Letters & Opinion

Budgeting for Balance and Buoyancy!

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, National Security, Economic Development and The Youth Economy Philip J. Pierre has delivered preliminary estimates for $1, 856,710,000 (($1.85 Billion) for 2023-2024, saying that despite global and local challenges, the economy remains robust while his administration continues to aim and budget for balance and buoyancy.

The Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure he presented Wednesday showed an economy on the rebound, with confidence restored while it continues delivering on the ruling Saint Lucia Labour Party’s campaign promises.

He said the “renewed confidence” is in the increase in new investors seeking to do business here and the refreshed attitude of regional and international financial institutions to his administration.

The administration has put Crime Fighting and Citizen Protection at the very top of its four top priorities for the coming fiscal year and has allocated $171 Million for National Security in the coming year.

PM Pierre offered a long list of what ex-Prime Minister and current Senior Minister in the SLP-led inclusive Cabinet described as “words, facts and figures” that portray the MP for Castries East as a ‘Good and Faithful Servant’ and a ‘Servant Leader’ of a party and government committed to ‘Putting People First’.

The government has reduced an inherited debt of over-$200 Million by half.

According to Finance Minister Pierre, “The economy performed better than expected” between 2012 and 2022 and is poised to deliver more between 2023-2024.

Citing the governing SLP’s “commitment to the workers of Saint Lucia”, Prime Minister Pierre reported that Public Servants were paid $566,718,441 ($5.6 Million) in salaries for 2022 – the biggest slice of government expense at 31% — plus an additional $11.7 Million in wage increases and backpay paid last week.

And government has also allocated $568,614,553 (another $5.6 Million) for public officers’ salaries in between 2023 and 2024, plus over $100 Million for retiring benefits to pensioners.

As “the vulnerable” become “more destitute” due to the prevailing conditions, the PM added, government will increase allocations to Poverty Reduction agencies — and especially to the Distress Fund (by over $700,000 or 16%) to $71 Million.

Another $8.5 Million is also allocated to support Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs), which Commerce Minister Emma Hippolyte said is attracting much interest from young Saint Lucians with entrepreneurial minds.

Meanwhile, over $460 Million (24% of capital expenditure) is to be allocated for capital projects, while revenues increased by 14% — except for taxes on fuel imports, due to the increasing size of government’s subsidy of cooking gas and vehicle fuel.

The PM said the 2023-24 budget “will correct the mistakes” of the past administration and “generate wealth creation.”

He emphasized his administration’s “commitment to fiscal prudence” and said its aim is “to balance the budget as soon as possible.”

The Finance Ministry’s optimism for increased revenue in the next financial year is based on evidence that local businesses did better and paid more taxes in 2022; and it also expects more earnings from the Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP).

The Prime Minister said, “These estimates will keep the economy on a persistent path of growth” – and offered figures to back his optimism.

Given the 15-2 composition of the House of Assembly today and the speaking-order tactics employed by Opposition Leader Allan Chastanet, it’s never known when he’ll speak.

Indeed, on Wednesday, after more-than-half the government MPs and the Opposition MP for Choiseul-Saltibus had spoken, the MP for Micoud South elected to continue to break with established Westminster parliamentary tradition (of the Leader of the Opposition rebutting immediately after the Minister of Finance presents the Estimates).

The Opposition Leader also walked-out (again) while fellow former Prime Minister, Stephenson King, took the floor.

The Prime Minister, at the start of Thursday’s resumed session, drew the House’s attention to the Opposition Leader’s choice to break continue playing virtual Hide-and-Seek with when he’ll take the floor; and reminded the floor of his side’s privilege, under the Standing Orders, to terminate the debate at any time.

Former PM King chided his ebullient successor (as both prime minister and UWP leader) for exhibiting “arrogance” and behaving like he had special parliamentary “entitlement” – and said that in his view, the party he served in parliament for over four decades is “destined to flounder” under Chastanet’s watch.

King, with years of experience in parliamentary parlance, prefaced his presentation in inimitable terms with references to the government he serves in Cabinet as a Senior Minister having restored the $700,000 subvention to the Saint Lucia National Trust, which had been withdrawn by the previous administration just because, according to him, it “did its work” of protecting the national patrimony.

And the veteran Castries North MP ended with a related observation that “If Sir John was alive” (whose daughter and ex-UWP MP Jeannine also felt Chastanet’s fury at the Trust) “his party would not be suffering all this foolishness…”

This year’s budgeted Estimates of Expenditure are (like every previous one) for another record amount, increasing from $1.1 Billion for 2021-2022 to $1.3 Billion for 2022-2023 and $1.5 Billion for 2023-2024.

Likewise revenues, which can only increase as the world recovers from the successive rounds of global economic battering that followed COVID-19 and the related the Supply Chain Crisis between 2020 and 2022, worsened by the February 2022 Ukraine war and related economic sanctions in the past year.

All in all, the 2023-2024 budget estimates represented what ex-Finance Minister King said was delivered with “words, facts and figures” and “passion, conviction and spirit” that was “not wicked, offensive of disrespectful”, that all point to “a good man sent with sincerity and intent…”

The former prime minister’s contribution will not have found favor with the Opposition Leader even if he’d chosen not to walk away from someone who walked away from him (and his party).

The House was always destined to support the Motion, so in the end the Ayes had it.

Now for the deliveries…

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