WE ought to have been collectively breathing a sigh of relief at the cutting of the VAT rate announced by Prime Minister Chastanet on Monday evening. Instead this event has been overshadowed by the result of the United States presidential election which has sent our region, and indeed most of the world, into a tailspin.
We have yet to hear of anyone in the Caribbean who believes that the election of Donald Trump to the White House and his Republican Party’s control of the U.S. Congress as boding anything but disaster for this region. Indeed, Tuesday’s results present a potential nightmare for the entire world, based on the Trump rhetoric and threats that were heard during the recent campaign.
The election result has been followed by an outpouring of protest across cities in the United States, with thousands of people disowning the President within hours of his election which is unprecedented in American politics. It is a most bizarre situation that currently confronts the mighty United States where even one of the structures of its democracy, the Electoral College, now finds itself under scrutiny because while Trump won the required Electoral votes he trailed his opponent Hillary Clinton in the popular count.
But first, the Prime Minister’s VAT announcement. This has been greeted with positive response by some organizations. The 2.5 percent reduction is intended to put back some $52 million into the pockets of St Lucians, or so we are told after it comes into effect next February. The government has been criticized for not implementing this in its first 100 days as promised but commonsense should tell the critics that not everything an incoming government promises can be delivered within the stated time. In fact, even Trump is already beginning to find this out, a matter of days after his win. His promise to impose term limits on members of Congress on his first day in office simply cannot be delivered.
The thing about the VAT reduction is that any relief the people and the business sector of St Lucia can get at this point, is most welcome, because as we have said before, our economy is in a worst shape than we were led to believe by the former Labour government and it will take some effort to get it back on track. But it can be done.
We were disappointed with the brevity of Mr. Chastanet’s first Address to the nation last Monday. We thought he should have used the opportunity to address some of the other issues that currently confront and concern our country, some with international implications, others of purely domestic interest. For instance, the hype about new markets for bananas has apparently died down even while we understand that there is growing interest among farmers about that possibility.
We are entering a period of serious uncertainty in world affairs that could negatively impact our economic and social order, both locally and regionally, in the short to medium term. St Lucia will need to devise new economic pursuits and opportunities for our people if we are to survive. University of the West Indies Chancellor Hilary Beckles has mentioned return migration of Caribbean people living in the U.S. and a shrinking of international trade as possible outcomes of Trump’s presidency. The real fear is that if Trump pursues the policies he has floated on the campaign trail, he could destabilize the entire world, and the United States with it.
For starters, it is not at all far-fetched to expect a new wave of racism emerging in the United States and the usurping of civil rights similar to what blacks endured in the 1960s. Neither can we completely discount the likelihood of Trump flexing the military might of the United States and fomenting conflict in the various regions of the world.
Mr. Trump won Tuesday’s election fair and square, despite his earlier claims that the vote might be rigged. He now struts the stage with immense power but there is a significant body of domestic and world opinion unfavourable to him. In the end it may be that bloc that will have to keep him in line if he becomes over ambitious or over bearing.