PRESS RELEASE – In his maiden Budget Address on Tuesday, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet assured Saint Lucians that the United Workers Party Government would not let them down and that since being elected into office on June 6, 2016 the Government has been working on ways to rescue the economy.
The Prime Minister presented Government’s vision for Saint Lucia and laid out the roadmap for the country. He stated that Saint Lucia would first have to rid itself of low growth, high public debt and fiscal deficits, high unemployment, low productivity, lack of competitiveness, structural problems in the labour market and the high costs of doing business.
“We are determined to lift Saint Lucia out of this economic quagmire by taking the necessary tough policy decisions required to lead us back onto a trajectory of higher growth, sustainable debt, high levels of investment, low unemployment and an improved standard of living,” said the Prime Minister.
He added: “I have listened to many Saint Lucians (from) all walks of life and I feel inspired by them. I know that they are willing to partner with us in making the changes required to make Saint Lucia a prosperous economy . . . This budget will lay the foundation for the implementation of the programmes, projects and policies which my Government intends to implement over the next four years to make Saint Lucia the success story of the Caribbean.”
The Prime Minister’s presentation began with a review of the country’s economic performance where for the past ten years (from 2006 to 2016), the overall economy has been growing at an average rate of 1.3%.
In terms of unemployment, he lamented that: “Over the past decade, our unemployment rate has increased significantly from 14% in 2007 to above 20% where it has stubbornly remained. Youth unemployment has followed a similar trend and has remained extremely high at 43.1%. It is an extremely sad reality that over one-fifth — or 20 % — of our productive labour force is unemployed and, by extension, Madam Speaker, this implies unemployed capital in that scenario. This, in effect, means that we have substantial capacity for expansion, growth and development.”
It was time for Saint Lucia to turn the tide, he noted: “We are at a critical juncture in our development journey. We can either choose to act decisively to effect real change in our country or we can continue to plod an old familiar path to nowhere. We can find ways to harness the energy and industry of the majority of our people. We can seek to utilize and unleash their creativity and talents. Or we can allow the minority to continue to paint this sad face of Saint Lucia and we self-destruct as a direct consequence of the inaction of the majority. Our Government has chosen the path of change. We are committed to building a new Saint Lucia, with citizens who are humble and proud, committed to excellence and accepting of all people, thoughts and ideas. We relish the challenge of creating a society that is competitive, productive and inclusive.”
The new vision for Saint Lucia will require fundamental and structural changes in the economy, Chastanet said.
“Our approach will engage all sectors of our society and be based on dialogue,” said Chastanet, adding that the strategic areas of focus are Creating Sustainable Employment, Reengineering Social Services, Reforming Government to make it more responsive to the business community and citizens, Improving Security and Justice, Building Capacity in Renewable Energy and Adapting to Climate Change.
CREATING SUSTAINABLE EMPLOYMENT
When it comes to creating sustainable employment, the Government pledged to work towards an unemployment rate of no more than 15% by 2021.
“Investments within the coming months will create employment throughout the island, particularly in the sectors of tourism, agriculture and construction. There will be comprehensive incentives package which will create employment within the private sector and provide much needed support to businesses within Saint Lucia,” noted the Prime Minister.
Tourism projects include: The Harbour Club, Fairmont Saint Lucia Resort, The Curio by Hilton, Range Developments (Black Bay), Sandals Resorts International — all poised to create more rooms for Saint Lucia and thousands of jobs.
Another major project which the Prime Minister spoke about was the DSH ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’, which will transform Vieux Fort.
“No longer will high rates of joblessness plague Vieux Fort and no longer will the people of the south feel like abandoned children. This project will also make use of under-utilised lands in the south, particularly in Beausejour, and create several ancillary industries and linkages with existing businesses. The opportunities this project presents are endless and our Government is grateful to the developer for expressing this level of confidence in our country and in our Government to make such a large-scale investment here. We welcome this development and look forward to the job opportunities it will provide to our young people, particularly those from the south,” the Prime Minister said.
Chastanet also stressed focus the need to on increasing the number of 3-star properties on the island to spur investment. Village Tourism will also be a priority with villages being uniquely themed and development plans established in a participatory manner which address the villages’ infrastructure, culinary assets, architecture and capacity. This is in support of expansion of the shared economy in much the same way that Gros Islet continues to benefit from village tourism.
