IN the 1950’s when St Lucia took the decision to move away from sugar and go into bananas, it was a strategic move that brought great fortune to our country. We became leaders in the OECS in the banana trade, and at one point we were producing over 127,000 tons for export. However in the early 1990’s the banana train derailed and we have been in economic turmoil since. Despite all the flowery language of those in the tourism sector, the fact remains that tourism has not created the wealth we saw in the banana days, it has not impacted significantly on unemployment, and we continue to live in this dream that this is the panacea for our economic illness.
In that same period of the early 1980’s we also tried ‘Industrialization by Invitation” with the many factory shells going up in Vieux Fort, Dennery, Bisee, Odsan and Massade, then that also collapsed. In the late 1990’s we thought about the financial services and pursued that in a very haphazard manner, never achieving the level of success that the BVI and Anguilla achieved. In the late 2000’s we considered the PetroCaribe as a possible source of funding, we were slow there, whether for better or for worse. Now in the 2010’s we are looking at the CIP as a source of revenue.
Yet again we have been slow, St Kitts is now an economic powerhouse through their CIP, and Prime Minister Harris just announced that all civil servants and pensioners will get a month salary as bonus in December. Dominica is now funding 90% of its capital programme through the CIP, to the value of $ 271.0 Million.
Why have we not been able to become leaders as we did in bananas in anything else since? Why have we been constantly left behind? Part of the answer lies in how our political parties have pursued governance. Every political party believes that the way to stay in power is to destroy everything the last government did and discredit the leadership.
In 1997, the Labour Party believed that to destroy the UWP you had to discredit Sir John and Sir Vaughan, and proceeded in the most naked display of political terrorism, in setting up a Commission of Enquiry. Millions of dollars were spent to determine whether a payment of $ 10,365.15 to Shirley Lewis, wife of former Prime Minister Vaughan Lewis was improper and the impropriety of Sir John’s actions in the construction of a road in Shanty Town.
I believe the words of Sir John to the Commission are most relevant:
“As a tax payer of this country, I fail to understand why millions of Dollars of the taxes of the people of this country should be employed in a Commission of Inquiry to determine, whether it was contrary to staff orders to recommend the employment on a temporary basis, at a salary of EC$3,000.00 per month, (a maximum expenditure of EC$9,000.00) of a St Lucian from the Vieux-Fort area to supervise the construction of a road in the Vieux-Fort area which was part of a project approved by the Parliament of St Lucia.
This I consider an abuse of the Commission of Inquiry Ordinance and a wanton and indefensible waste of the money of the tax payers of St Lucia.
Let me repeat that I consider this Inquiry to be politically motivated and consequently its challenges will be given appropriate responses”.
For the last 20 years it has been the modus operandi, and we have all become the losers. St Lucia is now poorer than it was in 1996. Surely there comes a point in time when this has to stop and that as a nation we can focus collectively at building this great nation and to leave a platform for our children to stand on.
I sincerely hope that we can get the CIP programme fully functional before we again lose out to our neighbours. It is now almost a year that the CIP legislation has passed and to the best of my knowledge we have not earned a cent. There is also a looming crisis on our doorsteps as the UK Infrastructure Grant Fund has a timeline for implementation. St Lucia has been allocated close to EC $ 100.0 Million in grant funding and we have not yet determined what project will be funded from this source. Again, we are left behind as both Antigua and Dominica are way ahead of us on this.