CASH flow problems being experienced by the government has been identified as the cause of the removal of the $700,000 subvention to the St. Lucia National Trust (SLNT) for the 2017/2018 financial year.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet confirmed the subvention removal yesterday to reporters just before Cabinet met, prompting the Trust to call an emergency membership meeting for Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at its Pigeon Island National Landmark headquarters.
Calling the subvention removal “unprecedented, unjustified and an exceedingly unfortunate measure given its record as the country’s leading quasi-government institution for conservation,” the Trust called on all Members of Parliament to insist on the reinstatement of the subvention for the 2017/2018 period.
Noting that the loss of the subvention would greatly stymie its efforts in heritage conservation, the Trust stated in a press release yesterday that in the interim it would continue to carefully study the implications of the proposal and options available to it within the short term if the proposal is enacted.
“The Trust will also seek the support of its international partners, civil society and the entire St. Lucian populace, home and abroad, to advocate on its behalf,” it noted.
Chastanet said the subvention removal had nothing to do with the differences between his government and the Trust on the proposal of a dolphinarium for the Pigeon Island National Landmark but rather with government’s lack of money and his belief that government should be paying for the Trust’s recurrent expenditure.
“Right now, we have a cash problem in the government. We are not generating enough revenue to cover all the costs that we have. We have to prioritize where we are going to spend our money,” Chastanet said.
He explained that as a result of the country’s cash flow problems, several government and quasi-government entities were now under review, such as the St. Lucia Tourist Board, which is presently being replaced by a new entity. The Jazz Festival has now changed into a Summer Festival, while Radio St. Lucia is under review, as are the Government Printery, General Post Office, St. Lucia Marketing Board and Fisheries Department.
“So I am not vexed with the Trust,” Chastanet said, explaining that the Trust, like all entities in St. Lucia, is required to justify how it spends monies given to it.
Said Chastanet: “I’ve been elected by the people to make decisions to best benefit and re-prioritize how we are going about government’s business. There are too many St. Lucians who are suffering and who believe government has abandoned them. The decisions we make on a day-to-day basis do not reflect their needs. So we have to reprioritize how we are going to spend the money in St. Lucia, and if there was enough money to go around, this would be a non-issue.”
He continued: “Everybody has to justify every single cent that we are spending. The government spends about $114 million a year on different entities and every single cent that we have is under review. In the case of the National Trust, the intention is that I don’t believe government should be paying for the recurrent expenditure of the Trust. So if the Trust has a business plan and wants to make an investment, then they are free to approach the government and make that request and we will invest it on the basis of the merit of the project.”
According to Chastanet, the Trust had at some time submitted a plan to Cabinet and that Cabinet was still awaiting final information on the feasibility study which seeks to convert the current museum into a conference facility.
“I’m still waiting to see whether this has financial sense,” Chastanet said.
Chastanet reiterated the subvention had nothing to do with him being upset with the Trust and seeking revenge.
“This is so far from the truth. The Trust is an advocacy group and I trust and respect them as an advocacy group and at no time has my government tried to bypass the Trust. In fact, the dolphin park investment that came went to the Trust. I did not make any pre-announcements, I did not lobby anybody. It’s for the Trust to make the decision. All I indicated to the Trust was that a vote by the membership is not a sufficient answer. You must give us in writing the pros and the cons of the project and tell us what your position is. So that when Cabinet sits down to make a decision that we have that information to put into our decision-making process,” Chastanet said.
Meanwhile, the Trust calls on the government to amend its position on withholding the 2017/2018 subvention in the national interest.
“As always, the Trust stands ready to meet with the government and seeks urgent dialogue on the matter, particularly given that it was given no opportunity to offer advice on this matter,” it stated yesterday.