April is a much anticipated time of year for many reasons, and an extended weekend for the Easter holidays is one of them. Another happening in April, certainly on a less spiritual or commercial note, depending on how you celebrate Easter, is the annual Budget presentation. Some people watch just to find out what exactly government plans to do differently with the country’s money in the coming financial year. Others watch perchance to witness drama on some level, particularly in the Budget debate that follows the official presentation made by the island’s prime minister.
Fortunately this year (for the most part), attention remained on the heart of the matter, and the facts contained within this year’s Budget presentation, aptly themed, ‘Growth by Empowerment for a Better Future.’
In our last two issues, we touched on various aspects highlighted within the 2019/2020 Budget presentation, including the accomplishments and challenges the government had encountered in the last year, as told by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet. Continuing with that thread, the prime minister noted in the Budget presentation certain measures that had been taken to improve the finances of Saint Lucia. He said his government had realized upon coming into office that Saint Lucia’s debt profile was problematic, in that it posed a ‘real life risk’ to Saint Lucia.
According to the prime minister, much of our debt was in short term Treasury Bills, which increased Saint Lucia’s vulnerability to external shocks. Government had since made a determined effort to convert short-term debt into longer-term bonds, in order to reduce refinancing risk. All of this was part of the foundation that was necessary, according to Chastanet, to take the next step which was in the direction of ‘people-centred growth’.
Government is currently on a path to restructure the economy, and the prime minister elaborated on the Medium-Term Development Approach which had been developed in order to move the island in a more sustainable direction. Key areas highlighted in the Plan include Healthcare, Education, Citizen Safety, Tourism, Agriculture and Infrastructure. As such, Chastanet related that his government was committed to working toward more affordable healthcare, which is an area that has been neglected over the years in Saint Lucia. Quality and more affordable healthcare has been identified by government’s past and present, but the area has yet to be successfully transformed. Later in his presentation the prime minister spoke of the creation of a National Health Fund, which would fund the proposed National Health insurance.
The prime minister noted that there were necessary ‘legislative and institutional changes required to facilitate the full establishment of the national health insurance scheme’, and said the Department of Health and Wellness would be responsible for implementing a pilot NHI, as well as putting in place the necessary support systems. The prime minister also announced that a National Health Insurance Committee had been set up to present the best model and financing options to Cabinet. He promised broad-based stakeholder consultations soon.
As it relates to education, the goal was the enrollment of 7,500 students in public post-secondary or tertiary education and TVET programmes; Citizen Safety – a 45% reduction in serious crimes, Tourism – a 40% jump in tourist arrivals, Agriculture – an increased number of exports in bananas and cocoa; and Infrastructure – 99km roads, double airlift capacity, and a 40% increase in cruise capacity.
In keeping with this year’s Independence theme, the island’s prime minister called on Saint Lucians to be ‘All-in’, and support the far-reaching efforts being made by the government, and embrace the new and bold direction.
In the next issue, we’ll focus on government’s plans moving forward to promote Citizen Safety!