HE was humble, articulate and conciliatory. On October 5, in his third major press conference this year, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet charmed his audience with his ability to explain and listen and his willingness to provide frank and thoughtful answers to many of the country’s economic and social challenges.
Clearly, the media-friendly Prime Minister resisted the urge to wax poetic about future actions that will never actually materialize (a practice his predecessor often engaged in) — and instead offered and directed a way forward in line with his government’s bold thrust and pitch to reclaim the economic initiative, despite the many challenges ahead, both nationally and globally.
Unfazed by the spurious claims and objections of obstreperous opposition politicians, PM Chastanet reiterated his plan and vision for the island, dwelling on a variety of national issues, including crime and security, social justice and equity, economic development, tourism growth, health care and foreign direct investment.
Setting the scene for a new economic zeitgeist, the PM outlined some of the strides already made and explained the economic impetus already underway with banana production up by 20 per cent and land-based tourism arrivals rising by 10 percent.
The fluidity and intelligence with which the PM addressed some of the country’s most intractable problems is further evidence that he truly understands that times like these call for a combination of open-mindedness and careful design of economic policies before implementation.
Critical national issues, such as how to create a sustainable revenue stream for health care as well as the establishment of a minimum standard of living for the country’s citizens, were given due and thoughtful attention, even as the country grapples with a monstrous public debt left behind by a former government that had absolutely no clue as to how to attract investments and improve the country’s growth prospects.
Listening to the PM explain the time and resources his government would need to responsibly address our fiscal situation, I couldn’t help but notice and appreciate his bona fide desire to lift this nation out of its economic discontent. My takeaway from the press conference (based on the PM’s pronouncements) is the need and pursuit of an ambitious investment strategy driven by government and business leaders working in partnership, sustained by an improved level of competition and the use of technology and creativity.
The idea of a sovereign fund is one that’s worth its weight in gold and long overdue, particularly as the popularity and size of sovereign wealth funds continue to grow. Hence, when the PM signaled his government’s interest in pursuing such an idea — modelled on the Norwegian SWF — the thought of a visionary leader in the mould of Justin Trudeau struck me. Basically, investments made through a Sovereign Wealth Fund (which can be commodity or non-commodity based) are effectively a way for countries to diversify and become less reliant on a single stream of income. It’s simply a mechanism through which countries invest globally in any asset class – stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, real estate or other areas of potential growth. Most SWFs, therefore, have unusually long investment horizons, since they are investing for future generations.
To strengthen international cooperation, even as the developed world looks inward, the Prime Minister has responded to invitations from Heads of Government and international bodies, and participated in several meetings and summits. These have allowed the government to explore opportunities for foreign direct investment, tourism growth, expanded trade and technical and cultural cooperation.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September this year, the Prime Minister urged the international community to find real solutions for the crises in healthcare, living standards and social justice.
As OECS Chairman, it is widely acknowledged that the PM has done a sterling job (whether at the UN or in other global forums, including MSNBC) in giving expression to the concerns of small states, particularly with regard to climate change and disaster vulnerability – consistently urging world leaders to provide a more meaningful and far-reaching development framework to benefit all nations, as the many millions around the world living in poverty and inequity, need a clear message of hope.
For his clarity of purpose and for the steadfast leadership provided on behalf of our nation and the region, I congratulate PM Chastanet and remain very hopeful that we can enter the new year with renewed confidence that Saint Lucia will make significant strides in the years ahead.