THE state of the St Lucia economy and the overall future of the country were issues of concern during the just concluded election campaign. So what are we to expect from the incoming UWP government.
The manifesto of the UWP for this election gives the following indication of the plan ahead:
“The hallmark of the new United Workers Party is a clear understanding of the realities of the 21st Century. Its visionary Leader, the late, beloved Sir John Compton anticipated the fundamental changes the technological revolution in information dissemination and communication would make in our lives. He realized that together with a universal commitment to Free Trade this revolution would undermine the old world order based on preferential concessions and protection of national markets. Eventually national barriers to trade in goods and services would disappear and the world would become an open, highly competitive global village.
“ In order to survive and prosper in this environment, small nations would have to draw up new policies and programmes to empower their people. During the past 16 years, the United Workers Party has internalized certain important lessons. The first lesson is fiscal responsibility. You cannot recklessly make promises to the nation without ensuring that the economy is growing and revenue is increasing to cover rising expectations and related expenditure. If this is not happening you cannot continue to borrow money. To do so is to create problems of growing deficits, rising costs of servicing the debts, and ultimately the introduction of austerity measures that create poverty and despair.
“The second lesson is that you cannot build a new economy and society on the old weak foundations. In order to survive and prosper, governments have to create the conditions for diversifying and growing the economy. At the same time they have to wake up the nation out of the stupor of increasing dependence. The people have to be empowered to take advantage of the opportunities offered to spot niches in the global economy; and to help create employment and wealth either as entrepreneurs or productive employees.
“The third lesson is that in a democracy ultimate power rests with the electorate. However, there is always the temptation for a government that is forced to introduce austerity measures to avoid a financial crisis, to resort to authoritarian rule to stay in power. Hence it is essential to strengthen the principles and institutions of Good Governance to protect our democracy. Therefore if a Party wants to develop the country in a sustainable and progressive way it must introduce enlightened social policies and programmes.
“This Manifesto is a written commitment by the UWP to the people of Saint Lucia to diversify and grow the economy and to empower the people to participate fully in the process; with the clear understanding that they will receive their rightful share of the wealth that is jointly created in Saint Lucia. Part I of the Manifesto deals with the Economy, while Part II addresses the challenges of Social Empowerment in creating a more prosperous and progressive Saint Lucia for the benefit of all. Some topics such as “Empowering Young People to Find or Create Employment” straddle both Part I and Part II. Indeed the Manifesto highlights the intricate connection between the various dimensions of life in a modern society.
“The 2016 Manifesto of the United Workers Party of Saint Lucia ends with a reminder that ultimate responsibility rests with the electorate. The voters of Saint Lucia have choices. Their responsibility is to choose wisely to achieve the shared vision of the new Saint Lucia that is built by empowered workers and in which the benefits are equitably distributed.
(1) FINANCIAL POLICIES
Our economy is on the brink of a collapse. The SLP Government has a consistent track record of causing either economic stagnation or economic degradation – and the last five years is no different. Moreover, our economy has consistently performed worse among the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union under Labour causing us to lose our enviable leading position among member states. In essence, Labour does not have the ability to grow the economy, and must take responsibility for increased job losses. Instead of growing the economy, the Labour Government is notorious for engaging in massive borrowing and mismanagement of public funds in both cost over-runs and unsustainable social programmes, thereby seriously increasing the debt level of our country. Our national debt is at an unsustainable level. Since there are no well-crafted, legislated fiscal rules, the St. Lucia Labour Party will continue to lead our economy to further unsustainable indebtedness. These policies are totally inadequate to help Saint Lucia’s economy recover from the prolonged global recession; and enable its people to prosper in the new highly-competitive global market-place. The time has come for the new financial policies of a UWP government to be introduced.
(A) FISCAL DISCIPLINE AND DEBT REDUCTION
In an effort to avoid the continuation of this fiscal catastrophe, the new UWP Government intends to:
• Draw up legislation to limit total, primary, and current expenditure.
• Set ceilings or floors on revenues with the aim at boosting revenue collection and/or preventing an excessive tax burden.
• Reduce the Debt-to-GDP ratio by at least five-percentage points in five years; and seek legislation for a sustainable ratio thereafter.
• Create an independent Fiscal Council to oversee the implementation and monitoring of fiscal targets and limits. Further, the UWP is of the strong view that the expenditure problem will persist unless there is a reasonable expenditure framework to guide the process of appropriating expenditures during budget preparation.
These allocations will be matched against current revenue. To achieve this goal, the UWP will:
• Restructure the number of Ministries to ensure that there is no duplication of duties; and to achieve value for money.
• Assess the efficiency of government statutory bodies, and where applicable, eliminate or merge them.
• Set maximum expenditure ratios for some Ministries and the range of expenditures for others. The same principle will apply for statutory bodies.
(B) TAXES AND THE COST OF LIVING
Taxation should be a product of increased economic activity and not an entitlement of government. A new UWP administration will undertake a full restructuring of the tax system with the aim of increasing overall national consumption. Although the SLP is notorious for burdening Saint Lucians with run-away taxation, never in our history have we experienced such an unprecedented assault with taxes than what we are currently experiencing under the SLP administration. Their merciless and choking taxation is the cause of the severe economic hardships on both businesses and households. AUWP government intends to relieve all citizens and residence of Saint Lucia from the high cost of living experienced in the last five years. Hence, we will undertake the following measures:
• Reduce the Value-Added-Tax (VAT) and outline a plan for its ultimate elimination; and replace it with a restructured tax regime that will be less burdensome but without compromising the revenue base.
