ST. LUCIA-BUDGET-Opposition Leader slams fiscal package

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Opposition Leader Phillip J. Pierre has described the EC$1.4 billion (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) budget presented to Parliament earlier this week by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet as “nothing more than a list of aspirations with no strategy to achieve anything”.
Pierre told legislators that the tax-free fiscal package contained a “list of the usual empty promises and with the absence of a strategy it was no surprise that there were so many contradictory statements”
He said that a major area of concern for all St Lucians is the uncertain and deteriorating state of the health care system and yet Prime Minister Chastanet “gave no indication of when the national health insurance scheme, would come into force.
“And if as it looks, given the amount of preparatory work needed, the scheme will not be in place during this fiscal year, how then will the operation of the new OKEU hospital be funded if as he promised it will be open in the fiscal year 2018/19?,” Pierre said, reminding Parliament that the government had made similar promises about the opening of St Jude’s hospital by December 2016.
Pierre said that the government had indicated that the public debt continues to grow as a consequence of deficits from previous budgets, but according to the figures in the Social and Economic review “under his administrations all the deficits increased a reverse trend from the decreasing deficits of previous years”.
He said that Prime Minister Chastanet refuses to mention the effect of re-basing on the gross domestic product (GDP) to debt ratio.
He said the government had promised no new taxes but has committed minibus drivers, fishermen, taxi drivers, and other motorists to an increase in the price of gasoline by over one dollar.
“Is the fuel surcharge not a tax Mr Speaker? A tax that would impact on the cost of living and affect negatively on most Saint Lucians,” Pierre said, adding that a sector that will feel the burden of that tax is the fishing sector.
He promised that a St. Lucia Labour Party would implement measures to relief the burden of the fuel tax on the fisher folk in St. Lucia.
Pierre also argued that the health insurance levy is a new tax, noting that while the government expressed concern about the negative impact of high debt servicing commitments on its ability to meet the educational and social needs of the nation, Prime Minister Chastanet is willingly lending the proceeds of our passport sales to foreign investors at a concessionary rate of two per cent under the CIP (Citizenship by Investment Programme) while his government is borrowing at five to eight per cent in the market.
“This budget has been prepared against a background of a certain mind-set of this government never mind the list of aspirations. A mind-set of vindictiveness, high-handedness and a dangerous anti-St. Lucian spirit which will further divide and erode the social fabric of this country.”
Pierre said that his party believes that the so called investigations which the government said it would be pursing regarding the operations of the former administration “are a witch-hunt aimed at intimidating the opposition and forcing us into silence.
“It is the first time that an investigation using taxpayer’s funds is taking place and the tax payers do not know who is caring out the investigation. Let me make it clear, the opposition will not be silenced or threatened by kangaroo court and I have full confidence in the members of my team. The Labour party will be resolute in defending our parliamentarians and our legacy.”
Pierre said that when he speaks of vindictiveness, “I speak of the proud and boastful statement of a Minister who seems not to care about the families of 1000 …workers who lost their jobs because by his own admission more than 95 per cent of them were supporters of the Labour party.”
He accused the government of intimidating public servants and questioned the “dismissal of the workers of the St. Lucia Tourist Board and Radio St. Lucia.
“Was there no regard by the government for their mortgages and student loans commitments? Was that what was meant by the words “you just start to cry,” Pierre said.
He said the government has embarked “on wholesale political cleansing of thousands of people, a situation unique to this government and unprecedented in the history of St. Lucia.
“All of this practiced and said in the presence of the Prime Minister and with his tacit approval of the uncaring and heartless actions of his ministers.
“Mr Speaker I speak of that vindictiveness because I am sure that this budget will not yield much good since the population continues to be threatened by a government that is determined to be revengeful and to make its opponents cry …”.
“Mr Speaker this budget is premised on the theory that government must be run like a business.
This administration repeatedly speaks of running the government as a business as if it were some forward thinking initiative that will increase and improve the quality of public services.”
But Pierre said that running a government was never intended to be a high level business model. “Government and businesses are at different ends of the continuum of the provision of services. Governments are about providing public services that are driven and motivated by the need to serve the common good. Businesses on the other hand are about providing services that are essentially driven and motivated by the creation of profits. These are two very different approaches.”
He said that opportunities have been lost in all sectors of the economy and that over the last two years “we have lost two years of projects, two years of economic, educational, social and sporting opportunities. “In every aspect of the development of our island we can find that misguided policy of vindictiveness and the desire to crush the legacy of the St. Lucia Labour Party,” Pierre told legislators.
He said the budgetary proposals as outlined by Prime Minister Chastanet must be considered in the context of rising deficits and lower surpluses and a widening deficit on the merchandise trade account. Pierre said that the Social and Economic Review states that the trade deficit increased to EC$1.55 billion or 34.5 per cent of GDP in 2016 from EC$1.35 Billion or 30.4 per cent of GDP in 2015.
“That negative balance of trade is due to a large extent to the wider deficit on the merchandise trade account. It is estimated that the merchandise trade deficit further widened by 41.9 per cent. This imbalance is due to an estimated EC$190 million worth of imports of diesel and related items particularly in the generation of electricity.
“One would expect that a government concerned with rising deficits would make a concerted effort to reduce the high oil import bill and reduce the cost of electricity generation – and encourage energy renewable projects,” Pierre said.

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