THE ECONOMICS OF THE FIRST 100 DAYS
While the 100 days mark is too short a period to assess the effectiveness of a new administration, it nonetheless affords the citizens with a gauge on how quickly it can settle to get down to the business of governance.
The TAG notes that the new PJP administration has made some advancements in the first 100 days including providing the commitment to pay the facilities fee portion of school fees and to support the financial needs of the Saint Lucia National Trust, to name two key issues in the public domain, however context matters in assessing the administration’s performance in this period.
On August 5, 2021, when the PJP new cabinet was sworn in the economic conditions were already less than encouraging – unemployment elevated, incomes depressed, and general standard of living left wanting. In fact, these were the very conditions, arguably, which helped propel this administration to unseating the Allen Chastanet administration in the July 26 general elections poll.
The economic prescriptions so articulated – with a focus on enhancing the incomes of individuals, no matter the efficacy of these proposed measures to address the poor economic conditions, certainly resonated with much with the voters in communities such as Gros Islet, Babonneau, Dennery, Micoud, Soufriere and surroundings and indeed across our 238 sq. miles nation. Addressing these very economic issues along with keeping Covid-19 infections and death rate at bay ought to have been jobs number 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this administration. The assessment on the 100 days should then start with an assessment on how these economic issues and the Covid-19 pandemic have been managed by the new administration.
The scorecard on the administration’s efforts toward improving incomes of families across Saint Lucia should assess the following issues:
1. The number of new jobs created during the first 100 days.
2. The level of government support to raise family incomes.
3. Government measures to provide adequate cushioning of the economic fall-out of Covid-19; and
4. The articulation of a visionary plan to restore growth and safeguards incomes and
livelihoods. These shall be addressed individually.
Creating New Jobs
While the job-creating efforts of the former administration reduced pre-Covid-19 unemployment levels to roughly 15%, given the significant contraction of the economy in 2020 of over 20% of GDP, unemployment rose in 2020 at unprecedented levels. In a single month appropriately 15,000 workers especially in the tourism sector saw their jobs and incomes wither away. The injections into the construction sector by the last administration were aimed at slowing and in some cases reversing the rise of unemployment.
The road construction projects across the country, for instance, were meant to stimulate economic activity from the purchase of inputs from local suppliers to the employment of persons previously employed at a hotel to the purchase of lunches from the nearby roadside food vendor, hence was focused on ensuring that the economy kept on jutting forward towards recovery.
The decision to stop several construction projects, even for a couple of months, had dire consequences for those, directly or indirectly, benefiting from these economic activities. At the very least, the continuation of these projects without break post the July 26th general elections poll should have been a central commitment of the new administration given an understanding of what these projects meant for struggling families who are dependent on the fortnightly incomes received. Moreover, articulating how this administration intends to restore growth and create jobs for the unemployed is hence still an unknown 100 days and counting into government.
While it is understood that government cannot solve all problems in society, it, however, must continue to serve as the benevolent institution that it was meant to be. While in opposition, it was made clear that a fundamental need of all Saint Lucians was to increase incomes to survive the economic fall-out of Covid-19. Moreover, it was also very clear that the nearly 100 million spent on income support in 2020 by the last administration was insufficient, hence the need for increasing the income support for non NIC contributors – which include many taxi drivers, vendors and others in the informal sector, from EC$ 500 monthly to EC$ 1,500 monthly. However, over 100 days in government, an argument in opposition has failed to become immediate policy in government. More concerning is the lack of an articulated strategy to address this continuous need by thousands of families where income support remains central to their survival. If the argument that the financial state of the economy prevents the granting of the EC$ 1,500 monthly to those in need, perhaps, what would have been a well-received policy in the interim is the issuance of income tax refunds for as many families in need. These refunds would go a long way in addressing the immediate needs of citizens and certainly would have given them some hope going into 2022.
Perhaps, it is not too late to consider the provision of tax refunds packaged as an early Christmas present for many of these families.
Special Support Programme
Given the extent to which the economic fall-out from Covid-19 has been more disproportionately impactful on the poor and vulnerable, there was a need for a well-designed targeted programme for these groups. While some measures were in place by the previous administration such as support for meeting utilities and obtaining basic needs such as food, more is required. The decision to provide rent relief to families occupying the CDCs is important, a policy previously approved by the former administration, there are a plethora of families beyond the CDCs crying for government social support programmes. Government must hence report on measures in this regard during its first 100 days and beyond. We cannot continue the perpetuate the warped approach of addressing the needs of Castries and the north. There is no doubt that many in the rural sectors of St Lucia have to contend with significantly acute and squalor housing conditions.
Restoring Growth and Building Resilience
The fundamental reason for this economic crisis is beyond Covid-19 and rest on the fact that there is an overreliance on one major sector. While highlighting the need to build a youth economy is important, it does not answer nor articulate sufficient how this government will grow the economy, creating more sustainable jobs and livelihoods. The blueprint for growth and development cannot give birth on its own, it must be well-thought-out and address the core problems facing the economy. We believe strongly, that time waits for no man, hence the need for a plan will seek to bring all stakeholders together towards a new Saint Lucia in the post-Covid-19 era.
Sadly, the inability to articulate this vision in the shortest period of time may result in economic management with limited or no vision.
Putting you First
We believe that these are four areas where the new administration should have reported on as a measure of their effectiveness in government. Not only is this necessary as these issues remain frontal for many Saint Lucians and businesses but also because these remain the main platform of promises to the voter. Putting you first should really mean addressing the core issues affecting the voter first in the first 100 days.