CASTRIES, Saint Lucia –Tuesday, May 31, 2016 – Representatives from both the private sector and civil society have responded positively to initiatives proposed by the United Workers’ Party, to revive the economy and create sustainable jobs for the people of St. Lucia.
UWP Political Leader Allen Chastanet told a packed house at the Golden Palm conference centre in Rodney Bay, that the party will stick with its promise of reducing the tax burden for the people of St. Lucia, and went on to explain why this was important.
First, he said the bureaucracy it creates makes it harder for the business community.
“Many of the businesses are struggling here with the administration, and as a businessman, when you are operating in an environment in which the amount of taxes that you owe is unclear, and you have to continuously go to the VAT office to seek an interpretation, and in an environment in which you believe you are being victimized, that is a horrible position to be in, and makes the business community extremely uncomfortable.”
Mr. Chastanet told business leaders that the reality in St. Lucia is that unemployment stands at 25%, being as high as 47% among the youth population alone.
Added to this he reminded them that 35% of the population was living below the poverty line. It is in an environment like this, he chastised, that Prime Minister Kenny Anthony and the Labour government sought to impose VAT and reduce subsidies.
He added, “We believe that VAT is not designed to deal with the social programmes or the fabric of our economy at this point, and we believe that there are other alternatives that can be more skewed towards helping the economy grow as well as being mindful of the standard of living of many of our St. Lucian citizens.”
Building on that Mr. Chastanet revealed that a UWP government will establish five economic zones, which will be run by regional economic boards manned by persons from within the area.
He said this was important because the party wants persons to have a say in the development of
their communities since they are the ones who will know best, and because it helps decentralize government.
“It is not only because of their democratic right, but the fact is they have to have a say in their future, and there has to be a priority in terms of making sure that those areas are transformed.”
The areas identified by the UWP include Rodney Bay/Gros Islet, Castries, Soufriere, Vieux Fort, and Dennery.
Rodney Bay/Gros Islet is where a UWP government intends to focus on expanding the tourism base, including mixed-use properties, boutique properties, the marina, duty-free shopping and basically making it an entertainment hub that will include the town of Gros Islet, where the waterfront area is developed in conjunction with the locals who presently own the land.
Mr. Chastanet says this will help enhance the town beyond its usual Friday night party. The UWP intends to put ordinances in place to allow the development of small properties and to develop more restaurants to cater to visitors seven days a week.
Castries will be zoned as a special economic zone making it a municipality.
Mr. Chastanet said the aim of this was so Castries could get its own credit rating independent of the rest of the country.
Once this has improved, the UWP wants Castries to become the home of regional businesses.
“We believe what has happened is that many of the regional companies are struggling to find a place to put as their home headquarters. So for instance companies that were in Barbados have had to move because of the downgrading of Barbados’ credit rating, and recently in Trinidad where a lot of people moved to, they’ve now found the same problem.”
Mr. Chastanet says St. Lucia is also the only country where its capital is just five minutes away from a major airport.
In Soufriere the plan is to make this a wellness center, or as Mr. Chastanet dubbed it, “the Eden of the Caribbean!” He added that the number one reason that people were visiting the area was to take advantage of the sulphur springs, and the mud baths that are available.
The goal of the UWP in government, would be to continue to expand it and make it into a world class spa.
He says this will make Soufriere the closest location in the world for Americans who would like to get an equivalent product.
“The water value we have in Soufriere has been tested, and its equivalent to the level of Baden Baden in Germany. So we have both clear water and we have the mud baths. So we believe that people (will no longer come to Soufriere) just to go to the beach, people will be coming to Soufriere for wellness.” r. Chastanet says the waterfront will also be developed, and village tourism will be encouraged to allow residents to benefit from the process.
There are also plans to reopen the copra factory to capitalize on the growing global interest in coconut oil as a health product.
In Vieux Fort, Mr. Chastanet said the UWP will take the promise of a new frontier and make it a reality. He said the UWP will immediately begin construction of the airport, in addition to which he says the party does not believe in outsourcing the running of the airport to a third party.
There are also plans to develop IT centers in the unused free zones in Vieux Fort.
There will also be incentives to encourage offshore universities to place their facilities in Vieux Fort, further developing the area as a knowledge zone.
A Cruise Ship Terminal will also be established, and home-porting will be encouraged to drive business in the south.
“We’re also looking at three major hotel companies we’ve been in discussion with, and we believe we can announced pretty quickly that we are going to be able to get at least 750 more hotel rooms, starting construction within the first year.”
In terms of Dennery and the valley, the UWP intends to focus on agriculture.
The plan is to develop an agricultural hub which will eliminate uncertainty among farmers about what crops they need to grow for local consumption.
It will also allow focus on produce that can be exported throughout the region, for which a dedicated boat will be provided.
This will be supported by an aggressive marketing campaign branding St. Lucia’s organic products.
“Within the region people must start seeing St. Lucia’s agricultural produce as being a premium product. We believe that we can be substantially more competitive in this region that we can in trying to compete in Canada, America and Europe.”
The ultimate goal of a UWP government Mr. Chastanet says, is to create more job opportunities, and to double the GDP of St. Lucia in 10 years.
He added that government will put enabling policies and structures in place to allow businesses in the country to become competitive.