The Prime Minister spoke about the National Apprenticeship Programme (NAP), which will provide financial support for people in hospitality training.
“Once these persons have successfully completed their programmes, they will be eligible for employment with many of the major cruise lines,” he said. “Government has partnered with OJO Labs International to develop an artificial intelligence training and call centre to market and sell the products, services, software and technology of OJO and its clients, including the fastest-growing real estate company in the United States.”
Chastanet also outlined plans for the agriculture sector: “Our Government will create the environment to enable the private sector to participate in the development of the agriculture sector and foster a commercialized approach to livestock rearing, fresh produce farming, and fishing.”
Also in sharp focus are Banana Resuscitation, Banana Productivity Improvement and Agricultural Diversification.
REENGINEERING SOCIAL SERVICES
Chastanet noted that the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Culture and Local Government and Youth Development and Sports has been tasked with the responsibility of bringing life to re-engineering social services.
“At the core of this new system for administration of services and programmes within this sector is the Local Government Authority. Every intervention, every extension service must now be placed within that context. It means our Social Transformation Officer, our Family Case Worker, our Youth and Sports Officer all must work within the framework of that local government jurisdiction and the same must apply to those agencies like SSDF, Belfund and CDF. Our government will develop the After-school Programme as the model to demonstrate this new arrangement. In recent times, this programme has been regarded as a stand-alone intervention, administered through the Community Services/Development Unit, but we recognize that there is the potential to realise even more significant benefits.”
The Prime Minister also spoke extensively about education and health reform.
REFORMING GOVERNMENT TO MAKE IT MORE RESPONSIVE TO THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY AND CITIZENS
He took the opportunity on Tuesday to inform about the Inland Revenue Department’s Electronic Payment Platform which went live as of March 21, 2017.
“I mentioned earlier that there was a need to improve productivity economy-wide if we are to build a competitive and robust economy. This will no doubt require a comprehensive re-engineering of the public service given its size and influence on the rest of the economy. The public service continues to operate as it did in the 1980s. Since then the world has changed dramatically but the public service has continued to operate “business as usual”, being guided by the Staff Orders for the Public Service of Saint Lucia issued in the 1980s.”
“The Public Service of today must be fixed,” noted the Prime Minister, adding that many services ought to be accessible and available 24 hours a day. “In order for this to happen, there must be comprehensive changes in the legislation, the accountability systems, and the introduction of relevant ICT.”
IMPROVING SECURITY AND JUSTICE
“This Government will work to improve the administration of justice and the security of our country,” noted the Prime Minister. “Saint Lucia’s courts have been without a home for some time, which has resulted in delays in the hearing of cases and the rising remand population in the prisons.”
He said the Courts will be temporarily relocated to the grounds of the National Cultural Centre.
“A temporary structure will be erected to house the Family Court, First District Court, the High Court, Magistrates Court and the Offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions while the National Cultural Centre will be relocated to an alternative location,” he said.
Chastanet spoke about support to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the re-opening of the Forensic Science Laboratory. The Government also pledged to increase the resources of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force by training 46 recruits and providing additional vehicles and other much-needed equipment.
Another way to strengthen security, the Prime Minister noted, was the establishment of Border Control. This agency will be responsible for:
- Border Management and the processing of people, goods, plants and animals at all ports of entry;
- Customs and immigration services;
- Enforcement of relevant legislation; and
- Protection of Saint Lucia’s borders.
BUILDING CAPACITY IN RENEWABLE ENERGY
Chastanet also focused on a Sustainable Energy Sector Development Strategy.
“The strategy will be to increase the demand for sustainable energy services in the economy. To this end, Government will seek to continue, and to accelerate, ongoing work on the diffusion of renewable energy and energy technologies. This means that Government will more aggressively pursue the installation of photo-voltaic and solar hot water systems on public buildings. Government will also seek to advance ongoing work in the areas of geothermal exploration and solar farm development,” he explained.
This will promote increased manufacturing energy enterprises in Saint Lucia and diversify the manufacturing base to include photo-voltaic and other components and energy-efficient street lamps and street lighting.
For more on the budget presentation, please visit http://www.govt.lc/.