Letters & Opinion

Where there’s political will, there’ll always be better ways forward!

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

New global realities, especially increased prices for everything and shrinking national incomes, especially since COVID-19 first registered in 2020, have forced a combination of responsive adjustments by Caribbean governments to the New Norms, working harder-and-better and cooperating more-than-ever to grow their economies and care for people, yielding better results at national and regional levels.

Take the examples of Saint Lucia and Guyana, two Caribbean nations big and small, richer and poorer and diametrically opposite in current economic circumstances, but both facing the same global pressures and their populations singing similar regional blues.

Take a good look at their respective report cards thus-far in 2022, against the background of Saint Lucia’s Philip J. Pierre administration being only one year and one month in office and Guyana’s PPP-Civic administration, led by President Dr Irfaan Ali, being in office for two years.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) is projecting Saint Lucia’s economy will register the highest GDP growth among Eastern Caribbean Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and its Eastern Caribbean Currency Union [ECCU] in 2022.

[The OECS comprises Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, as well as non-independent British-controlled territories Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands (BVI), Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks & Caicos Islands.

[The ECCU unites the OECS member-states, which all use the Eastern Caribbean (EC) dollar (U$ 1 = EC $2.71) as their national currency.]

ECLAC’s latest Annual Report, Economic Survey of Latin America and the Caribbean 2022: Trends and Challenges of Investing for a Sustainable and Inclusive Recovery, says Saint Lucia’s accelerated GDP growth trajectory is for 8%.

The island’s figures read well:

• Government has approved new hotel and tourism developments worth EC $320 million.

• The quarterly Labour Force survey conducted by the Central Statistical Office (CSO) for January to March 2022 estimated the national unemployment rate stood at 16.1% (after consistently remaining above 20% for more than the past six years);

• 59% of businesses reported (through a Chamber of Commerce survey) that they “made more money” between January and March, compared to the same period last year, 83% retained and/or added more jobs during the first quarter and 59% forecast increased revenue for the second quarter (April to June);

• 71% of businesses forecast increased profitability over the next 12 months, 66% forecast increased turnover over the next year, 71% forecast an increase in business profitability over the same period — and 29% reported worsened cash flow relative to the previous quarter.

• The CSO estimated the island’s Labour Force for the period January to March 2022 at approximately 104,262 workers – with over 83% employed during the first quarter.

Prime Minister Pierre also hopes the implementation of targeted fiscal policies, in concert with the rollout of plans by the Ministry for The Youth Economy (which he heads as Minister for Finance and Economic Development), will create a vibrant and more conducive economic space that encourages private sector expansion and decisively addresses youth unemployment.

On the other hand, Guyana, the fastest-growing Oil and Gas economy globally today, has spent more than ever, with better-than-ever results, while continuing to lead regional economic development and revival with phenomenal growth rates that help the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) post much-better performance figures on the global scale.

Guyana’s Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh last week presented the government’s overall financial and economic performance report during the first six months of 2022 and highlighted:

• Overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 36.4%, with the non-oil economy growing by 8.3%; and real GDP growth now projected at 56% overall by year’s-end and non-oil GDP growth at 9.6%.

• Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing expanded by 10.9% and is now expected to grow by 11.9 per cent.

• Mining and Quarrying grew by 64.6%, with a revised 2022 forecast of 99.9%.

• The Petroleum Sector expanded by an estimated 73.5% (with 34.6 million barrels of oil produced).

• The bauxite industry grew by 31.9%; and other Mining and Quarrying industries by 36.3%.

• Service Industries expanded by 7.6%, with overall 2022 growth rate now forecast at 6.3%).

• Manufacturing contracted by 11.4% in the first half of the year but is now projected to grow by 7.5% by year’s end.

• Construction grew by 20.4%.

• Balance of Payments recorded a US$100 million deficit, with receipts expanded by US$2,330.2 million, outweighing the US$506.6 million increase in imports.

• Credit to the Private Sector rose by 7.5% to $308.3 billion.

• Excise Tax on Petroleum was reduced from 20% to 10% when this year’s Budget was presented and reduced to zero in March.

• $1 billion went to purchase and distribute fertiliser to farmers across the country,

• $800 million went to provide cash grants to households in hinterland and riverine communities (plus several other similar interventions).

• The Natural Resources Fund (NRF) received US$307 million from its share of profit from oil, plus US$37.1 million in royalties, with a cumulative balance, including interest, of US$753.3 million — after withdrawing US$200 million in May; and

• Government anticipates 13 lifts from oil profits for 2022 and (subject to the evolution of world market oil prices) now projects US$1.1 billion from profits from oil sales and US$147.7 million in royalties.

Today’s new global norms have also seen Caribbean governments cooperating at much-higher levels and in many more ways in areas like Food Security, Agriculture, Energy, Health, Trade, Tourism, etc., while shielding populations from the bundled burdens of combined Climate Change and Supply Chain problems, cost effects of the Ukraine war — and an impending new global conflict over Taiwan.

In these two cases – and others –today’s crop of CARICOM leaders have been rising to the unfolding global challenges with the certainty that new approaches have to be made to finding new solutions for old and new problems.

Guyana and Saint Lucia are simply confirming the everlasting veracity and the eternal wisdom behind the ageless proverb: ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’

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