Letters & Opinion

Right Man at the Right Time!

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Watching Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre on Tuesday delivering his third budget since taking office, I was reassured, yet again, that Saint Lucia is fortunate to have him as Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers, at this point in the island’s history, when the region and the world are facing the toughest times in Century 21.

Since COVID and the suffocating Supply Chain crises worsened by the Ukraine War, the effect on food, fuel and other essential costs-of-living in the developing world have been causing finance ministers, prime ministers and presidents dearly-expensive and sleepless nights to make cash ends meet and bridge widening gaps in government finances.

Luckily, Saint Lucia only suffered less-than-two years under COVID-19 with the last administration, during which the nation’s finances were handled with less-care and more recklessness, resulting in avoidable and costly decisions like establishing a COVID Constabulary and scrapping it sooner-than-later, while allocating $7 Million towards purchase of COVID vaccines that were never on sale.

This Prime Minister and his administration inherited a near-cashless treasury with the highest amount of loans and debts ever, the Distress Fund basically abandoned, assistance programmes for the needy left in dire need, while infinite amounts were owed to preferred private contractors for unfinished pre-election jobs ranging from sky-rising bills for the still-grounded Hewanorra International Airport and the never-ending, age-old St. Jude Hospital rehabilitation projects.

Two years and nine months into office, the current administration is paying its bills without increasing taxes heavily, the Value Added Tax (VAT) is working well, the Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) is paying its way transparently and other revenues are flowing-in, while the government is forgiving house and property taxes, the Inland Revenue department (IRD) is paying refunds and rebates and the economy is working like there was never any problem.

Indeed, consumers have become accustomed to this administration absorbing the increased costs for fuel and basic foods, so no one quarrels anymore about the price of a tank of cooking gas or a gallon of petrol, all knowing they could have cost much-more.

Naturally, there are those to whom nothing is ever enough and will therefore always still want more, but most Saint Lucians will give this prime minister and the government he leads only high marks for positive performances in all areas that matter most to people – from increased expenditure on fighting crime, health and education, care for the needy, assistance for elderlies, elimination of ambulance charges for pregnant women, increased rebates for fishers, better facilities for city vendors, more incentives for micro-small-and-medium businesses, more opportunities for young investors, more internet savings for parents of students, better online learning mechanisms, outstanding payments for public servants, plans for low-income housing, an entire year of infrastructural development – and my list can go-on-and on-and-on…

Same with restoration of confidence in governance, this administration appointing a former police officer (who lost a leg on the election campaign trail in 2021, but still scored the most-significant victory of all) as Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly from Day One – and who’s now graduated to heading a ministerial portfolio with responsibility for fighting crime.

Outstanding Police and Prison matters are being addressed with due dispatch by the current Home Affairs Minister, who’s long history as a dedicated teacher, trade unionist and women’s rights advocate has seen her survive a possibly-terminal medical condition in less-time than normally-expected, as well as the dire efforts of a dying opposition propaganda machine to make it appear taxpayers were paying her medical bills abroad – which she would still have qualified for, but her insurance policies having long been sufficiently in place for such usually-costly and unexpected health emergencies.

This Prime Minister and Political Leader has also stamped an indelible mark insofar as parliamentary arithmetic and the mathematics of representational politics, in office and government, is concerned: he almost-overnight turned his party’s original 13-4 victory at the polls into a 15-2 (more-than-two-thirds) parliamentary majority, easing Saint Lucia out of the tight grips of the British Privy Council and into the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) with lubricated ease, signalling his republican intentions – and recently appointing a predecessor as Deputy Speaker in yet-another move that caught the opposition flat-footed and still leaves it totally-bewildered.

With four past-and-present prime ministers in this parliament (three on the Government side), one ex-PM has admirably adopted the role of a Back-Bencher, bringing his accumulated experience in the nation’s biggest chair to bear by sharing, in almost his every contribution, never mind this traditional Westminster role being new to Caribbean parliaments – and not-necessarily being fully-understood by all fellow MPs in the House…

Nor I did not have to follow the entire debate on Wednesday and Thursday to let my eyes and ears cook my peas.

After all, even the best of what’s left of the current opposition’s most-hardened defenders (online and offline) are finding it increasingly-hard to argue that, as things stand today, the opposition has never been seen as far-away from returning to office at the next General Elections than at any time since the current ruling party shot itself in both feet during a budget debate over four decades ago.

But not today…

These days, budget presentations and debates have returned to the earlier-abandoned process of ensuring Transparency and Accountability are not just phrases, but characters of estimates of revenue and expenditure presented by the leader of a party that won the last elections on a platform of promising to always be guided by the principle of ‘Putting People First!’

This prime minister continues showing, without boasting, what he meant when he promised to be ‘A Servant Leader’ and a worthy Captain of the Ship of State, in any weather, ably-aided by officers loyal to following the charted path, supported by able-bodied ancient political mariners committed to serve and protect the national patrimony at home and abroad, in good times and bad.

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