With a general election expected here either this year or very early next year, the biggest challenge facing the main political parties is reducing unemployment to acceptable levels and not necessarily getting the country out of its four straight years of very low or negative economic growth.
The two are not necessarily interconnected meaning that positive growth does not automatically mean a reduction in the unemployment. Neither does negative growth automatically mean an upsurge in unemployment. As has been shown since the government took office in November 2011, its heavy injection of funds into several short term employment initiatives has not brought down the unemployment figures to satisfactory levels at all.
This is clearly seen in the just compiled figures released by the government’s statistical department for 2014. Last year’s figures are still being worked on by the department and so are unavailable at this time.
Unemployment figures for the first quarter of 2014 was 23.8%. It rose to 25.4% the following quarter, moved slightly downward by the third quarter to 24.8%. Then itself to 23.6% in the fourth quarter.
Both the United Workers Party and the Saint Lucia Labour Party have been unable to reduce unemployment in this country. However both, when in opposition always use high unemployment figures as proof that the government is inept at managing the affairs of the country.
When the SLP was in opposition it consistently made it known that the management of the country’s economy was steadily being neglected.
“We see no concern for the increasing unemployment and deprivation that is beginning to characterize our rural areas……..
‘This wicked and uncaring government has removed all the social and employment programmes that were available to help our citizens get over these difficult times…” Alva Baptiste said back in 2010.
And over the past two years the present opposition under Allen Chastanet has been holding public meetings throughout the country underlining what it says are the two main deficiencies of the present SLP government, which are its inability to reduce unemployment and manage the economy effectively.
Not that the UWP can reduce unemployment as the figures from the government statistics office showed while that party held the reins of power between 2007 – 2011.
In the first quarter of 2007 unemployment was 13.6%, moving slightly to 13.7% in the second quarter and 13.9% in the third quarter. It jumped to 14.6% in the fourth quarter of that year. It remained steady in the first and second quarters of 2008, however jumped to 16.9% in the third quarter, settling at 16.8% in the fourth quarter.
The year 2009 saw a steady increase in the unemployment to 17.4% in the first quarter, 18% in the second quarter, 16.6% in the third quarter and 20.5% in the last quarter.
The years 2010 and 2011 saw the unemployment figures touching the 20% mark ending at 22% in 2011.
There are no figures as yet for last year, but one can safely say that with what the government faced this past year, added with reports from business people across the board, that the unemployment figures for 2015, whenever they are released, will not provide much of a comfort for the government.
Maybe the party that can best convince the people of its ability to lower unemployment to acceptable levels could be the one to win their trust at the next general election.