Thursday, May 30, 2024
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HomeDevelopmentsSt Lucia residents caution government, ‘fix our highway now’

St Lucia residents caution government, ‘fix our highway now’

By Caribbean News Global contributor

RODNEY BAY, St Lucia – Minister for infrastructure, ports, transport, physical development and urban renewal, Stephenson King has acknowledged that Saint Lucia’s road network is in a ‘terrible state’ because of ‘persistent inclement weather’.

The Castries-Gros Islet Highway is no different where approximately 60 percent of the population navigates the northern corridors of the country. And, thus, even the so-called affluent areas ‘where people live’ – are now up in arms protest by way of a billboard.

“Fix our Highway Now. Enough is Enough. No Roads. No Property Tax.”

The embodiment of this discipline may also be derived from the 2021 manifesto of the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) ‘Putting People First’ which pledged to “Remove the current property tax on residential buildings.”

Minister King previously explained that due to the findings of a review of the construction of the Rodney Bay section, there was reason to deliberately delay any progress to facilitate a redesign and further forensic investigation.

Consideration should also be given to the utterances of minister King, that: “We cannot fix roads during the rainy season” and relative to his engineering aptitude counselled “oil and water don’t mix, […] .”  He continued: “ Every road that is constructed in Saint Lucia is designed with a lifespan of 15 years”.

In light of the highway conditions, roads, and infrastructure that plague the country, it is also useful to consider the following.

Gros Islet highway and secondary road improvement project – budget 2021

“On March 23, 2015, a loan agreement was signed with the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development for an amount of EC$32.1million, for twenty years, with a four year grace period at an interest rate of 3 percent as part of the financing for the Choc to Gros Islet and Secondary Road Improvement Project.

“In 2017, the UWP administration canceled the loan and instead embarked upon a series of interventions, the last being the Rodney Bay Improvement Project at a cost of nearly EC$16 million for a less than a one-mile road.

“A review of that project has revealed irregularities that will be the subject of further investigation. Meanwhile, I am pleased to announce that we have begun discussion with the Kuwait Fund for the reinstatement of the financing for the original project,” said the prime minister and minister for finance, Philip Pierre.

The caption infrastructure development-infrastructure 2030 – of the government of Saint Lucia 2021 budget document reads:

“The development and upgrading of Saint Lucia’s infrastructure in roads, air and seaports, water supply, sanitation, energy generation, and telecommunications are critical to raising productivity and living standards.”

“Infrastructure 2030 as it is dubbed will present a clear vision for the upgrade, redevelopment, and expansion of Saint Lucia’s infrastructure in keeping with our dreams, aspirations, and needs as we transform the social and economic landscape of our country.”

Relative to income from property, the budget document noted:

“Revenue collections from this category are expected to increase by $1.02 million to reach $4.14 million for the new fiscal year. This projection represents a 33.03 percent increase above the revised estimates for 2021-2022,” the finance minister, added.

“It is against this background that I propose to spend a total of $1.842 billion the largest budget in Saint Lucia’s history:

Out of this amount, $1.349 billion is proposed to be spent on recurrent expenditure – $382.6 million on capital expenditure $110.5 million on principal payments (or what we sometimes refer to as Amortisation).

The total that we expect to receive in revenue and grants is $1.327 billion total revenue

Tax Revenue  – $1.016 billion

Non-Tax revenue – $133 million

Capital Revenue – $10.7 million

Grants amounting to $176.6 million

We are projecting an increase in our GDP to $5.47 billion which in part explains our projected increase in revenue.

“As a prudent government, we propose to change the trajectory of our primary as well as our overall balances.”

The throne speech‘ securing our future together, Tuesday 29 March 2022, reads in part:

“During this parliament … will reform the Income Tax System to allow for easier collection and payment of taxes. The disposable income of the lower-income taxpayer will be increased through the granting of higher allowances and the current burdensome imposition of interest and penalties on outstanding taxes will be reviewed.”

The above references are fundamental to expectations in the upcoming budget 2023/24 relative to road maintenance and rehabilitation projects, and the Gros Islet highway.

Currently, purchasers of fuel pay XCD$4.00 excise tax, (Gasoline and Diesel XCD$17.00 per gallon) presumably for existing road maintenance and new road infrastructure.

In the case of ‘patient endurance’ the hallmark of St Peter, the SLP manifesto pledged to “promote fishing as a sustainable livelihood that is financially rewarding,” and to “support the Fishers through their Cooperatives and immediately remove the additional XCD$1.50 (currently XCD$4.00) excise tax on fuel sold to the fisheries sector.”

To date, the government has not met this policy initiative, and perhaps there is due cause for concern that the 2022/23 budget has not been actualized, which stated:

The total projected recurrent revenue for 2022-2023 is comprised of tax revenue of $1.016 billion or 88.4 percent and $133.9 million in non-tax revenue. Tax revenue is forecast to increase by 9.5 percent in comparison to the outturn for the 2021-2022 while non-tax revenue is expected to increase by 34.2 percent compared to the revised estimate for the preceding year.”

From historic pronouncements and budget surprises, perhaps there is optimism that the government has not forgotten what it preached in opposition.

Commenting on the economy recently, the minister for finance indicated that the economy has performed well, representing a reduction in the deficit from approximately 5.7 percent to just over 3.8 percent, “without any mark changes in terms of the quality of life of the people of Saint Lucia,” he said.

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Meanwhile, in the hallmark of truth, many await an act of providence in the removal of excise tax on fuel sold to the fisheries sector. The removal of the current property tax on residential buildings. The expectation of significant road maintenance and new road infrastructure.

To be sure: political promise, policy formulation, and the results are daunting.

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