The debate on the 2019/2020 Estimates of Expenditure may have ended in the House of Assembly, but not before Saint Lucians received an insight of how government intends to spend the $1,519,589,000 the government needs to conduct the country’s business for that year.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet spoke at length about how the money will be disbursed but opposition leader Philip J Pierre in his rebuttal was not at all impressed with the Prime Minister’s plans stating that the tabling of the estimates must be viewed from the perspective of its impact on the local population.
“Have the monies spent in the last fiscal year 2018/2019 improved the lives of most Saint Lucians, and is there reason to believe the planned expenditure from 2019/2020 is realistic and likely to improve the living conditions of the people of Saint Lucia?” asked Pierre of House Speaker Andy Daniel.
Pierre said that the management of the Saint Lucian economy must be done in an environment of fairness and inclusion, and with a level of fiscal responsibility, so that our young people are not disproportionately burdened with the debt government undertakes today.
“Our procurement rules are designed to meet the requirements of fairness and inclusion, moreover that the Saint Lucian people can get value for money from all government expenditure,” Pierre said.
Pierre, however, believes this has not been the case, saying that so far Saint Lucians have been seeing an unprecedented number of contracts awarded without contractors being invited to tender.
“The government, in a show of contempt for good government and accountability are awarding multi-million dollar contracts to a select few: friends, family and foreigners. It is no wonder that the vast majority of Saint Lucians are worst off with a deteriorating health care system, which government ministers and their families avoid for overseas health care, relatively high fuel prices, a deteriorating school infrastructure and rising food prices at the supermarkets. This is the real story on the ground,” Pierre said.
He opined that this was particularly hard for Saint Lucians to stomach when large sums of government monies were being shelled out for projects like DSH and on fines and penalties incurred by government on account of poor management.
“This is the context in which I will examine these estimates and not in the yellow eyes of this government which seek to distract and bluff the people into believing it to be clever politics. It is not clever politics, it is disrespectful and harmful to the well-being of the people whom we were elected to serve,” Pierre said.
The Opposition Leader said that the effects of bypassing the tendering process were there to see. He referenced the eighteen million spent by the Ministry of Economic Development in the last fiscal year on the George Odlum Stadium of which $15 million was on the building, however, despite the massive expenditure, parts of the stadium still have no roof.
“The question must be asked, where and how was that money spent? Who will account for the $18 million of tax-payers funds that was supposedly spent on the St Jude Hospital?” asked Pierre, who also questioned whether Saint Lucians will get a proper accounting for the $30 million for Consultancy Services and Commission that were paid in the last fiscal year.
“Will the $47.4 million of capital expenditure allocated to the Ministry of Economic Development follow the customary path of direct awards to closely connected contractors of the government? These are the questions that need to be answered if we are to determine whether the plans for 2019/2020 are no different from last year’s preferential arrangements for granting contracts,” Pierre said.
Chastanet for his part expressed pride for what his government had accomplished and for how the budget will be dispensed.
For example, he said that the Sinking Fund, which was re-established by government, will be boosted by $12 million giving it a total of $33 million.
“The Public Medical Assistance increased significantly from an approved budget of approximately $800,000 in 2018/2019 to well over $5 million. More people will be employed in various key departments such as the Department of Home Affairs, Department of Justice, and the Attorney General’s Chambers,” Chastanet said.
He added that the provision for insurance had been increased to cater for additional coverage under the Catastrophic Risk Insurance facility and that a contingency of $10 million has been included to cater for unforeseen and urgent expenditures arising as a result of natural disasters, epidemics, contingent liabilities, etc.
The Prime Minister said that a sum of $325.5 million has been allocated to meet debt service requirements during this financial year, which comprises interest payments of $182.3 million and principal repayment of $142.96 million of which $12 million is expected to go towards building up the Sinking Fund to liquidate maturing debt instruments.
With respect to the transfer payments, the government is proposing to allocate the sum of $178.2 million representing a reduction of 1.6 per cent or $3 million below the revised estimates for 2018/2019, a reduction which was as a result of the reduced subvention to the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority.
According to Prime Minister, $300.6 million has been allocated to funding projects for the new fiscal year. He said capital expenditure constitutes $246.7 million of the sum while the remaining $53.9 will go towards project expenses.
“The bulk of my government’s capital allocation is geared towards improvements in the agricultural production, infrastructural development, sports infrastructure, health and education,” Chastanet said.
He said the proposed allocation for roads and bridges for 2019/2020 represent the largest amount since the fiscal year 2006/2007. With respect to sports, the Prime Minister said a proposed sum of $20.6 million had been allocated to the Department of Sports to cater for major improvements to sporting facilities around the island.
“Though we continue to experience budget deficits, I am pleased to report that the budget out-turn for the fiscal year 2018/2019 indicates a lower overall deficit of $68.43 million, compared to the estimated deficit of $163.92 million in the approved estimates for that year,” Chastanet said, noting that this was due to the combined effect of higher than anticipated revenue earnings and some notable under-spending of the budget.
According to Chastanet, based on actual data for the 11-month period ending February 28th, 2019 total revenue and grants were projected to increase by $27.82 million above the approved estimates of $1.176 billion to reach a total of $1.204 billion for the fiscal year 2018/2019.
“This performance is largely influenced by higher than projected inflows from Import Duty, Service Charge, VAT, Income Tax, and CIP receipts. Receipts from CIP donations registered the most significant improvement with a surplus of $37.3 million or 126 per cent
above the estimates for the fiscal year 2018/2019,” Chastanet said.