The following is an edited version of the speech delivered at the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) virtual meeting on the Castries Central Market steps, August 23, 2020, by Alva Jn Baptiste, member of parliament and district representative for Laborie.
Caribbean News Global (CNG) in the interest of brevity publishes part-two of the three-part series.
By Alva Jn Baptiste
Saint Lucian’s are desperately crying out for a new democratic order, in which the course of development reflects the will of the majority engages all stakeholders and reflects the value of equality.
The value of an encompassing framework cannot be limited to the formal institutions of government. It must provide a vision and coherence to the activities of civil society, as both the informal and informal networks of civil society, play a significant role in promoting enterprise and ensuring the survival of rich and poor communities alike.
Unless these activities are harnessed to the development project of the nation, they will increasingly become sites of contestation between government and civil society, as has become commonplace with the Chastanet administration.
Cabot St Lucia
The Cabot links project must be brought into sharp focus. The government of Canada would never dip into Canadians pension funds to give to a Saint Lucian millionaire monies to invest in any golf course in Canada, especially if it involves desecrating areas that are environmentally sensitive and important to their civil society.
We only recently saw a Cabinet Conclusion to approve the lease of Queen’s chain for Cabot, which ignored the advice of the technocrats in the ministry of physical planning. It appears that this government has no regard for the advice of our technocrats. The ground is ripe for all groups in this country that have previously experienced the gains of our development, to now unite divergent interests around some common developmental objectives.
Consequently, utilizing the fiscal framework of this country to purchase the durable thread of social cohesion, to suture the open wounds of inequality, which have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under this government, we are facing growing conditions of inequality and the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few households, while large sectors of our country are being excluded.
Desert Star Holdings project
I now wish to turn to the significant cost of the DSH project and to highlight in particular the budgetary impact of this project on the government and ultimately the citizens of this country.
The global pandemic COVID-19 has created untold suffering to Saint Lucian families, resulting in thousands of job losses and putting many Saint Lucian’s on the breadline and below the poverty line. It is the responsibility of a caring government to provide relief to its citizens to help sustain them during this pandemic. The government which has squandered its revenue has instead decided to use the pensioners’ money, namely the NIC funds, to provide economic relief to its contributors.
The unbudgeted NIC money used to grant economic relief will have longer-term adverse implications for the NIC. A responsible government should have adopted other options to provide relief to its citizens. The overriding challenge in this period, if the country has to move to a higher trajectory of development, is employment creation and reduction in the number of citizens dependent on social welfare. At the same time, the reach and efficiency of social security need to be continually improved.
Had the government not engaged in this ill-fated DSH project, it could have provided much greater support to its citizens. A look at this year’s estimates revealed the amount of money allocated towards activities in support of the DSH project, monies which could have been spent otherwise to assist households.
Finance allocation to DSH
The government of Saint Lucia has started paying for the unnecessary La Resource Vieux- Fort diversion road built to accommodate the horse racing track. This road which cost $13.6 million was built under a design finance construct arrangement. In this year’s estimates, an amount of $3.2 million is allocated for this project to be financed from bonds. After paying this amount, the loan balance on this project is $8.3 million.
DSH demands also required the government to relocate the Beausejour Agricultural Station. This project is costing taxpayers $8 million which is borrowed from the NIC of which $3.1 million has been spent so far, and $1.7 million is allocated in this year’s budget. The source of the funding for this project is the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Rapid Credit Facility; funds that were intended for income support and health-related expenditure for COVID-19.
The ill-advised DSH agreement also forced the government to fast track the closure of the Vieux-Fort Landfill. The total project cost for this is $15.5 million, of which $8.5 million has been spent. In this year’s estimate, the balance of $7 million has been allocated and again the source of this funding is IMF Rapid Credit Facility.
We were told by the prime minister that the IMF money would be used for construction projects to stimulate the economy and provide jobs. This is clearly not the case for these projects, as these funds are allocated, or rather diverted or deflected, to meet other commitments of the government. This is unethical in financial terms and could qualify for charges of embezzlement and misappropriation of funds.
The total cost of these three projects, to which the government has diverted public funds as a result of its DSH deal, is over $37 million. This does not include replacing the new meat processing plant, which we have been told will be constructed at another location, and the total amount allocated in this year’s estimates for this is $11.9 million. These funds could have been used to purchase laptops for students and provide support to distressed families, who are in urgent need of income support at this time.
These benefits being freely given to Teo Ah Khing, would be better and more justifiably given to bona fide chamber members, SME’s and entrepreneurs to address the myriad of pressing issues that are crying out for support, in these difficult COVID-times.
To be continued… The 2020/2021 budget is a hot mess.