The key issues of political change, socio economics and preservation of the environment will return to Saint Lucia’s House of Assembly on Tuesday, June 20, as debate resumes on the appropriation bill 2017/18.
However, far from Machiavellian schemes, hopefully, policymakers and the legislature would have perhaps gained more positivity on the key metrics that measure the outlook for future growth and development, as opposed to corporate welfare – the transfer of business, economic opportunity and money from one subsector to another at the expense of anti-poverty measures.
Also, observers, professionals and intellectuals with a view to policy and unfettered opinions, myself included, are anticipating that the unintended six weeks suspension of parliament would repurposed with renewed hope on the part of policymakers and the legislature to lay out a vision for the country: a national initiative, whereby citizens could lay down their arms and support.
And as noted previously, ”we all know what the major issues are, including the IMPACS report, citizen security, the need for sustainable and appropriate foreign direct investment, preservation of the environment and addressing the dysfunctional administration of justice.
“This we can accomplish, but let us all consider the specifics of what must be done to achieve prosperity, beginning with a reset agenda on socio-economic, security, governance, trade and international relations, on a bilateral and multilateral level.”
Times have changed, but more entrenched is the need for immediate and long term strengthening of economic growth and sustainability. And so, one way or another, government debt at roughly EC$3.1billion and electoral promises that give rise to trickle-down economics by cutting taxes and eliminating government services in a trend that still has the economy in shambles, and showing increased volatility.
On the other hand, a change of trend to allocate 72 percent of capital expenditure to economic services seems purely transactional and dangerous.
The pivot to citizenship by investment (CIP) offers both threats and opportunities, albeit recent strengthening of capital outflow restrictions and corresponding banking make it more difficult for small developing countries to process financial transactions. This is in addition to the balancing act not to embrace nefarious characters and strongmen.
The compound effect in such an environment seems unlikely to achieve an economic growth rate of at least four percent per year. Which means the savings gap will shrink and institutions will collapse, in a buildup of political and economic chaos, crisis and decline.
The peculiar environment that engulfs Saint Lucia today is not far removed from the global economic downturn of 2007-2008, or the current Qatar crisis, in terms of isolation as an island where approximately 90 percent of its overall trade is made by sea and imports around 80 percent of its oil through sea routes.
Political and economic stability is critical to successful investing, but more importantly, history has shown that, in the midst of crisis, opportunity abounds for renewed hope that allows for actual money to be invested: the monetization of the engine of growth and the ability to leverage Saint Lucia’s global economic identity as a destination for investment.
What’s more relevant is Saint Lucia’s geography. It is important to understand the ‘blue economy’ — the exploration of both the Caribbean and Atlantic ocean resources, in a sustainable manner — supported by the “green economy” — renewable energy, arable land use and environment preservation.
In this context, the development of human resources, re-education and training in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are central. These are tools of the modern economy that go a long way in handling new jobs of the future. In fact, robust innovation and the economics of climate change adaptation would provide a renewable future for investment in Saint Lucia.
Flexibility is sensible to investments and likewise the country. Financing, from the St Lucia Development Bank, for agriculture, agribusiness and fisheries sector should be accorded a high priority with the goal of doubling output, decreasing the food import bill, and the need for substantial import licences and concessions.
This would eventually improve farmers’ and fishers’ income, help stabilize food and nutrition security to improve health care, restore rural economic development via infrastructure and housing, and provide an integrated development and management of the Saint Lucia Fish Marketing Corporation and Saint Lucia Marketing Board and the Government Supply Warehouse.
There is, likewise, the opportunity to integrate the digital wave to agriculture, agribusiness and fisheries sector. Develop farmers’ seed systems to strengthen biodiversity, patent seeds, strains, breeds, concept and the protection of intellectual property rights.
Digital penetration in rural communities would also strengthen research and development, the maintenance of wetlands and mangroves, and data collection in real time for analysis.
This is one avenue, not forgetting the cooperative model if decisiveness is required in the blue and green economic integration, with a sense of honesty, accountability and transparency for the uplifting of people and country facing 21.6 percent unemployment, youth unemployment rate of 43.1percent and poverty rate at 28 percent.
A recent article in the Nation by Dennis Kucinich evoked the possibility faced in Saint Lucia.
“Growing poverty and inequality in America and other countries can be tied to a dismantling of the public sphere through the privatization of public services, which imposes the rentier’s premium on parking meters, toll booths, waste and sanitation services, water and sewer fees, and health care, to name a few.
“In urban areas privatization looms as a major economic issue. People, through taxes, fees and utility rates, pay once for public services to be created. Once services are privatized, the public is forced to pay again and again, at higher rates, for less service.
“The public is told that money is saved. Whose? Wages are cut, services are reduced, increased rates and fees follow. The loss of public accountability and political control shifts onto the public as increased economic burdens and the social and economic costs borne by displaced public workers.
“In such a climate, unions are under attack, since they exist to promote economic justice. The right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, the right to decent wages and benefits, the right to a secure retirement, the right to sue an employer for maintaining an unsafe work place, all these rights and more are at risk. Labor unions helped to build economic equality. Their demise means less bargaining power for all American workers.”
This brings me to the importance of a vision for the country: a national initiative and infrastructure scope on a scaled-up level, higher minimum wage and job quality output.
Russia is doing as it pleases in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and to some extent Latin America and the Caribbean.
China is a major player in the Pacific and the Caribbean, pursuing an economic corridor, as part of its String of Pearls strategy, building up on a dominant maritime strategy worldwide.
Saint Lucia is in the crosshairs via Desert Star Holdings, the “Pearl of the Caribbean”.
And so, what is Saint Lucia to gain for its national interest and economic diplomacy? What’s the maritime strategy, in consequence to the blue and green economy? The development of our air and sea ports, maritime cooperation and information vis-a-vis national interest and strategic partners global aspirations?
Saint Lucia should not have to choose a position of shortcoming; still, this requires collective action for a reassertion of sovereignty, economic edge and good governance that focuses on the general good, not the demands of sectoral groups.
This is urgent and important. However, this of course calls for values-based policy both domestic and foreign, which rests on democratic rights and freedom, equality, equity, peace and human rights.
Foreign policy is also trade policy. And according to then Senator John Kerry, “Foreign policy is economic policy… It is urgent that we show people in the rest of the world that we can get our business done in an effective and timely way.”
In the midst of current socio-economic volatility, the writing is on the wall. A key yardstick is the lack of focus; misplace priorities and the greatest fault, credibility.
These are obvious liabilities to very difficult decisions that need to be made to determine the future of Saint Lucia. Much depends on whether socio-economic, security and governance issues can change course in time.
But meanwhile, everyone waits in a sober and distorted mood; there is the battle for political survival – the theatrics of the mind.
NOTE: Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and NewsNow Global analysis. He can be reached at [email protected]