Saint Lucian Economist, Doctor Adrian Augier, has sounded a grim warning that this country is in trouble economically.
Delivering a lecture on Tueaday to the 39th annual general meeting of the Elks Credit Union, Augier compared the national economy to an old farm that is under-fertilised, over exploited, ruined by bad farming and yielding smaller harvests every year.
He was speaking on the theme: “Time to Call a Spade – Why the Caribbean is digging its own economic grave.”
“ I want to frighten you; I want to shock you; I want to jolt you to the realization that we are in trouble – that you are in trouble along with your job, your family your savings your home and your sanity,” the Saint Lucian Economist told his audience at the National Cultural Centre.
(Section of audience)
He said he wanted to cause the kind of discomfort that prevents his listeners from sleeping at night and rise up, not only to demand that better be done to prevent development disaster, but to be part of a revolution in thought and action which causes this country to dramatically change its course.
“When I say the country I am not speaking about Mr. Chastanet or Doctor Antony, I am speaking of us – every one of us here who believes that the sun will rise tomorrow as it did today,” Augier said.
He disclosed that growth rates have been declining for the past three decades, with just a bit of growth in the past year or so.
“The world has changed and so must we,” Augier observed.
According to him, the return to normalcy will not be easy.
He said that many banks in the region have lent out money that was not theirs to people who cannot now pay.
Augier said they cannot pay not because they do not want to, but because jobs have disappeared, markets have shrunk and real property values have fallen.
He explained that in certain areas, crime and instability have diminished the value of properties.
Augier said the economic situation is not only true of Saint Lucia, but across the Caribbean as well.
“We have to look at these issues and not pretend that they are going to go away or suddenly improve because they are not,” the Economist said.
He noted that the social and economic structure of these Islands have changed.
“It is not only true of Saint Lucia but it is a problem across the Caribbean,” he told the Elks AGM.
Augier asserted that there are some things that can happen in the market such as a change of legislation so that banks and credit unions can dispose of assets.
By way of explanation, he spoke of a house with a mortgage that is not being serviced.
“You need to turn it over quickly, reduce the price, put it on the market and get it sold. That’s not nice when you have to put families out of their homes, but it’s your savings in the credit union underwriting the mortgage and if you don’t return the asset to the market you are going to hold an asset that is deteriorating,” Augier explained.
“We have to take some of the hard knocks and do what we have to do,” he declared, adding that banks have been unable to dump their bad loans which have stayed and corroded the balance sheets.
He explained that people save money in banks and credit unions in the hope of getting their investment back with some interest.
Augier, who is a Director of the First National Bank, said he is worried that the ability to bail out is dwindling.
“We wait and we hope and what is actually happening is that foreign interests are coming into the country and buying up things that we should be able to buy, investing in areas that we should be able to invest in,” he said.
According to him, it is a source of worry that Saint Lucia has a government apparatus designed to ‘help people to buy us out.’
“Foreign investment does not come here because they love us, foreign investment comes here because they see an opportunity which we cannot access or we have not begun to access or we are not positioned to access,” Augier observed.
He said the investors are looking for a return.
“If they are coming here to develop some brand new thing that we are not able to do for ourselves and they want to come in and help us do it or start it up with a possibility of Saint Lucians participating in that venture at some point in time, then that’s another matter,” Augier told his audience.
But the Saint Lucian Economist said when industries that are ‘exploitative’ are coming in to use unsustainable cheap labour and exploiting high unemployment by providing menial jobs, it is not good for this country.
Augier said there was need to contemplate what kind of investment is being encouraged here.