FOR several months now the ruling Labour Party government has faced pressure and public condemnation over the state of the island’s economy. This week, both party and country had reason for some joy: a mission undertaken by the International Monetary Fund concluded that the St Lucia economy will grow by 1.6 percent this year.
It is most welcome news considering that things have been sliding in the last three years, in fact since 2012 when we posted negative growth of 1.1 percent. The turnaround reported by the IMF has come as a result of increased tourist arrivals of 5.3 percent and falling oil prices. Already, we have been hearing whisperings to the effect that neither of these contributions has come as a result of the government’s efforts. But we have to be fair: when things are bad in this country, it is the government that people finger as the culprit. It is only fair, therefore, that if things have started to look up that the government should get the credit as well.
Not that 1.6 percent growth means that we are out of the woods. Indeed, the IMF has made the point that the recovery has not yet spread throughout the economy and notes the continuing high rate of unemployment that hovers around 25 percent in general and 40 percent among the youth.
There are other lingering worries as well like the island’s high debt levels which the IMF says need to be placed on a sustainable path as a matter of priority. It has also called for “continued efforts” to contain public sector wages, salaries and benefits on the back of the current wage freeze that extends into 2017, until debt sustainability is achieved.
So St Lucia is by no means heading into glory land anytime soon but the IMF report this week would mean a lot to the government especially considering the amount of flack it has endured in recent times. Some weeks ago, we made the point that the Prime Minister could not risk presenting the country with another “bad news” budget in 2016 with a general election around the corner. This is still the case, but the government would be understandably buoyed by this week’s IMF report.
Also, judging from recent moves by the government, it appears that the pressure that it has had to face as a result of the economic situation has had a positive effect, because there now seems to be a little more urgency in its steps, most likely because of the approaching general election. That too is welcome.
The challenge now is to spread the economic growth around so that the people of St Lucia begin to feel it in their pockets. St Lucians best appreciate economic growth when their personal economic and social condition improves. Whether there is ample time to achieve this given the concerns identified by the IMF is entirely another matter. But for the moment, the government can take a nod, if now a bow, over the start of what looks like an economic turnaround.