a willingness to make sacrifices, the Prime Minister in this same address: “Facing the Options”, quickly debunked that argument, making it clear that his government’s pocketbooks are no access zones. Here is what he said
“Let us take the roughly $7,761 monthly salary paid to a Minister of Government as a benchmark. As explained earlier, between 1997 and 2013, public officers have received salary increases amounting to 39.5%. However, the salaries of Ministers have remained unchanged since 1998. This is why every Grade 19 Public Officer, or everyone at the level of deputy Permanent Secretary, currently makes over $10,000 annually, more than a Minister. That gap gets much wider when you compare the salaries of Ministers and Permanent Secretaries. So the suggestion that by taking a bigger chunk out of the salaries of Ministers or reducing the number of Ministers we can solve or help solve our fiscal problem is at best misguided and at worst, innumeracy.”
The Prime Minister could have only been insinuating that only Jane and Joe Public are expected to tighten their belts whilst he explores ways to bring into fruition his government’s over exaggerated, unrealistic election promises. This Labour administration and sycophants appear to be deemed untouchables, excluded or perhaps buffered from feeling the true brunt of their own failures in government.
“Team Better Days” has put on an abysmal performance and their record confirms that assertion. They have not delivered those “Better Days” and that amounts to a breach of contract with the electorate. Nevertheless, their days at the helm of this country are thankfully numbered because: “you can fool some of the people, some of the time but you cannot fool all the people, all of the time, for they have seen the light.”