Prime Minister Allen Chastanet this week presented a $1.6 billion budget for the Financial Year 2021/2022 which focuses on resuscitating the economy.
But Opposition Leader Philip J Pierre is not sold on what the Prime Minister offered stating that the budget is an ‘unrealistic set of estimates.’
COVID-19 featured prominently in the Prime Minister’s budget presentation with him saying that the virus had and continues to impact us all, physically, emotionally, socially and economically.
“It has adversely impacted on our economy, causing serious shortfalls in revenue collection and negatively impacting public finances, the business community and in particular, small businesses,” Chastanet said.
Chastanet said that over the past three years, government worked on a ‘medium-term development strategy’, an initiative, implemented to provide “a well sought framework for charting the development of our country for the medium term.”
The prime minister added that with the onset of COVID-19, government was forced to re-think that strategy which was founded on some key pillars. “The mid-term strategy reinforced in our minds that we were on the right track. However, similar to the response to a natural disaster, we had to act with a sense of urgency and launch our Covid response strategy in order to mitigate the economic shocks from the pandemic and navigate through the circumstances that loomed large before us,” he said.
Subsequently, said Chastanet, government applied a ‘three-pronged’ approach to the pandemic that included; the health care response plan, social stabilization program and the economic recovery and resilience plan.
He further explained, “The ultimate goal of this short-term strategy encapsulated …saving lives, securing livelihoods and stimulating the economy.”
Speaking against the back drop of the coronavirus impact on the populace, PM Chastanet said, “It is clear that the fiscal year 2021/2022 will undoubtedly be a challenging one as the prevailing conditions from 2020/2021 will persist for some time.”
He added, “Therefore, our single and most important goal is to ensure that we keep our people safe and our economy alive.”
He said there is much concern about economic recovery, “which is compounded by the fact that we are confronting several unknowns with limited fiscal resources, given the erosion of our public finances over the last year.”
The prime minister recalled that last April, parliament approved a total revenue expenditure of $1.697 billion, which represented approximately 33 % of GDP. This figure comprised of $1.62 billion for recurrent expenditure, and $334.5 million for capital investment program.
Based on the data provided for the period ending January, 31st 2021, he explained, total spending amounted to $1.534 billion “some $163 million lower than the approved budget for that year.”
With heavy emphasis on infrastructural development projects, PM Chastanet disclosed that a total of $335 million has been allocated towards the implementation of various projects for the year.
“This year’s budget allocation represents an increase of 8.6% or $17.3 million compared to the estimates for the current fiscal year,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the increased allocation is primarily attributed to among other things, “additional acquisition made from the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), rental of quarantine facilities and consultancy services for the health sector as well as various other projects.”
Said Chastanet: “We remain focused on increasing the economic fortune of our nation, reducing the debt burden and ensuring that our country’s finances are on a sustainable path …”
He asserted: “This budget …is one that is expected to expand economic activity, strengthen social protection systems, protect the poor and vulnerable, stimulate economic activity, foster greater efficiencies in service deliveries in the public sector, while ensuring greater fiscal prudence in government expenditure.”
Chastanet said though the road ahead is full of uncertainties and will test “the fortitude and resilience of our nation”, nonetheless “my government is committed to creating an environment, which will foster sustainable economic growth and development.”
Chastanet added that government is determined to continue the works that they have started and to “take the bold steps that is necessary to bring our public finances back to sustainable path.”
He said, “This is not the time to shy away from challenges that lie before us. Now is the time to put our collective efforts together, to turn our threats to opportunities, our weaknesses into strengths. Now is the time to put our shoulders to the wheel and to chart a path ahead to recovery and progress.”
He assured that government remains steadfast in its efforts to “help improve the quality of life for our people”
Chastanet said government will continue along the path of “people centric development knowing that the work we have done and are continuing to do will help to support and improve the quality of life of our people and the development of new businesses.”
Opposition Leader Phillip Pierre described the budget presentation as an ‘unrealistic set of estimates’, which appears to bear no relations to the current situation in the country.
He lamented that the presented estimates were
out of touch with the realities plaguing Saint Lucians.
The opposition leader expressed his concern for the state of healthcare and the alarming number of COVID-1 9 related deaths in the country. He noted that St Lucia has recorded more COVID related deaths than the entire OECS combined and the increase in the number of persons who cannot meet basic healthcare costs.
“The country is in mourning and the government does not seem to care,” Pierre contended. “These deaths could have been avoided if the state of health care in our country was better.”
He apportioned blame to the direct failure of the UWP Government who scrapped Universal Health Care plans.
He noted that $18.2 million was being borrowed for consultancies, while Wellness Centres remain ill-equipped, medication shortages and the morale of healthcare workers is at an all-time low.
According to Pierre, the St. Jude’s Hospital remains incomplete after being under construction for seven years by the UWP regime, who destroyed two buildings and have spent over $79 million; while the hospital is nowhere near completion.
The Castries East MP assured that a new SLP Government cares for people and would ensure that Saint Lucians receive much needed support during this economic crisis.