INDEPENDENT Senator, Adrian Augier, is calling for a rebalancing of the tourism sector, even as the Saint Lucia Tourist Board last week spoke of encouraging growth in the industry based on recent visitor arrival figures.
Augier’s call came during his delivery on the debate in the Senate on Thursday on the 2017/2018 Appropriations Bill.
The Board’s outlook on the industry was based on figures for the first quarter of this year, whereby it claimed arrival figures improved by 23.4 percent with significant increases recorded in cruise arrivals of 33.4 percent with an additional 7,349 stay-over arrivals this year compared to last year.
“We are seeing a significant, possibly unhealthy horizontal and vertical integration within the tourism sector, particularly. This is very worrisome and needs to be rebalanced,” Augier said.
Auger claimed that tourism investment is no longer just about accommodation and the provision of room nights as large tourism investors are also engaged directly in travel, tours, transport, water sports, boating, boutiques, entertainment, horticulture, procurement, distribution, photography, weddings and other areas which in the past used to be specifically reserved for nationals formally and informally in legislation.
“We have to rebalance this and make it such that when we are encouraging lead sectors like tourism — but there are others — to be major beneficiaries our incentives and tax policies, that specific space is made available and reserved for national businesses and nationals of this country,” Augier said.
Augier, an economist, focused more on policy issues and matters of good governance, with an emphasis on investment.
“We understand the heavy reliance on foreign direct investment (FDI). We understand the need to jumpstart the economy using this particular approach. We understand in the short run that FDI is probably the fastest way to make a major impact on unemployment and revenue, both of which should have positive fiscal impacts, providing we can accelerate the implementation process, which continues to be a major hindrance to both the public and private sectors in terms of growth and new investments,” Augier said.
He believes that when foreign investment is linked substantially to the sale or transfer of national assets, especially strategic national assets held in trust by the Government of St. Lucia, there must be a significant and appropriate level of prior consultation and meaningful engagement of citizens and stakeholders to build consensus.
“That consensus is in the long-term political interest of this country and its leaders and should address the quantum of its resources which we wish to surrender, the transfer processes along with the terms and conditions of such transfers, the anticipated benefits and where these benefits will accrue,” Augier said.
This, he added, requires a clear level-headed analysis of the economical and social cost and that all major projects should have this process as part of their gestation and the discussion should take place in the public domain.
“It is incumbent on governments, including this one, to observe principles of good governance established by the United Nations. There are five or seven major points that need to be held in mind as we go about the business of developing this country,” he said.
Augier appealed to government to trust the wisdom of the people and to not treat them as casual bystanders who are hungry and without principle and dignity.
“Do not allow our people to cast themselves into the role of adversaries in the development process. Our economy cannot afford this climate of constant warfare, our democracy cannot tolerate this climate of constant adversarial politics,” he said.
Augier further warned the government to invest wisely the political capital given to it when it won the general elections last year. He wants government to focus on ensuring that St. Lucians, especially the youth, have ownership of their employment as this will enable them to be masters of their own destinies, particularly in tourism.
“We look forward to being owners of related businesses, suppliers, sub-contractors. We want our government to remember this and to ensure there is economic space for our businesses, our people – young and old — mid-career, entry level and, thereafter, to participate meaningfully in the country’s future,” he said.
He also wants FDI polices to indicate in very specific ways the economic space that is being created and being left for St. Lucian businesses and St. Lucian entrepreneurs.
“While we are busy creating wonderful projects, we cannot have a situation where there is incidental space because that incidental space will be occupied by others,” Augier said.