Prime Minister Phillip Pierre has laid out the status of several ongoing national infrastructure projects during an address to the nation, Sunday, as the country sets out on a path to socio-economic recovery.
Among the major state projects he spoke on were the Hewannora International Airport Redevelopment; St Jude Hospital Reconstruction; Universal Health Care (UHC) and the Global Port Holdings (GPH) cruise facilities upgrade.
The prime minister noted that government “will continue to prioritize the health, safety, and security of our citizens”.
“Additionally, ensuring Saint Lucia’s economic and financial stability remains an important and immediate goal of this government,” declared PM Pierre.
He continued, “We believe the stability of the country’s finances is critical to restoring an enabling environment that will spur private-sector investment and economic growth.”
The prime minister stressed the importance of implementing the Youth Economy, as a viable avenue and an opportunity to afford young people “exciting prospects” with the establishment of the Youth Economy Agency (YEA), which is due to come on stream shortly , this February.
“Through the interventions of this Agency, the hobbies of our young people will be transformed into entrepreneurship and their skills into business with support in finance, marketing, training, and mentorship,” he explained.
Pierre said the launch of the YEA has taken some time, due to “careful and detailed planning to assure the success of this ambitious venture.”
On a broader scale, the prime minster delved into mechanisms set up by government to help the citizenry offset the rising Cost of Living and Inflation expenses.
PM Pierre disclosed that from January this year, workers earning up to $25,000.00 a year will not pay any income tax. He noted that between 10,000 -14,000 workers stand to benefit from this new tax exemption “which amounts to an additional $12-14 million dollars of disposable income for these workers”.
However, he cautioned, it is anticipated that the cost of living disruption triggered by the increased cost of imported goods, experienced last year , will continue into this year.
With an increase in the price of bread, from January, the prime minister stated that government has taken measures to help ‘ease the squeeze’ on the baking industry and consumers generally, by continuing “to subsidize the cost of flour to bakers by $16.00 per bag and by $35.91 to the general public”.
Also, he added, the authorities have maintained the suspended 6.5% Service Charge on basic food commodities thus subsidizing the prices of these items.
“We will continue to work with the private sector to source suppliers of more affordable items for public consumption,” said Pierre.
Citing the lure for Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), the prime minster declared that, “Investors are showing a high level of interest and confidence in Saint Lucia’s tourism industry and economy. The value of approved tourism investments between January and August 2022 stands at over $320 million and the government will endeavor to create the best environment possible to convert these approvals into reality.”
He noted that currently, Sandals has started expanding its Halcyon property; while the relocation of residents at Choiseul is nearing completion to herald the construction of a new hotel at Sabwisha, in Choiseul.
Referring to the GPH development, Pierre said, government has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with GPH to redevelop the cruise facilities at Port Castries and Soufriere. Consequently, a Concession Agreement between SLASPA and GPH is being developed for the modernization and expansion of the cruise facilities at these ports.
He stressed that, neither “port Castries or the Soufriere Waterfront has not been sold to any entity”.
PM Pierre noted that government remains committed to the redevelopment of the HIA in a sustainable and fiscally prudent manner. He explained that, following the findings of the independent HIA Review Committee, an international consultant, recommended by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), confirmed that in its present trajectory, the airport would cost taxpayers between US $398 Million and US $439 Million.
Noting the influx of cost overruns at the foundation stage of the HIA redevelopment project, the prime minister disclosed that after discussions with the consultants work on the HIA will re-commence later this year. Construction works are expected to take on a modified structure and management plan, while work on the control tower has been approved and will continue.
With regards to the St Jude Hospital Re-construction, Pierre recalled that last November, government took concrete steps towards the completion and commission of St Jude Hospital.
He informed that with cleanup works on the original site being undertaken, the first phase of work is expected to be completed this March, and other construction works will continue shortly after.
The prime minister stated that, “A key component of our people-centric, healthcare delivery system is the establishment of Universal Health Care (UHC).”
Having set up the foundation “to achieve this important health milestone” in 2022, he said, the roadmap to guide the implementation of this initiative is at an advanced stage of development.
PM Pierre asserted: “We expect that there will be further progress this year towards attaining this dream of every Saint Lucian being able to access good quality and affordable health services.”