Letters & Opinion

The Poor You Have Always

Spread eco-tourism throughout St. Lucia
Spread eco-tourism throughout St. Lucia
Image of John Peters
By John Peters

EVERY political party in the Caribbean prides itself in being a champion for the poor, the rhetoric increases whenever an election is near. Sometimes one wonders what will happen to the fabric of these political parties if suddenly there are no more poor people in the state. The only saving grace is the words of Jesus – ‘The poor will be with you always’.

Recently, I read a document entitled ‘Poverty Assessment Report – St Lucia December 1995 – A SUMMARY DOCUMENT’. The document was part of a study that sought to understand the phenomenon of poverty in Saint Lucia. The findings were based on a national survey, a survey of selected communities and a review of key institutions and organizations. The objective of the study was to arrive at measures to address both the immediate conditions of poverty and the underlying factors that lead to such poverty.

We are now almost twenty years on from that report. As a country the government would have spent over 20 billion dollars in the ensuing period, and yet still after 20 billion dollars of government expenditure and a few billion more in foreign direct investment into the economy, the poverty levels have increased in the 20 years. Something is fundamentally wrong if in a country of 170,000 people there are still more than 25% considered poor after an injection of over 30 billion dollars into the economy in a 20 year period. This economic model is a failure.

However let us go back to the Poverty Assessment Report of 1995 and to see what was proposed and the implementation of the recommendations after 20 years. All would agree that if the reduction of poverty was such an all embracing thought of our government, then over a twenty year period these recommendations would have been implemented.

This is a snap shot of the situation that existed in Saint Lucia in 1995:
• 18.7 percent of households were poor
• 25.1 percent of the population were poor
• 7.1 percent of the population were considered indigent in that their expenditures were inadequate to cover their dietary requirements
• 16.3 percent of the urban population were poor
• 29.6 percent of the rural population were poor

The Report of 1995 presented the following as the primary or ultimate causes of poverty:
1. The decline in the earnings from the banana industry
2. The decline in wage competitiveness of St Lucia in the area of export-oriented light manufacturing and assembly operations
3. The sluggish response in the creation of new viable activities or in increasing existing activities to take up the slack caused by the decline in the sectors of agriculture and manufacturing
4. The impossibility of the Government in taking counter-cyclical action by increasing public expenditure
5. The limitations of the existing safety- net because of inadequacy of resources
In 2015, we are in the same position, and thus just maybe the recommendation may still be valid. The report recommended in part the interventions in specific sectors. These sectors were (a) Agriculture and Fisheries and (b) Tourism/Eco-Tourism. (c) Services and (d) Small and Medium sized Enterprises

In Agriculture and Fisheries the focus was to be on the reduction of imports, which I fully agree should be the focus. In March 2015, it is still impossible to get a locally grown watermelon in our supermarkets on some days. I have taken a deliberate decision not to buy imported watermelons again, as my small form of protestation. We still have imported tomatoes and pumpkin in our supermarket shelves. We cannot reduce poverty in a STEP Programme model; it is best to use that money to give these people seeds to plant and fertilizer. The country saves foreign exchange, there is income generation and the poor have food to eat. Also, small scale agro-processing can be pursued. Why can’t I go to the supermarket and obtain peeled and cut dasheen, or a package of chopped vegetables for a soup mix. Sounds simple to me.

In tourism /eco- tourism, the recommendation was to spread the tourism/eco-tourism activities throughout the country. Our tourism product is concentrated in two main areas, Soufriere and Gros Islet. If you can bring tourism activities into new areas, then you can effect poverty reduction. St Lucia has over 685,000 cruise ship passengers per year coming on over 375 cruise ships. We cannot be satisfied with allowing these guests to our shores to be exposed to purchasing a T shirt made in Bangladesh in the Vendor’s Arcade. In fact, this structure is in itself an embarrassment.

It is most interesting that the islands of the Caribbean where there are poor soils due to their geology, are the islands that have done well. Anguilla, The British Virgin Islands, Aruba, Turks and Caicos, are all ahead in a GDP per capita listing. The Windward Islands that stayed in bananas are in the following positions in a GDP per capita listing:
• Grenada – 92nd
• Saint Lucia – 93rd
• St Vincent & Grenadines – 98th
• Dominica – 99th

We got so spoilt with bananas, that we forgot the other aspects in the diversification of our economies. These other islands were ahead of us in financial services and tourism. I have not seen any slum areas in Anguilla or Tortola, there may be poverty but certainly not at the level we have in St. Lucia. The transformation of our economy must begin now; the economic model has failed us.


  1. So Peters, what is the only conclusion that can be drawn from your lengthy post?

    The purpose of government is to preserve the status of the moneyed class; not to use the collective power and wealth-generating capacity of the electorate to ameliorate subsistence standards of living for a majority of citizens. The success of the capitalist system, as currently practiced, is directly derived from as huge a chasm as can be created between the haves and the have-nots. You can paint the pig’s lips whatever rosy colour you want; in less than 5 minutes they will be covered in brown ooze!

    Suggest where we should go from here!

