The challenge, he said, is that the government is already financially constrained.
At this week’s pre-Cabinet media briefing, Prime Minister Hon. Allen Chastanet, referencing the upcoming budget presentation, said the government has been engaged in ascertaining Saint Lucia’s exact fiscal position.
One of the essential issues was the housing of government offices along with several outstanding concerns of poor working conditions.
“I have been physically going around to the different offices and it is amazing to see the circumstances some of the civil servants work under,” he said.
Among visits was the Inland Revenue Department, the state of which was in stark contrast to the other offices in the same building. The challenge, he said, was that the government was already spending millions on rental payments and constrained in terms of what it could do.
“There is $450 million dollars in payroll. There is very little we can do right now other than try to increase productivity. To do that, physically, the government is going to have to increase the facilities that we have. We are already spending $44 million a year in rental payments. That, added to the cost of salaries and pensions results in $300 million a year in debt financing, and then there’s the added cost of opening up the Owen King Hospital.”
Consequently, the government is formulating a four-year strategic development plan.
“We want to create a fiscal budget for this year and a very clear transition program for the next four years to put the country in a much more fiscally stable position. The amount of money we are going to have to turn over in debt this year alone tells you that things that are going to have to change, but those changes cannot take place all in one year.”
The Prime Minister spoke frankly about diminishing aid for developing countries.
“Can we truly expect those countries to continue giving us money? We must be fiscally responsible, and we need growth. This country cannot continue to survive on the level of growth it has had. We need to find that balance between bringing fiscal responsibility to the state, which may potentially mean increases in taxes, with now attracting new investment, which means lowering your taxes. We are hoping to present a budget that takes that balance into account and outlines what we will do in the next four years to begin this alignment.”
The Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers, and various ministry heads have been engaged for the past several months in budget preparations and developing a four year plan for the country.