The May 30, 2023 sitting of the Saint Lucia House of Assembly reinforced my long-held feeling that Saint Lucians have come to so accept that the Philip J. Pierre administration is doing a fine job of restoring parliamentary democracy and accounting to the nation, it’s already being taken for granted.
Approaching two years since the July 26, 2021 General Elections, the all-inclusive Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP-led) administration has restored dignity, grace and respect to both the Upper and Lower Houses, starting with Appointment of Deputy Speaker — as its first order of business at its first sitting in August 2021 – after a five-year period without one.
Parliamentary sub-committees are functioning again, including being chaired by Mr Deputy Speaker (who’s grown in both stature and delivery in that post) and attended by the Opposition.
And not only is this House ready and willing to enforce the Standing Orders against expressions or actions exhibiting unparliamentary behaviour, but also to overly compromise and spare members (who’ve earned suspension) the embarrassment of being barred from attending House meetings.
Verily, while the Speaker indicated at the start of Tuesday’s session that the Opposition Leader was barred from participating in House meetings pending the result of a legal matter, all 15 Government MPs supported voted to have him participate in that session – and so he did…
The slew of motions and bills had to do with mainly financial matters arising from the recently-passed 2023-2024 national budget, including debt refinancing of $433 million, which the Prime Minister and Finance Minister several times reminded the House was “not new borrowing.”
Thirty-two million dollars will be borrowed on the capital market and with interest rates sky-rocketing unprecedentedly on the major global money markets, the Prime Minister and Finance Minister indicated allowance would have to be made for increased interest rates on further borrowing, which would, in this case, be capped at 7%.
A separate motion had to do with creation of a fund to finance crime-fighting efforts; and another on the need for establishment of a mechanism to pool seized Assets of Crime.
Altogether, Tuesday’s session was a model of what House meetings can and should be more of, with the Opposition supporting government motions in the national interest, Leaders of Government and Opposition Business in toned-down banter — and the Prime Minister (at one point) actually sharing his copy of the latest national economic review with the Opposition Leader.
Viewers on NTN and the Facebook world watched as the PM fingered every word and line in the text as he slowly read to his opposite number at a classroom-type desk, in the middle of the horseshoe chamber, right before Mr. Speaker.
Some colleague MPs thought it hilarious, others instructive, a few photographing the memorable moment with their cell phones, one telling me (later) it was “like an embarrassing teacher-student exchange, live on air…”
The Opposition Leader would repeatedly cite a hands-off accounting bottom-of-the-page asterisk to maintain that the Prime Minister should not say that “Saint Lucia’s current unemployment rate is the lowest since 2010…”
The PM repeatedly pointed out the International Labour Organization (ILO) had indeed found the local unemployment rate to be 8% lower than what had been officially estimated locally.
Of course, nothing the Opposition Leader said changed the fact that unemployment is lowest today than in the past 13 years, or that it happened under the stewardship of this prime minister.
And since the previous PM and finance minister wouldn’t budge from saying the Prime Minister “should not compare the current unemployment rate with any other period…”, the Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Economic Development and The Youth Economy bowled his opposite a ball he just couldn’t play, saying:
“Saint Lucia today has the largest economic growth rate in its history, at 18.1%…”
Interestingly, the Opposition Leader offered no figures or stats to counter the PM’s claim about the “lowest unemployment rate since 2010”.
But the Minority Leader never recovered from his predecessor’s over-the-boundary score after changing batting from poking to hitting sky-high, from citing the “lowest” (unemployment) to the “highest” (growth) rates.
The Prime Minister at one point, in a debate on a related motion, told his predecessor (in many different ways) that he sits where he now is (on the opposite bench) because he “underestimated me…” and “he still continues to do so…”
The PM proceeded to rattle-out even more irrefutable facts about growth in every other measurable sector — from investor confidence and readiness of financial institutions to lend money to Saint Lucia now, to growth in manufacturing, incomes and earnings, on-time payments and positive private sector responses to this government’s initiatives.
But the PM also made it clear all was not as Hunky-Dory as he would have liked, or as should be, citing instances of “slow implementation rates” on important projects — from the Millennium Highway’s Cul de Sac bridge being completed and “only waiting to be joined by roads”, to finances for the Blue Economy still on account and the project still in the blue…
He noted the World Bank was also concerned about the implementation rate and said he’d called on the entire Cabinet of Ministers to examine the status of projects to ensure they are implemented within agreed time frames.
Now, that’s not the sort of admission any Prime Minister willingly makes in parliament, especially with a small but very-loud opposition side already half-bent on pulling every rug from under his administration’s every Red-Carpet achievement.
But again, this is no ordinary Saint Lucia Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Economic Development, National Security and The Youth Economy…
Instead, this is the only Commerce Minister, Minister for International Financial Services, Finance Minister and Economic Development Minister never, ever accused of corruption in his entire three decades as MP for Castries East, in Government or Opposition.
Now, if that isn’t something for Saint Lucians to shout about and take pride in, what will ever be?