The Si­lent Ma­jor­ity Wait­ing to Ex­hale

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - Lesley Fran­cis By

Be­cause of the love for our is­land we, a group of se­nior cit­i­zens and young­sters, have felt it nec­es­sary to get to­gether to put for­ward our heart-felt thoughts on the state of af­fairs in the coun­try. Through our years of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing and living on this is­land, we are able to think and con­trib­ute and be cre­ative; ca­pa­ble of hon­est anal­y­sis.

There­fore, we the se­nior cit­i­zens and the young­sters who re­spect us for our con­tri­bu­tions and le­gacy ex­pect through this medium over the com­ing months to bare our souls and to tell the Saint Lu­cian public ex­actly how we feel, and pass on to you the truth we have learned from the peo­ple on the ground.

It does not take much re­search to dis­cern our coun­try is hurt­ing badly—from the lack of peace and se­cu­rity; lack of in­formed poli­cies; lack of spir­i­tual and eth­i­cal val­ues. Most of us feel we have been de­nied the proper growth and devel­op­ment of our younger per­sons and the qual­ity of life for thou­sands of un­em­ployed, the poor, and those who have given up hope.

So, sons and daugh­ters of Saint Lu­cia, we will ad­dress you in the news­pa­pers monthly, and on so­cial me­dia. We be­lieve that all of you who have the fu­ture of your coun­try at heart will be more con­vinced than ever that we all have to en­sure that we stop the un­ceas­ing downslide into de­struc­tion. We hope that like us you are wait­ing to ex­hale. You can­not af­ford to be blind to the glar­ing facts.

Youth to­day are af­flicted by nu­mer­ous is­sues that af­fect their long- term devel­op­ment, so­cial skills, phys­i­cal and men­tal health, and con­se­quently their over­all suc­cess. Start­ing at in­fancy, a lack of fund­ing, poor ac­ces­si­ble re­sources and the lack of in­ter­est and gen­uine con­cern by gov­ern­ments for the well-be­ing of to­day’s young peo­ple can cre­ate an en­vi­ron­men­tal plague of hope­less­ness and de­spair. By the time the ma­jor­ity reach ado­les­cence and young adult­hood, they have fallen into the cycli­cal life­style which de­fines much of our pop­u­la­tion: a life­style marked by poverty, un­em­ploy­ment (an in­cred­i­ble 50% mark in Saint Lu­cia), crime, poor phys­i­cal and men­tal health and even sui­cide. The con­tin­u­a­tion of short-term em­ploy­ment poli­cies and the lack of at­ten­tion paid the devel­op­ment of our youth can only hurt Saint Lu­cia’s fu­ture.

The most con­cern­ing and de­lib­er­at­ing is­sues af­fect­ing youth to­day stem from in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity to ef­fec­tive so­cial pro­grams and re­sources that can bet­ter sup­port chil­dren and fam­i­lies in var­i­ous do­mains. Ar­eas of need in­clude: Ed­u­ca­tion and sup­port for sin­gle par­ent house­holds; pro­vid­ing men­tal health sup­port and coun­selling for at risk and trou­bled youth; sup­port re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive, as op­posed to solely puni­tive mea­sures for delin­quent kids; fa­cil­i­tat­ing so­cial, ed­u­ca­tional and ath­letic ex­tra cur­ricu­lum ac­tiv­i­ties; pro­mot­ing on-go­ing re­search in child devel­op­ment; de­vel­op­ing the dis­ci­pline of sports. This will not only pro­vide youth with av­enues to ex­pe­ri­ence and pro­duce sen­ti­ments of na­tional pride, but with em­pha­sis on procur­ing as­sis­tance and spon­sor­ship, may also lead to schol­ar­ships pro­vid­ing strong in­cen­tives for youth to get in­volved; job train­ing and so­cial pro­grams geared at pro­mot­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion, skill devel­op­ment and train­ing. This can en­sure that the youth are bet­ter pre­pared for the work force. Th­ese as­sets, along with ca­reer re­sources can help to pro­vide ef­fec­tive av­enues for se­cur­ing gain­ful em­ploy­ment or en­tre­pre­neur­ial ser­vices as well as av­enues for ad­vance­ment.

By strength­en­ing th­ese ar­eas and ini­tia­tives, we can con­cur­rently pro­vide youth with hope and am­bi­tion, which could also help re­duce men­tal health is­sues and com­pla­cency, and pro­duce pos­i­tive, am­bi­tious and pro­duc­tive youth.

An eco­nomic anal­y­sis con­ducted by Econ­o­mists, and other pro­fes­sion­als, on be­half of their em­ployer, which for now will re­main un­named, has con­firmed the ob­vi­ous: that Saint Lu­cia’s Eco­nomic in­di­cia por­tray a bleak out­look for our coun­try when com­pared with other Caribbean na­tions.

