A review will determine whether the performance of statutory bodies and affiliated agencies justifies continued financial support.
As part of his May 9 budget address, Prime Minister Hon Allen M Chastanet spoke on the topic of national debt, and stressed the need for decisive action.
Mr. Chastanet, who is also the Minister for Finance, Economic Growth, Job Creation, External Affairs and the Public Service, said the government has developed a Medium Term Debt Management Strategy. He explained that Saint Lucia’s current debt has hindered the ability to accumulate buffers and to implement fiscal policies to spur economic growth that would place the country on a more sustainable path. Among initiatives planned will be to determine whether the performance of statutory bodies and affiliated agencies justifies the continued support of these agencies.
“There may be instances where a merger of agencies, or an elimination or reduction of transfers is the most suitable option,” he said. “In some cases the environment has evolved, and the purpose for the creation of these agencies no longer exists. In other instances, agencies may be better placed to operate as private institutions and allow market forces to set rates and determine the true cost of operations.”
The prime minister spoke on the decision made with regard to the Saint Lucia Tourist Board.
“Upon assuming office, government took a decision to close the Saint Lucia Tourist Board and to establish the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority. This has resulted in the reduction of administrative expenses from $8.6 million in 2016/17, to $5.6 million programmed for the 2017/18 financial year,” he said.
Other agencies whose operations have been reviewed include the Saint Lucia Fish Marketing Corporation, the Government Supply Warehouse, Radio Saint Lucia, and the Saint Lucia Marketing Board.
The Marketing Board, the prime minister informed the House of Assembly, was no longer the primary “farm gate” purchaser across the island.
“Currently, it handles approximately only 2 percent of the total produce of farmers. Consecutive years of losses have now rendered the Marketing Board virtually obsolete although its liabilities continue to burden taxpayers,” he said, adding that Radio Saint Lucia (RSL) continues to accumulate liabilities which could possibly be inherited by government.
“Like the Marketing Board and the Fish Marketing Corporation, the factual matrix upon which RSL was established has changed,” said Mr. Chastanet. “When RSL was established there were few avenues for disseminating information to our citizens. Radio was the most widely-used tool for mass media and there were very few other radio stations. The current climate is far different—the internet, television, and cellular phones have taken over in terms of communication. The airwaves are saturated with radio stations, and multiple avenues exist for government to get its message across to its citizens. We must therefore revisit the role of RSL. My government will reorganize the GIS to more effectively disseminate government information and its programs. The company currently known as RSL will be closed, and the relevant programs will be restructured to take advantage of the new technologies for information dissemination.”
The Saint Lucia National Trust has also been advised to revise its business model to become financially independent.
“The Trust is charged with conserving the natural and cultural heritage of Saint Lucia. It is an advocacy group and is responsible for developing the sites which have been vested in it. The government has supported the Trust through an annual subvention as well as through the vesting in the Trust, premier heritage sites. These valuable national assets can and should be leveraged to generate more significant revenue to sustain its operations, and thereby the Trust is being asked to revise its business model to become financially independent. As a result, the annual subvention will be discontinued. However, the government will continue to provide support to initiatives the government believes has merit in supporting the development objectives of the state.”
Another agency under assessment is the Saint Lucia Postal Service with a consideration for privatization.
“This is not a decision we will take lightly, but one which we must consider given the requirements of the times and our dire fiscal situation. Privatization will accomplish two things—it will force the organization to review its operations and become more efficient, and the value of the services will face market forces and be priced accordingly.”
The Prime Minister stressed that these decisions are not easy to make.
“These tough decisions are necessary if we are to begin to turn our economy around. Subventions and grants to state affiliated agencies should not be a black hole into which money is poured, but rather should be viewed as investments which should produce returns of relevant, quality services to the people of Saint Lucia.”
A determination on the continuation of these agencies in their current form will be made in the near future.