Once upon a time, annual government budgetary allocations for Home Affairs would-have-been mainly for better equipment, training and administrative costs for the Police and Prisons (as they were still called back then), etc.
But not anymore…
Today, the new heading is National Security and most of the expenditure is to Fight Crime, which has (again) recently increased in frequency and velocity across the region.
The Pierre administration has allocated $171 million to fight gun and gang crime, which, the Prime Minister repeatedly highlighted, was taking-away resources that could have been better-spent improving people’s social and economic circumstances.
The Prime Minister is also Minister for National Security, Finance, Economic Development and The Youth Economy.
When that ministerial matrix was stitched together in 2021, it wasn’t exactly with today in mind, but the responsibilities follow each other in terms of the relationship between crime, costs and consequences
Indeed, all three elements were wrapped-up in the very opening of the PM’s Budget Address on April 25, within his starting words: “Crime must not be glorified!”
He tabulated his 18-months-old administration’s near-miraculous achievements to, described as starting with his Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administrations “healthy handling” of the national health crises it inherited in 2021, starting with the stealthy entry of the ‘Delta’ variant of the COVID virus during the last weeks of the outgoing United Workers Party (UWP) administration.
The Prime minister also recalled effects of the post-COVID Supply Chain issues (that had crippled world trade before the Ukraine crisis), the economic sanctions that followed Ukraine and the resulting high costs of food and fuel, met with subsidies and other measures to ease the squeeze on Saint Lucians, with scores of millions of gas tax revenues spent on subsidizing cooking gas, public transport, rice, sugar and flour.
The Prime Minister said when his administration took office in 2021, “The national economic dashboard was flashing”, as the previous administration left a $4.5 Billion debt and had spent as much as $360 Million on reconstruction of the St. Jude Hospital project, “but with no help for the sick”, as well as millions spent on the Hewanorra International Airport Project, without cost estimates.
The PM said his ruling SLP and “inclusive Cabinet” was continuing, through the 2023-2024 Budget, to “Put People First” based on “the philosophy of our founding fathers…”
The Finance Minister noted the economy registered 18.1% growth in 2022 (following 12.1% in 2021) — only outdone by Guyana, but bettering Barbados — while tourism arrivals grew by 56%, unemployment is at its lowest-ever – and the government “aiming for single-digits in 2023…”
The Youth Economy Agency (YEA) was also launched a fortnight ago to coincide with global observance of April as International Youth Month, with over $4 million injected into Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) for young entrepreneurs that’s already attracted inquiries by over 7,000 young persons with business initiatives and innovations for funding, ranging between $10,000, $20,000 and $30,000, with many applications already approved and scores under consideration, resulting in extension of the application time for another month (end of May).
The National Security Minister reminded the nation that crime today is “regional and multifaceted” and needing a like regional response, which was charted at a two-day Crime Symposium in Trinidad & Tobago a fortnight ago, at which regional leaders declared ‘War on Guns’ and classified Crime and Violence as “A Public Health issue…”
But, for the umpteenth time, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders have again identified the proliferation of illegal weapons from the United States as the main reason for the tremendous rise in gun grime and gangster killings in several member-states.
Besides, a widely-circulated report by an entity named World Population Review (WPR) named four Caribbean states (Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela) among the Top Ten of 136 surveyed – with methodology and conclusions (naturally) being questioned by Caribbean people who refuse to accept (or believe) that crime today is only worse in poor and/or non-white nations, or that the USA (with a mass-killings record that continues to grow and involve shootings by and at children, teachers and students across states) isn’t among the top ten.
However, the Prime Minister pledged to continue to lead the crime fight “without fear or favour” and outlined several related initiatives, including: construction of the ‘Custody Suites’ for detainees (destroyed by the previous administration), more money for legal aid, expansion of witness protection programmes, transition of the George Charles secondary school into a Rehabilitation Center, construction of the new Halls of Justice for the judiciary, a new Central Police Headquarters, completion of the New Gros Islet police station, re-opening of and repair to the Vieux Fort police station – and more…
According to Prime Minister Pierre, so-much is to be spent on fighting crime because “Violence is costing us too much…”
He also urged parliamentarians and the public to “just imagine how much more we could have spent” doing better for more…
But there’s hope.
While the government is funding subsidies and imported food and energy costs fuel inflation, the Finance Minister also disclosed the private sector businesses owe over $600 Million in undelivered taxes collected for the Treasury, including Value Added Tax (VAT) payments by customers and the consuming public.
PM Pierre said “That’s much-too-high”, so his government “will move to strengthen its ability to collect” – and as a show of good faith, “all interests and penalties will be waived if payments are made by May 1, 2024.”
Clearly, the Prime Minister, Minister for Finance, Economic Construction and The Youth Economy would certainly be willing to budget even more for crime – and he’s looking at collecting outstanding monies from the private sector, while trying to recover other millions still owed and paying hundreds of millions more in debts incurred by the previous administration through scores of projects the weeks leading to the July 2021 general elections, for works one — and not done!