Among our re­gional coun­ter­parts Saint Lu­cia’s econ­omy and Gre­nada’s are still strug­gling while Do­minica, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vin­cent are in re­cov­ery mode. In fact those coun­tries are the only ones in the (ECCU) that are ap­pear­ing to reg­is­ter sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in ac­tiv­ity in the first quar­ter of 2015 while far­ther afield Ja­maica and the Cay­man Is­lands are record­ing ex­pan­sion. Belize has recorded a small con­trac­tion. The pre­lim­i­nary fig­ures for the Ba­hamas and Trinidad and Tobago sug­gest slow progress while of­fi­cial es­ti­mates show no im­prove­ment in Bar­ba­dos. Let us take a closer look at Saint Lu­cia’s per­for­mance. Mixed for­tunes across sec­tors in St Lu­cia in 2014 re­sulted in No Growth in to­tal eco­nomic value added dur­ing 2014 af­ter a decline in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity of 2.3% in 2013:

Con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity fell marginally dur­ing the first quar­ter of 2014 ev­i­denced by fall­ing credit for con­struc­tion from com­mer­cial banks. Public sec­tor build­ing was limited to slope sta­bi­liza­tion works on the Barre d’ Lisle and other ar­eas, con­struc­tion of a few Bridges and work on the St Jude’s Hos­pi­tal and some work on the Min­istry of Fi­nance build­ings. Man­u­fac­tur­ing out­put was pri­mar­ily hurt by 25% less ex­ports of mainly bev­er­ages rel­a­tive to 2013.

Ac­tiv­ity in tourism soft­ened the blow from de­clines in con­struc­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing, with stay over and cruise ar­rivals ex­pand­ing 6% and 5.4% over the six months of last year. In­creased air­lift re­sulted in a 13.2% ex­pan­sion in stay over ar­rivals from the USA while in­creases were also reg­is­tered for ar­rivals from Canada (9.4%) and Europe (7.2%). How­ever ar­rivals from other mar­kets fell 15.5% in to­tal, re­flect­ing con­tin­ued weak­ness in the Caribbean Mar­ket.

In­vest­ment in Non-Ba­nana agri­cul­ture led to in­creased value added in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor dur­ing 2014 de­spite a 23.6% re­duc­tion in Ba­nana pro­duc­tion at­trib­uted to the De­cem­ber 2013 Christ­mas eve trough and other weather events.

Prices rose by 3.6% due in most part to VAT and the re­sult­ing in­crease in the price of hous­ing, util­i­ties, Gas & fu­els (4.7%). Dur­ing 2014 the un­em­ploy­ment rate is es­ti­mated to have risen to 24.9%, 3.5% higher than a year ear­lier.

To­tal public sec­tor debt reached US1.020.6Bil­lion by March 2014, US$0.4Mil­lion higher than at the end of 2013. Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment bor­row­ing from ex­ter­nal sources was pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for the in­crease.

Out­look: The ECCB ex­pects an­other eco­nomic con­trac­tion in St Lu­cia in 2015 as de­lays to both public sec­tor and pri­vate sec­tor ini­tia­tives dampen con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity.

How­ever im­prov­ing global con­di­tions, in­creased air­lift ca­pac­ity and planned sport­ing events are set to pro­pel ro­bust growth in tourism, as we are see­ing presently, led by in­creased ar­rivals from the ma­jor source mar­kets. Events in the Mid­dle East, the plane crashes and con­flict in the Far East and Ukraine and the dreaded Ebola Virus in Africa along with a dread­ful win­ter in North Amer­ica, have all been di­vert­ing tourists away from those ar­eas and thank­fully to the Caribbean.

Fi­nally the Cen­tral Bank projects that Gov­ern­ment’s fis­cal deficit should nar­row on ac­count of in­creased ef­forts at fis­cal con­sol­i­da­tion and im­proved tax rev­enue in­take through higher VAT re­ceipts and col­lec­tion of ar­rears.

Not good news at all. St Lu­cia con­tin­ues to be a weak per­former on the seg­mented GDP per­for­mance scale while Gov­ern­ment in­creases tax­a­tion, re­duces public spend­ing and in­curs ad­di­tional debt on the tax­payer. Where in­fla­tion is con­cerned the Is­land should have been see­ing de­clin­ing com­mod­ity prices due to weak do­mes­tic de­mand and de­clin­ing global com­mod­ity prices how­ever this has not been the case ei­ther due to the im­porters not pass­ing on the price re­duc­tions to the fi­nal con­sumer or due to the fact that they are try­ing to re­cover losses made upon the in­tro­duc­tion of VAT in 2012.

The cries of Saint Lu­cians frus­trated at the high cost of living are heard ev­ery­where. Saint Lu­cia is one of the most ex­pen­sive des­ti­na­tions in the Caribbean with about the high­est in­fla­tion, along with Ja­maica and Trinidad &Tobago.

What is wor­ry­ing is that Gov­ern­ment has not been mak­ing sus­tain­able ef­forts to­ward the re­lief of those con­di­tions on the Busi­ness Sec­tor which is the real en­gine of Growth in the econ­omy. Busi­nesses con­tinue to strug­gle with the re­duced de­mand for their ser­vices and the ev­er­in­creas­ing taxes which threaten to top­ple their in­vest­ments and ren­der many more St Lu­cians un­em­ployed. It is high time that Gov­ern­ment starts to treat St Lu­cian Busi­nesses with the favour that the for­eign ones are ben­e­fit­ing from, lest their strong busi­ness le­gacy be de­stroyed and St Lu­cians are fur­ther thrown into the pits of de­spair and poverty. All for the fur­ther­ance of po­lit­i­cal gain at the ex­pense of progress.

Saint Lu­cia has many tal­ented peo­ple but com­mon­sense and busi­ness acu­men are more im­por­tant for adopt­ing poli­cies that would pro­duce re­sults. With all the “best brains” in gov­ern­ment, why then is Saint Lu­cia lack­ing in so many ar­eas? If only some of us in author­ity would do less for them­selves and more for coun­try.

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