Ahead of Budget

It’s that time of year again. April’s buzz is usually about discussions and preparations for the national budget. It is a time of great expectation among the populace, especially in recent years, because of the marked slump in the economy that we have not yet been able to reverse.

The Prime Minister some months ago spoke of seeing some “shoots” of success in the economic recovery effort and pointed mainly to an increase in tourist arrivals and some items of investment coming into the country, and even though the projected small improvement in economic growth this year is actually realized, the fact of the matter is that from all appearances, activity in St Lucia remains sluggish and the immediate future is still very much uncertain.

The exercise of lobbying social partners and soliciting their suggestions for possible inclusion in the budgetary proposals that go before the parliament, can be a useful exercise for both government and country. How many of these “outside” suggestions are actually included in the budget is another matter entirely.

The ordinary people of the country, the men and women in the street, as we say, they too, always have an agenda for the budget that is seldom even listened to, far less satisfied. A sampling of public opinion this year would reveal that people are concerned mainly about unemployment, especially among young people, the effects of VAT, crime, poverty alleviation and the overall economic and social state of the country. There is a growing pool of discontent that the government seems patently unaware of, judging by the way it reacts to even the slightest suggestion that it has erred or blundered on any given matter.

Compounding the situation is what seems to be a deliberate policy of government of marching to its own drumbeat, and engaging in self-praise, oblivious to what others may say or think. Don’t try to convey to this government the public sentiments that are feeding discontent; you are most likely to incur its wrath and rebuke as we have seen repeatedly in very recent times. The fact of the matter is that public confidence in the government’s ability to take this country forward is at an all-time low, but the government prefers to believe otherwise.

So for the approaching budget presentation, it may be a worthy exercise to start by examining how far we have come in meeting the objectives of the last one, which were, in the Prime Minister’s own words: “ (a) to set our country’s economy on a path of higher and sustained growth and employment; (b) to create sustainable, fulfilling jobs, particularly for our youth; (c) to steer our country’s public finances away from a fiscal cliff; and (d) to build resilience, so that we can bounce back faster from future economic and natural shocks”.

After three years in office it’s time for the government to stop the game of blame and excuses, and beating up on critics. It is time that it begins to show some initiative and imagination that will redound to the benefit of all who live here. This month’s budget is as good a place as any to make that start..

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