IN a few weeks’ time, a new army of young men and women—maybe as many as 3,000– will be exiting schools all over the island and entering the job market. Not only will most of them have a hard time finding employment, they will be in stiff competition as well, with thousands of their peers who have been “scrunting” for work over the last one, two and even three years or more.
Everyone, the government included, now acknoweledge that unemployment is a very serious problem in St Lucia. It has been getting progressively worse over the years mainly because government has not taken the time to sit down and devise a serious strategy to address it.
Don’t believe for a moment that we are suggesting here that jobs fall from the sky, even though the government three years ago, made it sound that this would be the case when they pronounced one of their priorities as “Jobs, jobs, jobs”. What is most disconcerting is that what the government apparently had in mind was the short term opportunities that are available under its STEP and NICE programmes, given the emphasis that has been placed on those sectors over the years.
With all due respect, it is time for the government to understand that parents cannot be expected to spend money educating their children, with aspirations of good-paying jobs, then have their hopes dashed in disappointment to the extent we are now witnessing.
It was distressing listening to the Prime Minister’s budget statement on Tuesday to discover that in this fiscal year there will be no bold or imaginative initiatives undertaken to tackle the unemployment problem, no programme of economic activity that would create “good” jobs for the young where the problem is most acute, no assistance to the private sector that would help in this regard in areas with potential like agriculture and manufacturing.
The fact of the matter is, generating jobs will depend very much on an improved economy and the prospects for that are still uncertain. The government has reported some fiscal achievements and this is commendable, but there is the bigger picture of economic growth that remains elusive. As we suggested some time ago, , with three consecutive years of contraction in the economy, the ability of the government to turn the economy around, remains questionable.
One private sector entity of professionals, in an analysis of the budget, has recommended that the time may have come for a national dialogue on the economy. We could not agree more. With the economic negatives far outweighing the positives, the time has come for the emergence of fresh ideas and consensus that only such dialogue can provide.