MINISTER Ubaldus Raymond got an earful of the business sector’s concerns when he attended this week’s annual general meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture. The complaints dealt with the treatment meted out to the Chamber by the last government but reflect too some long-standing habits in the way government in general has dealt with this important organization over the long term.
When government professes a commitment to transparency, accountability, consultation etc. one expects that the private sector—its main partner in the development of the country—would be the first to experience these attributes but this has hardly ever been the case. So the Chamber must be peeved when legislation that impacts important elements such as banking, investment and consumer protection, among others, is processed through parliament, sometimes with undue haste, without the opportunity given for comment and or dialogue, or even recognition of the Chamber’s existence
We make these comments because we seem to sense that the Chastanet government might be treading a different path. We can only hope that the few examples that we have seen thus far are not merely window-dressing or a public relations exercise by the new government anxious to demonstrate some positive qualities of its own, but in fact a genuine desire for change
Dialogue, discussion and sharing of information are vital elements in the practice of democracy and can contribute to the understanding and appreciation of issues, especially when attempts are being made to woo public support. The recent action by the government in making the contents of a report on the economic condition of the country available for public consumption is the kind of information sharing we would like to see a lot more of.
Let’s face it, the state of the St Lucia economy was a major discussion point in the general election campaign earlier this year. The then governing party claimed that the economy had turned the corner and was heading for better days. The opposition, now government, sold the electorate a very different story. So we had a divergence of views from very early. We needed an impartial referee on the economy and the incoming government called in the Caribbean Development Bank and others to give a prognosis and we now know what that is and that it is not very good.
It is becoming more and more imperative that governments level with their people with the truth on all matters of national development. Equally vital is the need to dialogue with important segments of the community on issues that affect them directly, especially proposed new legislation and agreements with foreign entities. The private sector in general and the Chamber of Commerce in particular needs to be treated with respect and confidence in matters that affect our country.
We made a pitch some time ago for the issuance of regular reports on the state of the economy so that we can never be caught off guard again. We need to have some agency of government, or the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank making these statements on a regular basis. The Central Banks in the larger CARICOM countries do it, why can’t we? Having to wait at budget time every year to hear how our economy is doing is not good enough. We need updated quarterly figures on the economy, our debt and employment levels, inflation rates etc. We applaud the continuing practice of releasing figures on the movement of fuel prices every three weeks but more needs to be done if we are to create an enlightened population to replace the constant media babble we hear by persons making all kinds of noises on matters that they know nothing about, far less understand.
Finally, we believe the Chamber itself must do a little more to ensure that it is never again sidelined by any government in the handling of the country’s affairs as has happened recently. The Chamber members are an important factor in the country’s development, creating jobs, foreign exchange, investment and opportunities for growing the economy. That has to count for something, especially if you have been doing it for well over 100 years.