EDWIN St Catherine, who I regard as one of the finest minds in the field of Statistics in the Caribbean, posted a document on his Facebook page entitled : The Aftermath of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis on the Eastern Caribbean – The Impact of the St. Lucia Labour Market. There is no doubt that the global financial crisis affected Saint Lucia. I however believe that the global financial crisis exposed the weaknesses of our economy and the lack of understanding of what is required to face our greatest challenge, which is a rising number of unemployed young adults.
The Study concluded that despite the efforts of the government of Saint Lucia to boost growth and enhance labour market opportunities in the period from 2008 to 2013, the unemployed and underemployed in Saint Lucia together account for over 40 % of the working age employable population. The staggering statistics continues with the statement that 50% of young adults in the working age employable population are unemployed. Even more surprising is the statement that two out of every three individuals who entered the workforce between 2009 and 2013 were unable to find jobs. We have a looming crisis on our hands.
The above statistics when placed alongside pronouncements of the growth in tourist arrivals causes one to think whether after all these years that it is not clear to policy makers that such statistics are of no consequence to the reality of the crisis at hand. By inference it is clear to me that tourism has not contributed to the reduction of unemployment in Saint Lucia. I will repeat my position, that tourism as modeled in Saint Lucia is no different to the plantation economy.
The only time you will see a spike in economic activity is in the setting up of the plantation, when the hotel is being built. As a society we must decide to move away from the plantation economy and begin to ensure that the linkages to create the transfer of wealth are in place.
The present organization of our tourism sector is not affecting the growth of the economy and thus it has to be restructured, there is no comovement of GDP growth and tourist arrivals. It was the boom of construction activity in the tourism sector that caused the huge inflows of foreign exchange into the economy. Once the hotels were built there was a falling away, ‘Massa’ wants all for him. The photographer, the event planner, the restaurant owner, the taxi driver are all not allowed to plant on his estate. The model is wrong. It would be of great interest to study the cost of concessions given to the all inclusive hotels in Saint Lucia and offset it against the contributions to the economy. I would not be surprised if it is net zero.
I was most pleased to hear about the philosophy and concept of Six Senses Freedom Bay being built in Soufriere. They believe in being in harmony with the surroundings and being part of the local fabric. They want their staff to be out of the hotel and renting in the surrounding community, to have the ’Back of House’ activities integrated within the community, creating the linkages in the economy.
For tourism to contribute towards the reduction of unemployment, it ironically has to become ‘all inclusive’ and not ‘all exclusive’.
In the theory of physics there is a concept called absolute zero, where there is the complete absence of heat and motion. It is the lowest temperature possible. Poor policies and reckless management of Caribbean economies have brought some countries to the brink of absolute economic zero, the lowest state of economic stagnation. In some of these countries the poor policies have been drenched with the abortifacients of progress, that cancerous sore of corruption that induces the abortion of progress. In 1988, as a young civil engineer, I saw this first hand in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago where corruption and poor policies brought a nation to absolute economic zero. It leaves a lasting memory.
These new policies require abaxial thinking, a thinking situated outside the axis. Radical decisions like removal of all taxes and duties on vehicles, reducing the sentences on first time offenders based on food production at Bordelais should be considered. The abaxial thinking continues with miniature greenhouses being placed at all primary and secondary schools, with the classes in each form/grade being responsible for a greenhouse with a particular vegetable.
I believe that if we pursue reduction of our food import bill we will go a long way in the reduction of unemployment. The core policies being espoused are as follows;
a. Increase mobility among the population by removal of all duties and taxes on vehicles
b. Pursue a vigorous campaign on food import reduction with the schools and prison also being involved
c. Develop a tourism product that is not ‘all exclusive’
d. National drainage programme
I will close by expanding on the national drainage programme. I learned a valuable lesson in my stint as Chief Engineer, from the then ODA of the UK government during the development of the West Coast Road; bridges do not stimulate an economy. While some of the bridges under the present programme might have been critical at this stage, I am of the opinion that some can be deferred. I can see no merit in replacing the bridge in Canaries. I can see no benefit in building supposedly 4-lane bridges on the Gros Islet Highway. The economy of Saint Lucia would have benefitted tremendously from a national drainage programme where the same $ 50 million that can be saved in bridge replacement is used to spread among thousands of masons and labourers throughout the island.
We have to move with alacrity to deal with this rising unemployment among our young adults; no society can sustain such high levels of 50%; this is our greatest challenge as a nation.