The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Peter Josie The au­thor is a for­mer min­is­ter of govern­ment.

Last week­end’s Voice ed­i­to­rial drew at­ten­tion to the com­mend­able steps by Cas­tries Mayor Peter­son Fran­cis (and his coun­cil­lors) to rid the city of garbage and gen­eral law­less­ness. The steps to con­sult the po­lice, city busi­ness­men and el­ders are timely and wise. It takes one who knows the city first­hand, and who feels for its con­tin­u­ing degra­da­tion, to act as the new mayor has. The as­sault on Cas­tries by the mo­nop­oly park­ing of taxis and tran­sit vans needs ur­gent rec­ti­fi­ca­tion.

The clean-up work pro­posed by the Cas­tries Coun­cil should be ac­com­pa­nied by a suit­able slo­gan: “God don’t like dirty.” The Mayor’s plans brought to mind a Cabi­net meet­ing many years ago dur­ing which spend­ing pri­or­i­ties for the is­land were dis­cussed. The con­sen­sus was that the main so­cial prob­lem of Saint Lu­cia is its poor, un­planned and con­gested hous­ing on the mar­gins of Cas­tries. That sit­u­a­tion, de­vel­oped over time, has re­sulted in in­creas­ing law­less­ness in the dis­posal of garbage and hu­man waste.

Since that re­called Cabi­net meet­ing the men­tioned prob­lems have ex­ac­er­bated rather than di­min­ished. As if to add in­sult to in­jury, and fur­ther down­grade the city of Sir Arthur Lewis and Hon. Derek Wal­cott, there is, in ad­di­tion, an evolv­ing way of say­ing things (and dress­ing up?) which is in­ju­ri­ous to the French Cre­ole and the Stan­dard English spo­ken on the is­land. The creep­ing in­sult is work­ing its way into the so­ci­ety as rape and law­less­ness.

In 1979-82 the govern­ment dis­cussed in Cabi­net a sug­ges­tion that Cas­tries city be di­vided into four or five bor­oughs, each rep­re­sented by three elected coun­cil­lors who would choose from amongst the col­lec­tive a mayor. It may be ar­gued that con­tested city coun­cil elec­tions ev­ery three or four years is the most demo­cratic and le­git­i­mate ap­proach to tak­ing strong cor­rec­tive ac­tion to clean up Cas­tries and beat back law­less­ness and its at­ten­dant vices.

This is not to sug­gest that a strong city coun­cil ap­pointed and sup­ported by an equally strong and de­ter­mined na­tional govern­ment is in­ca­pable of mean­ing­ful change. In­deed, the steps taken so far by Mayor Fran­cis and his se­lected coun­cil­lors prove that a de­ter­mined and ex­pe­ri­enced bunch can work to­gether and re­turn the pride in the cap­i­tal its res­i­dents once en­joyed. The new mayor has be­gun his work with the un­der­stand­ing that man-made prob­lems – in­clud­ing in­dis­crim­i­nate garbage dis­posal - can be solved by men and women on a mis­sion to re­store or­der, clean­li­ness and pride.

In this re­gard, it may be more than co­in­ci­dence that the Mayor’s call to clean-up the city comes at the same time as cen­tral govern­ment is­sued a mes­sage to the gen­eral pub­lic that per­sons vis­it­ing its of­fices must dress ap­pro­pri­ately. The govern­ment would do well to fol­low the ap­proach of the city coun­cil in con­sult­ing with oth­ers in its bid to up­grade the dress code. The in­sis­tence on a dress code for per­sons vis­it­ing govern­ment of­fices should be ex­tended to per­sons vis­it­ing clin­ics, hos­pi­tals and health cen­tres. Such a step will hope­fully get peo­ple to think, and to take them­selves, their govern­ment of­fices and their coun­try more se­ri­ously.

An­other mat­ter which caught the at­ten­tion in last week­end’s Voice news­pa­per was an ar­ti­cle by one John Peters on VAT re­duc­tion. Mr. Peters made the in­ter­est­ing (and coura­geous ar­gu­ment) that a re­duc­tion in VAT ought to be post­poned for at least one year un­til the govern­ment can right the dire straits in which the econ­omy finds it­self. VAT has gen­er­ated much de­bate on the is­land and many per­sons are look­ing for­ward to some re­lief as promised. I, for one, have sug­gested a cut in VAT of seven-and-one-half per­cent over the govern­ment’s term in of­fice, if not at once.

For my part, the govern­ment must bite the bul­let and be­gin with a small ini­tial cut in VAT as soon as pos­si­ble. That cut should then be in­creased next year and the fol­low­ing year and so on un­til the wicked VAT is be­headed.

Pre­vi­ous to Mr. Peters’ sug­ges­tion, Dr. Ubal­dus Ray­mond, Min­is­ter in the Min­istry of Fi­nance, had pub­licly in­di­cated (Voice of Au­gust 20 head­line) how ter­ri­ble things are with the fi­nances of the coun­try. Ev­ery in­di­ca­tion since that time, in­clud­ing fig­ures di­vulged by the Min­is­ter for Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, Guy Joseph (on TALK with Rick Wayne), seems to point to the correctness of Mr. Peters’ sug­ges­tion. Govern­ment has lit­tle el­bow room in which to cor­rect the dam­age in­flicted by the reck­less man­age­ment of the past regime.

I, how­ever, re­main con­vinced that govern­ment must make ev­ery ef­fort to re­duce VAT as much as pos­si­ble this fi­nan­cial year. Tax­a­tion must be such that the tax­payer is will­ing and able to pay. Ex­perts at the Caribbean De­vel­op­ment Bank plus the IMF and the is­land’s tech­nocrats will de­ter­mine the best and most eq­ui­table tax to re­place lost VAT. One which comes read­ily to mind is the de­par­ture tax at He­wanorra Air­port. It was a most asi­nine, child­ish and am­a­teur­ish move by the for­mer SLP govern­ment to abol­ish that tax when they re­turned from Pur­ga­tory in 2011. It hurts to the bone that an ex­am­ple has not been made of po­lit­i­cal fraud­sters who so reck­lessly spent pub­lic funds. One con­tin­ues to pray that the firm and pro­gres­sive lead­er­ship dis­played by Mayor Fran­cis will be em­u­lated through­out the coun­try by those in lead­er­ship po­si­tions.

The City Coun­cil, elected and se­lected, has long been a ma­jor headache for Cen­tral Govern­ment. By pop­u­lar ac­count much of what the coun­cil does is “garbage”, al­beit not the type usu­ally re­ferred to as street lit­ter. But re­cently in­stalled Mayor Peter­son Fran­cis has promised an all-around clean-up!

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