IT’S budget season, and as usual, also a time for great expectation. Because of the current state of our country, expectations are this year at an all-time high, because it will take a massive effort to breathe new life into our economy and this budget –the first by the Allen Chastanet government since coming to power nearly a year ago—must mark the beginning of moves to achieve this.
The Prime Minister has spoken of the urgent need to bring the country’s fiscal situation under control, but equally crucial is the need for some good growth rates in the economy over the next few years. It is clear that St Lucia has suffered from a bout of economic mismanagement in recent years. How else can we explain the fact that other countries in the OECS, including those which were worse off than we were– St Kitts and Nevis and Grenada in particular– have made tremendous strides in resuscitating themselves while St Lucia remains stagnant. Not only have these two OECS countries upped economic growth rates, they have also made serious dents in their levels of public debt as well. Grenada has moved from negative growth in 2013 to 3 percent in 2016 and reduced its debt to GDP ratio from 108 percent to 85 percent over the same period. St Kitts and Nevis too has gone from negative growth to 3.5 percent in 2016 and has more than halved its once staggering public debt, with a GDP ratio that was the second largest in the entire world. In fact, this little country is poised to post a 60 percent debt to GDP ratio this year, three years ahead of the target set by the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union.
Grenada had a home-grown economic restoration effort that was backed by the IMF. So did St Kitts and Nevis. They are now touting various degrees of success although both still have some lingering problems. We in St Lucia borrowed massively, taking our national debt close to EC$3 billion and still cannot get a move on. Some say that were it not for the revenue from the drug trade and the laundering of its proceeds right under our very noses, the situation could have been far worse. It’s a sad commentary on a country that once bragged of being the economic showpiece of the Eastern Caribbean, and in fact for a long time, looked the part.
The thing is that we in St Lucia have not been listening to the warnings, some of which have come from among our own people, and because of our lack of imagination, creative ability and commitment to hard work we have sat by the wayside playing silly games while our country slid into the abyss. Economist Adrian Augier was correct when he said bluntly this week that economically our country was in trouble. With the figures we have been posting in recent years, there is absolutely no doubt that we are, indeed, in big trouble.
Addressing a general meeting of a local Credit Union, Augier explained why he was being so forthright. He wanted, he said, to create the kind of discomfort that prevents people from sleeping at night and not only begin to demand that better be done to prevent development disaster, but to be part of “a revolution in thought and action” which causes the country to dramatically change its course.
The remarks are quite pointed since the practice has always been for us St Lucians to play dumb when actions and decisions that have the potential for hurting our country economically are being made. Even some of the most influential individuals and organizations among us would comment or not comment depending on which political party was in power. Others only find their voices when a decision affects them or some cause they support or benefit from.
But the government must know that a lot is riding on this coming budget. We need to move away quickly from the sweet talk and unfulfilled promises of the past and mobilize our resources to devise a coherent plan to get this country moving again. The government plans to unveil a four year programme for the country in the upcoming budget. We will all be waiting with bated breath to see what unfolds.