The 2022-2023 Appropriation Bill commonly called the budget which was presented in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, 26th April 2022 by Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre has indicated that there will be something for everyone. In fact, he has used apt words and phrases to describe the budget; A People-Centric Budget, and the People’s Budget. All these names are intended to show that his government will keep to its mantra: “Putting People First”.
The Prime Minister, who is also the Minister for Finance, in tabling the bill insisted that: “The budget will empower our people and transform our economy”.
The budget will cater for the youth, organizations where people congregate for services, the public service, pensioners, fishers; both men and women, taxpayers, entrepreneurs, school children, persons receiving government subsistence allowances, farmers, persons with disabilities, persons with broken down homes and manufacturers.
I am sorry if I missed out on others. The point is that all St. Lucians, without exception, will be touched by the 2022- 2023 budget.
The Youth Economy Project was highlighted very early in his presentation. The government is steadfast in ensuring that the young people of St. Lucia are meaningfully engaged in gainful employment. They will also get an opportunity for training in their areas of engagement.
For many years, persons have called upon government to provide employment opportunities for young people. The present government is coming forth with the “Youth Economy Project in 2022.
The budget will cater particularly for poor people who congregate in organizations for services. For example, the St. Lucia Diabetes and Hypertension Association, which will receive a government subvention larger than what it used to receive. This increase is badly needed to provide the services needed in its general operations. Some of these services are: Footcare, testing for blood sugar, testing for persons with hypertension, counselling, diabetes and hypertension supplies, and so on.
The St. Lucy’s Home government subvention will also increase. The Home caters for several Homeless and Street people of St. Lucia, provides for their basic human needs, that is food, clothing and shelter and health care, at no cost to them and without discrimination.
COVID-19 has created a serious setback for the Home, which is happy that the government stepped in to assist in some areas of need.
The government has confirmed and given an increase in salary to the persons who move the government machinery in its daily operations. And I am sure public servants are happy about that effort. I have every reason to believe that government will work hand in hand with its workers.
Agriculture has come in for special mention, and a strategy will be used to bolster local farmers, fishers and the St. Lucia Marketing Board.
Indeed, there would be a re-emergence of bananas with the regional and international markets with the cooperation of farmers’ organizations.
Government has made it quite clear that fishing facilities will be repaired in Castries, Dennery and Vieux Fort. I am sure the fishers in those districts or communities are happy to hear that the facilities which they have complained about for several years will now be taken care of.
Pensioners have come for some attention in the estimates of expenditure. Pensioners who receive a pension, the same quantum of money for 20 and 25 years, will at least be given a one-off sum of $500. It is clear that the government has a strong desire to improve the livelihood of persons who have made significant contributions to the public sector.
Taxpayers also came in for some relief; Persons who pay income tax and are below a threshold, would not be required to pay income tax. It means therefore, that they would have that money for personal development.
Indeed, persons who receive government subsistence will continue to receive the money. And government intends to increase the amount.to allow those persons to have a decent living.
It is not the first time that the Prime Minister had spoken on this matter. He knows that for a long time, persons who are in receipt of public subsistence have received the money late. And I mean extremely late, meaning two and three months late. And I often wondered how those persons were surviving. In his budget presentation, he reiterated that persons receiving public subsistence allowance must be paid together with the payment of salaries to public servants. And I think that reasonable request.
I must point out that the government subvention paid to some organizations, particularly where the older persons assemble, is paid late. I am sure that the Prime Minister will correct this.
Education has come in for some serious attention. As the Prime Minister puts it, “My government will institute a programme which will unlock the full potential of our students.” He continued: “The one laptop per child programme will be reinstated.”
Vocational Education will receive some serious attention by the government of St. Lucia. Also, children with disabilities will finally receive the kind of attention that they deserve. As an educator who has spent more than four decades in the St. Lucia education system, this is welcoming news for our education system.
Now this is not just talk. To show the seriousness of the government, an interpreter was engaged to transmit information on the budget to persons with disabilities. And there are many people in St. Lucia with hearing disabilities who will now be engaged in the happenings of government.
It is heartening to know that the government would reintroduce the teaching of our African Heritage. In my early years as a classroom teacher, I taught about the way of life of our African ancestors. There was even a textbook entitled, West Indian Heritage, which was actually prescribed by the Ministry of Education. But the subject died somewhere along the way. Even West Indian History had been put on the ‘back burner’ and Social Studies introduced.
The Promotion of Kitchen Gardens in schools, Self Regulated or Directed Learning and the payment of CXC fees for some students will touch the lives of many children in the Education System.
In conclusion, my assessment of the 2022 -2023 budget is that it receives an A+ Grade. The Prime Minister has made an excellent presentation which will, not just touch, but massage the lives of the St. Lucian people.