Letters & Opinion

The 2023-2024 Budget: No One Left Behind

Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

THE 2023-2024 Budget Presented by Prime Minister Hon. Philip J. Pierre on Tuesday, 25th April, 2023, is laden with assistance for all members of the public. In particular, there is something for the most vulnerable in our midst. He was very intent on ‘Putting People First’.

I want to begin this article by investigating the portfolio Social Transformation. The theme in that portfolio is Poverty Reduction. The prime minister insists that “good economics begins with a general concern for people”. The government through the Ministry of Equity will develop strategies that seek to improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made life difficult, perhaps intolerable for a large cohort of the St. Lucian society. The government over the last two years, has been working assiduously to improve life for its people.

The prime minister and members of his government have allocated some $25million for its social transformation programmes. Many will benefit from Public Assistance or what we know as social welfare. And there are many who depend on benefits from social welfare for them to survive. Let me point out that that allocation is the largest ever in a budget.

Then there is a provision for Homecare Support. There is a government programme which assigns home carers to support the elderly, many of whom live alone. That provision is made to take care of these people. Those elderly people are so happy with that programme.

There is the Child Disability Grants. Indeed, there are many families with children who are disabled and need special care and attention. Many of them have to be taken to school and back and special arrangements are to be made for them. Therefore, government will make public money available to their families to assist with their caring.

Then there is education assistance which goes to families with single mothers with many children to send to school. Government has made provisions for those families.

Another component of the Social Transformation Programme is housing assistance. We, in St. Lucia, know very well that many families who live in very dilapidated houses around the island. The housing assistance will allow them to make timely repairs to their homes and make them liveable.

But the government is not satisfied with allowing the situation to remain there. The Prime Minister insists that “we must try to build resilience towards sustainable independent living.”

In our local language, government would not continue to give families ‘a fish’. But instead give them a line, hook and sinker to fish for themselves. Eventually, there will be a level of independence which, in time, they will all appreciate.

The prime minister puts it in his own words, “A graduation strategy for social assistance programme has been developed to ensure support for people transitioning from social assistance or dependency to independent living.” The point is well articulated!

The Youth Economy was carefully addressed in the 2023-2024 budget. The Youth Entrepreneur Programme is already taking root in St. Lucia. many young entrepreneurs are currently responding vigorously to the YEP.

The Youth Entrepreneur Programme is already providing the desired impetus for the young people. The aim is to provide finance, grants and loans; training; mentorship; and marketing for young people to establish and grow their businesses.

Government has injected $4million in the Youth Economy Programme for young people who wish to pursue their business interests in Sports, Music, Entertainment, Designing and the Creative economy.

Interestingly, some 7000 persons have visited the YEA social Media Site. There are 800 follows and 150 walk-in-visitors to the YEA Office.

I have spoken to several young people who told me that they have called the YEA office by telephone.

I have noted that several young persons have been employed by the YEA. That is very good. Facilitators of youth programmes will tell you that young people better understand the problems of youth and would be committed to serving them faithfully.

Now the YEA is ‘roaring’! Only a few days ago they implemented a training programme in which some 100 young people attended. The training is intended to provide participants with entrepreneurial skills which they would need to run or manage their business successfully.

The offshoot of that success would enable entrepreneurs to employ other young people in their community. No doubt, this process will have a ‘domino’ effect on our economy.

Let me point out that 11 grants have been issued by the YEA amounting to $55,000. 39 applications have been approved. 75 loan requests have been made and 40 applicants have already had their loans approved totalling $30,000.

The YEA is expected to bring renewed hope to the young people of St. Lucia.

Access to the YEA it is amazingly easy. The young people can telephone, visit their site on social media, and have a walk-in visit. This is extraordinary!

I want to take the opportunity to congratulate the prime minister and members of his governing team for the remarkable achievement of meeting the needs of young people in St. Lucia.

I see the Hon. prime minister as the second Joshua who is leading God’s people to the promise land where milk and honey flow.

We all pray for the continued guidance of the Supreme Grand Master of the universe on him and his government.

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