Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Saint Lucia government’s naked self promotion

If it is completely uncomfortable that “we are overtaxed” and “basically the country is in a mess”, the government of Saint Lucia certainly highlighted this by the compulsive utterances of at least two cabinet ministers, aided by the silence of cowardly institutions.

At a very rapid pace, our national identity, the land, the people, the light continue to erode; and that was instantly more shocking, with the best of a bad lot of shameless hypocrites, a pre-existing condition to the book of Lamentations, now look irreparable in such a tumultuous period. 

First, it was the admission by minister for home affairs, justice and national security, Hermangild Francis that it is a fact that some mothers here are actually trafficking their children, unwittingly, forgetting he was, as a deputy commissioner of the Royal St Lucia Police Force [RSLPF], party to this age old custom and culture of abuse and now, adding to more useless talk, “As a society we need to speak with one voice”. We would be better served if he were to exercise his constitutional power. 

Second, with absolute authority, the minister for economic development, housing, urban renewal, transport and civil aviation, Guy Joseph, told the world how he outsmarted the Taiwanese embassy in Saint Lucia and, by extension, the government and people of Taiwan, to “pretend” that projects under the Constituency Development Programme (CDP) financed by the Taiwanese had not happened and submit documentation. If this as is so described, this borders on fraudulent practices, much less a “creative means” of doing business that has everything wrong about it.

It’s worth taking Guy Joseph’s public confession seriously, as this may have made clear norms or acute worry echoing all over, painfully in a country since independence that struggles to define its principles, values and society from the shackles of adherent slavery. 

An abstract expression of a political culture goes with the saying that a people who elect corrupt politicians are not victims but accomplices, and that also shapes that culture.

So, if a coalition can be draw from the activities described in the controversial report on financial operations of Town and Village Councils; and notwithstanding the rule of law for economic and social stability, the refusal to impose punishment for willful blindness or outright lies by government actors is an epidemic of short-circuiting legal structures to allow and protect theft, and Ponzi schemes instead of encouraging competition and entrepreneurship. 

Perhaps there is an equal delusion that Saint Lucia is corrupt to the core and, yes, there are grave issues to consider about the political process, and to start tackling the systemic shortcomings.

Therefore, it is imperative that willful and intentional refusal to abide by the rule of law must come to an end, not only for the poor people and five bag marijuana users, but for the government itself, its agencies and individuals within those agencies.

Notwithstanding the emphasis on transparency, integrity and the common assertion of faith, carried as a badge of honour, self proclaimed prayer warriors and the silence of the righteous is deafening. 

However, albeit with a toothless Integrity Commission in Saint Lucia against the backdrop of a dysfunctional justice system, it took a level head of wisdom, lawyer and former magistrate, T. Nigel Toussaint to inform an ill-defined cabinet of ministers in reference to Guy Joseph that:

“…This is the government, how are you going to leverage the entire country on other people who engage in business practices are listening to this, were out asking everybody for assistance and come back and talking about how we backdating documents and we’re pretending like things didn’t happen in order to submit to request, which means you’re requesting on information that’s not correct, that’s false.

“I wish someone would sit some of these guys down and really explain to them what they need to do. This whole thing with the contracts, this is a legal issue, this is not an issue for Mr Joseph and I hope Cabinet sits around the table… and deals with this on legal principles, because this is a legal issue.” 

And third, following a forum co-hosted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and his “hyperconfidence”, unsuspectingly alluding that he will not rule out the IMF as an option to revive an ailing economy, three consecutive years of negative growth: “Over the last five years the performance of Saint Lucia’s economy has been generally weak with real output averaging negative 4 percent.” 

Interestingly, this might explain his outlook as St Lucia’s spiral to happy VAT reduction in which I stated:

“Over the years, the country’s tax systems haven’t raised enough money to pay for overall expenditure, contrary to the prime minister’s arbitrary conclusion that the people are ‘overtaxed’; nonetheless irresponsible for not taking into account new debt, government handicaps and ongoing increase in recurrent expenditures.”

If that was not enough, the back of an envelope “pretend” maths that discloses a planned reduction from 15 percent, to 12.5 percent of the dreaded VAT, yet includes many other “creative means” of taxation does not avoid an outlook for Saint Lucia’s high public indebtedness, which is murky for deficit and growth.

The turning point for the government’s naked self promotion must begin with addressing vulnerabilities, and severely handicapped nature, coupled with a strong medium-term plan to achieve sustainability of public finances and policy measures that prioritize national infrastructure projects.

Evidently, most don’t want to acknowledge the elephant in the room for fear of irritating anyone, mindful of their own dependence on a kleptocratic or tyrannical government; but, accordingly, efforts to diversify energy sources, reduce the costs of doing business, and improve efficiency by boosting competitiveness to the inland revenue department, national insurance corporation (NIC), St Lucia air and sea ports, and various statutory bodies, customs and excise department, the public service, diplomatic missions, ministers of government and ministries must be cut by very significant amounts to strengthen growth prospects and budget surplus over the medium term.

The way out is a truthful accounting of financial illness [corruption], willful blindness to the rule of law, and the lack thereof. 
Getting the balance right is all too important on trade imbalance, energy, tax policies and deploying sustainable technologies that are based on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) rather than pie in the sky subsidies models of mendicancy, and outdated development models to which the country will remain stalled both at the mercy of foreign interests and behind the curve, much less to sustain a decent way of life.

Actually, it is more prudent that jobs will not recover on a durable basis, with a government that “pretends” to tell the truth to international donors and financers, much less keep electoral promises.

Current economic measures don’t add-up to the threats of defaults and bankruptcy, amid governance instability and “pretend” nature. Changes would have to occur at a rapid pace to bring about prosperity, even if those changes would produce severe short-term economic discomfort. 

Finding a better way means no more kick the can down the road and “economic activity” funded by the addiction to borrowing that the country cannot repay, except if relying on the concept of ‘odious debt’ that developing nations should not be required to repay debts incurred.

Good luck with that. Meanwhile the confidence to borrow and lend is diminishing the economic balance that needs urgent restoration, whereby investors can allocate capital and expect the best returns. 

Naturally, correcting imbalances of enablers of ‘steering’, ‘kleptocracy’ and ‘ignorance’ and tackling the education system that exist cannot truly fill the vacuum and have an economic recovery absent the will to act.

The mathematical facts by the CDB make the conclusion clear and inescapable:

“At present, Saint Lucia’s growth potential is around 2%, which is inadequate to reduce the stubbornly high unemployment and raise the standard of living of its citizens.” 

It is inevitable that, government will need to implement “revenue reforms” in the light of dwindling reserves, soft returns, limited ability to borrow and the lack of sustainable export capacity and trade deficits. 

Saint Lucia can return to its former status without equal, but not by those who use financial trickery and deceit as a means of enriching themselves at the expense of the public. 

This traditional concept of corruption and a sense of security in that regard need to be disrupted and shattered. 

Failures to abide by the rule of law, economic structure and back of an envelope maths, leads to an inevitable collapse of Saint Lucia’s economic system, government or both. 

Even then, the common decency and virtues of Saint Matthew 5:1-11 may be called into question.


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