ONE does not need to be an economist to acknowledge the fact that Saint Lucia is perhaps facing way more socio-economic woes than it can handle. No amount of rhetoric or spin can dispute the reality that even while both the public and private sectors scramble to find short-term solutions, these long-term problems worsen.
Just this week, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet expressed consternation at government already finding it difficult to navigate the financial quagmire that is the Treasury. The situation is so dire that the lamentably high public sector wage bill and annual rental of office space amounting to close to $45 million might unavoidably put a damper on government’s best-laid plans for the future.
It is no secret that Saint Lucia has been borrowing — or burrowing — itself into debt for decades now. Debt levels are so exorbitant that it has now become the norm for existing debt to be rolled over. Even honouring our nearly $3 billion national debt has become a major national pastime.
However, government seems to have a greater problem spending its finances. That multi-million-dollar projects have become the source of major technical audits that end up on shelves for self-serving posterity is far beyond ridiculous. Sadly, for the millions of dollars that were mismanaged by successive governments, non-retroactive laws recently enacted cannot bring back what we lost.
As it stands, government has fewer sources of income than it had traditionally. The agriculture, construction and manufacturing sectors are still a tripod that sits idly, metaphorically. The grand saviour, tourism, is now teetering, with arrivals at dismal levels – or nothing really to clap about. At best, the percentages do very little to enhance wages – for government, private sector and homes.
It should come as no surprise that this budget season, Saint Lucians might be asked to chip in more for goods and services they now enjoy. With the recent shortfall in VAT revenue – estimated at $52.5 million less that the government collects annually – someone will have to pay the piper and it definitely might not come via borrowing alone.
The economic hardship is taking a deeper toll on people’s purses, patience and psyches, so much so that criminality has become an expected norm. These days, hotspots seem to have to do nothing with Wi-Fi but with traditionally safe spots becoming the breeding grounds for criminals ready to pounce on their prey and eke out a living. Bank foreclosures and job layoffs, too, are becoming more the norm as people and businesses find it difficult to – like the government – stay afloat.
Whatever fiscal policy and programmes the government brings to Parliament in a few days needs to be different, realistic and appropriate for the times we live in. Such policies must also take into consideration the changing times. What Saint Lucians do not want are policies and programmes that see them spending more but receiving less. For a change, no effort should be spared this budget cycle towards doing away with blaming the past while simultaneously continuing to repeat it.
Citizens deserve a better working system. Should the government fail this cycle, it would only be endorsing the precedent it previously condemned.