Prime Min­is­ter speaks about Bud­get Prepa­ra­tions: “We have to get our Fis­cal House in Or­der”

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

At this week’s me­dia brief­ing be­fore Mon­day’s Cab­i­net Meet­ing, Prime Min­is­ter Hon­ourable Allen Chas­tanet spoke about plans for the up­com­ing Bud­get Pre­sen­ta­tion 2017-2018. The Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter for Fi­nance, Eco­nomic Growth, Job Cre­ation, Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs and the Pub­lic Ser­vice says the Gov­ern­ment has been en­gaged in as­cer­tain­ing the ex­act fis­cal po­si­tion of Saint Lu­cia and find­ing bal­ance.

One of the es­sen­tial is­sues that the Prime Min­is­ter noted had to be dealt with was the hous­ing of Gov­ern­ment of­fices. The Gov­ern­ment has had to deal with sev­eral out­stand­ing con­cerns of poor work­ing con­di­tions and health haz­ards. “I have been phys­i­cally go­ing around to the dif­fer­ent of­fices and it is amaz­ing to see the cir­cum­stances some of the civil ser­vants are be­ing asked to work un­der,” noted the Prime Min­is­ter.

Among the Prime Min­is­ter’s re­cent vis­its had been the In­land Rev­enue de­part­ment. The state of that of­fice, he noted, was in stark contrast to the other of­fices in the same build­ing.

“Peo­ple want to see an up­grade in their stan­dards,” added the Prime Min­is­ter.

The chal­lenge, he said, was that the Gov­ern­ment was al­ready spend­ing mil­lions on rental pay­ments and was con­strained in terms of what it could do.

“There is 450 mil­lion dol­lars in pay­roll. There is very lit­tle we can do right now other than try to get more pro­duc­tiv­ity for it. Clearly to do that phys­i­cally, the Gov­ern­ment is go­ing to have to in­crease the amount of fa­cil­i­ties that we have. We are al­ready spend­ing 44 mil­lion a year in rental pay­ments so when you get into your salaries, pen­sions, you get into 300 mil­lion a year in debt fi­nanc­ing and then the cost of open­ing up the Owen King Cen­tre, you are al­ready strug­gling.”

Speak­ing about the way for­ward Prime Min­is­ter Chas­tanet said the Gov­ern­ment is work­ing on a four-year strate­gic de­vel­op­ment plan. “What we are look­ing to do is a fis­cal bud­get for this year and a very clear pro­gramme for the next four years in terms of how we tran­si­tion. You hear some ir­re­spon­si­ble state­ments like there is no need for a sink­ing fund. When you look at the amount of money we are go­ing to have to turn over in debt this year alone it tells you that the coun­try was on au­topi­lot and there are a lot of things that are go­ing to have to change. Those changes can­not take place all in one year. We have to be able to put the coun­try in a much more fis­cally sta­ble po­si­tion.”

The Prime Min­is­ter spoke frankly about the di­min­ish­ing aid for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries like Saint Lu­cia from larger economies like the United States.

“Can we truly ex­pect and be­lieve that those coun­tries are go­ing to con­tinue giv­ing us money?” asked the Prime Min­is­ter. “We have to get our house fis­cally in or­der and we need growth. This coun­try can­not con­tinue to sur­vive on the level of growth it has had. So, how do we find that bal­ance be­tween bring­ing fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity to the state, which may po­ten­tially mean in­creases in taxes, with now at­tract­ing new in­vest­ment, which means low­er­ing your taxes? So we need to find that bal­ance to make that hap­pen. We are hop­ing to present a plan in the Bud­get that takes bal­ance into ac­count and also what we will do in the next four years to be­gin this align­ment.”

The Prime Min­is­ter, Cab­i­net Min­is­ters, and var­i­ous Min­istry heads have been en­gaged for the past sev­eral months in Bud­get prepa­ra­tions and de­vel­op­ing a four-year plan for the coun­try.

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