    1. Nudge, nice joke about the pigs, but Mr. Peters gave some good points about the peeled dasheen and chopped veges but will the supermarkets buy it from the small farmer and maybe it’s something some individual should look into. Loosing the banana industry had a big impact on the economy and we are relying on tourism just the same, which is also very sensitive. I am all for agriculture, it’s better to have the local food on your shelves, roadsides and the local markets as well. The more you grow the better, there may be a glut on the market at harvest time but in that way everyone will eat their bellies full and not go without if drought comes around.
      England is not the only consumer for bananas, I have a friend from Romania who told me that banana is also green gold in his country, why don’t we sent a delegation in that region to tap into this market, foreign affairs/agriculture ministry. Let’s discover the markets and grow more bananas around the coasts while those involved in tourism begin innovative ways like printing quality local craft to offer the tourist.
      The banks need to make small affordable loans available to those individuals willing to take the risks and make the changes, in a matter of time things can turnaround.
      Don’t always wait on the government to do for you, take charge now!

      Whatever, the mind conceives and believes it can achieve.

      You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

  2. Nudge, there is nothing wrong with capitalism itself. The problem comes when Government is in bed with business interests, as happens all over the globe.

    Ultimately everybody needs to get up and work everyday so there’s no utopia that man can create. Statements about the collective wealth generating capacity of the electorate etc don’t boil down to much in practice. The world owes no-one a living, and therefore its up to each individual to try and drive forward his own destiny. Lucians have much better conditions than many in the developing arena. Waiting for governments to alleviate your problems is like Waiting for Godot. Why? Because Governments have no money, only what they tax and borrow on our behalf. There is little in the local economy to tax without ruining demand even further, so the borrowing has compounded exponentially in a vicious cycle. How also could a Government allocate resources fairly? It’s never worked.

    The main solutions will need to take many forms, but they will take discipline and a resolve to change the inertia.

    1 Government spending needs cutting/reprioritising drastically so it can be reallocated to areas where there can be some growth – such as subsistence farming (less import), high value niche products and agrotourism (an export). Resources also need to be directed in the short term to improving the judicial system and caseload management. There is a lot of lost productivity in wasted time and bureaucracy, which good record keeping and IT systems could alleviate.

    2 Rezone the land on the island to ensure that the natural habitat is protected in the first instance, public beaches, etc. Then start focusing on building in sufficient clusters to allow some sensitive development to happen, with proper infrastructure.

    3 Set up a majority owned Lucian company to toll and maintain the main road on the island, the remainder could be sold/leased to allow external expertise to do some of the heavy lifting. This would cut some of the costs of maintenance and improve flow. Revamp the bus services to raise standards, transparency of pricing and scheduling. Same for private hire.

    4 Reinstate airport tax per traveller to get funds to enhance airport. Increase tax on alcohol consumption and import on luxury items.

    5 Long term see if the island could become a hub for bio marine science and research. Find a specialism, provide a bit of land and then go and approach a University with an idea for a site. The island would benefit, plus there could be secondary benefits from hosting international conferences. Same goes for astronomy – the caribbean has some of the best night skies in the world, turn it into a specialism for research.

    I can think of a thousand things which can be done – but it just needs the government to concentrate on things it CAN do meaningfully – law and order, environment, planning etc. Create the conditions to let artisans prosper.

  3. Quite commendable goals and aspirations!

    One question, though:
    How do you guarantee successful accomplishment of these goals?

  4. Well he suggested the gov, which already have limited to no resources to begin with. maybe invest St. Lucia can look into that idea.

  5. Yeh wrote, “…there is nothing wrong with capitalism itself,” so I’ll answer that now.

    Right or wrong can never be attributes of inanimate objects! Look instead at the human practitioners!

    Capitalism was designed to create poverty; how else could the rich measure the degree of wealth they had achieve, if not by observing the huge chasm between themselves and those they had beaten down? In the case of the US, capitalism and poverty are maintained by violence: Why else would they have thousands of military bases and black sites around the globe? http://www.commondreams.org/views/2011/01/10/us-empire-bases-20-does-pentagon-really-have-1180-foreign-bases

    Religion goes hand in hand with capitalism to maintain poverty, and to discourage resistance in the down-trodden. Church heads fool their dupes (you may say converts) with passages such “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” and ” It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” to ensure that no attempt will be made to achieve economic parity during their lifetime!

    Why else would Peters title his opinion, “The Poor You Have Always”? He knows that poverty is an essential element of capitalism!

  6. Nudge, this is a bunch of bull coming from you, your mind is corrupt and you need Jesus my brother, it s not often that I attack another, I try to refrain from doing such but this needs special attention.
    The meek WILL inherit the earth, it will happen and there is NOTHING you can do about it.

    With God ALL things are possible whether you like it or not.

    1. I see where you got your name from…all that’s required is that Lucians just be fed up, but in a meek way, and good things will eventually happen to them! That, and since the government has limited resources, “maybe invest St. Lucia can look into that idea”. Right! That’ll work!

      You are delusional, but funny!

  7. Hey guys, I like having fun, it’s not a fight we are all trying to find solutions for our beloved country, let’s make our points but have fun at the same time. No one else want to voice their opinions but we do, so let’s not put down each other but build each other up.

    Be blessed me bretheren,

  8. Poor People Fed Up,

    I did not take it personally when you wrote this, “this is a bunch of bull coming from you, your mind is corrupt and you need Jesus my brother, it s not often that I attack another, I try to refrain from doing such but this needs special attention,” without any evidence of proof.

    I simply pointed out how you expressed thoughts of delusion, which made you look a fool.

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