• Increase the personal income tax threshold to $25,000.
• Reduce corporate taxes from 35 percent to 25 percent within three (3) years.
• Grant residential property tax exemption for three years; and thereafter, it will be reassessed.
(C) ECONOMIC GROWTH
The United Workers Party (UWP) believes that polices geared towards growing or expanding the economy will bring benefits to all citizens and to all sectors of the economy. Our expanded economy will increase income; create long-term and sustainable jobs; and reverse our unsustainable debt to manageable levels. Importantly, our growth policies will be structured to reduce our high incidence of poverty by ensuring our economic expansion and the wealth so created are equitably distributed. We intend to achieve these goals in a sustainable manner by creating synergies within our economic, social and environmental framework. The new UWP government will seek to immediately jump-start economic activity using targeted investments as the impetus for change. We believe our growth policies will increase confidence among workers, investors, and employers, all of whom are important in bolstering development in the private sector. The main objective is to increase living standards through increased employment and wealth. Specifically, the UWP intends to:
• Achieve an accumulated economic growth rate of at least 12 percent in the first term;
• Reduce the overall level of unemployment to no more than 15 percent.
(D) DIVERSIFYING THE ECONOMY
For decades now, we have been hearing about economic diversification but nothing has changed. At one time we depended heavily on bananas, now that emphasis has shifted to tourism. The Saint Lucia economy will hardly ever reach its full potential if that one-sector policy continues. A UWP government will adopt a balanced growth policy to ensure that all economic sectors are given equal attention to allow for a combined positive effect on the economy in the form of gainful and sustainable employment opportunities for all. In particular, the new UWP government will target the following strategic sectors for growth and the creation of employment: Tourism; Construction; Housing; Agribusiness; The Arts; Fashion Design; Handicraft; Manufacturing.
(E) SPREADING THE ENTREPRENEURIAL CULTURE
The UWP believes that entrepreneurship and private sector development are the keys to diversifying and growing the economy, expanding the middle class, and intensifying the circulation of money locally. This is unlike the policy of the SLP which focuses on low-skilled and underpaid work programmes which burden state financially and increase the level of poverty in the country.
UWP believes that there are countless opportunities that all our people, particularly our young people can seize to create meaningful employment for themselves. Unfortunately, there has been very little support given to them, hence, the shameful unemployment rate of over 42 percent among our youth. A new UWP administration will give special attention to our youth with regard to the provision of support in the following areas:
• Animation and film skills training with regional and international marketing support.
• Highly employable Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills training.
• Highly specialized training in response to the demand for certified workers in Accounting, Finance, and Financial Regulation.
• Training and employment support in hydroponics.
• Expanded and improved skills training programmes offered by the National Skills Development Centre.
• Awareness of opportunities in Sports and the Cultural Industries.
(F) SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
There has been an unprecedented closure of small businesses throughout Saint Lucia in the last five years under Labour. We have witnessed the difficult decision by employers to lay off hundreds of their employees in order to remain open. Small business owners have had to fend for themselves with very little or no government support. Those that remained open are barely surviving—relying month to month on exhausted bank overdrafts. They have lost total confidence in the ability of the Labour government to assist them in their plight. Anew UWP government will seek to restore confidence in the small business sector. We believe that incentivizing the creation of new businesses and supporting existing ones will be the engine that will spur growth and vibrancy in the economy. The following are the specific initiatives that will be undertaken:
• Help more Saint Lucians to become entrepreneurs by cutting red tape and providing more support and training for small businesses.
• Provide special incentives to approved new small businesses that intend to operate in special geographic areas
• Tax exemption for approved small businesses in the first two years of operation.
• Reduce taxes on approved existing small businesses for three consecutive years.
• Facilitate access to finance by small businesses (as is mandatory in India).
• Introduce a Delayed Payment Act (offering protection for small businesses which supply goods and services to larger entities).
• Enact Contract Enforcement Laws (making it easier for small business to seek legal redress).
• Adopting logistical improvements for OECS and CARICOM Single Market.
• Improve the process for delivering fiscal incentives such as duty free concessions.
• Make it easier for small businesses to win government contracts through: (a) an e-procurement system that brings down the cost of bidding and makes the process more accessible; and (b) breaking tenders into smaller contracts that can be won and completed by small companies. (G) FOREIGN AND LOCAL INVESTMENT The weak injection of both foreign and local investment in Saint Lucia is a major contributing factor for the anaemic economic growth experienced in the last four years. As a result, the unemployment situation has worsened, contrary to the SLP mantra of job creation. A new UWP administration will therefore:
• Create the best possible environment for conducting business in Saint Lucia.
• Attract investments in the areas of health, tourism, information technology, finance, and accounting.
• Attract investments that will provide sustainable jobs with reasonable incomes at all skill levels.
• Restructure the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) legislation into an independent body providing the highest level of governance, compliance, and accountability. Revenues from the restructured CIP will be allocated towards debt reduction, infrastructure, health, and education.
• Form partnerships with the private sector in the development of major national infrastructural projects.