The Silent Majority Waiting to Exhale
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.