Chas­tanet: “Mak­ing money is not a bad thing!”

The Star (St. Lucia) - - BUSINESS MATTERS - By Chris­tian Wayne

It comes as no sur­prise that Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet—who served as the is­land’s Tourism Min­is­ter from 2006 to 2011—is head-over-heels for the in­dus­try, but dur­ing a can­did meet­ing on Fri­day with Saint Lu­cia’s Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion*, he re­as­sured lo­cal stake­hold­ers that he is equally as com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing a growthori­ented en­vi­ron­ment for the is­land’s man­u­fac­tur­ers as he is to at­tract­ing crit­i­cal for­eign in­vest­ment to its shores. With an an­nual budget ad­dress loom­ing, the prime min­is­ter’s at­ten­dance at the SMA round­table marked the first time a head of govern­ment had met with the is­land’s man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor at such an in­ti­mate level—un­doubt­edly a pos­i­tive sign to­wards the much-needed re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of pub­lic-pri­vate-sec­tor re­la­tions that had been forcibly flat­lined by five years of pseu­doso­cial­ism, or what Churchill de­scribed as “the phi­los­o­phy of fail­ure.”

The PM be­gan by ad­dress­ing the 800-pound go­rilla in the room: tourism. Il­lus­tra­tive of the slightly pug­na­cious re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two in­dus­tries, mem­bers of the SMA cited the “pref­er­ence” of hotel op­er­a­tors to im­port for­eign goods in­stead of sourc­ing them lo­cally—though hardly a re­cent prob­lem, but an im­por­tant one nev­er­the­less, ev­i­denced by Kenny An­thony’s quota-based reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing the sourc­ing of lo­cal chicken.

Cau­tion­ing against the ad­di­tion of more reg­u­la­tions on an al­ready overly-reg­u­lated in­dus­try, Chas­tanet re­marked: “We have to be care­ful. In coun­tries like ours, for­eign ex­change is like oxy­gen. If you’re in the car with the win­dows rolled up, and the air con­di­tion is blow­ing re­cy­cled air in­stead of us­ing fresh air, your win­dows will soon fog. The tourism in­dus­try earns 85% of our for­eign ex­change, so on a cer­tain level, as a com­mu­nity, we must come to un­der­stand that other in­dus­tries can­not pros­per with­out the suc­cess of the tourism sec­tor.”

Elab­o­rat­ing fur­ther, the PM de­scribed the higher rel­a­tive costs as­so­ci­ated with op­er­at­ing lo­cal ho­tels ver­sus neigh­bor­ing islands as one rea­son for pre­cau­tion: “It’s al­most twice as ex­pen­sive for an Amer­i­can to fly to Saint Lu­cia as op­posed to flying to Ja­maica. That makes our hotel rooms al­most twice as dif­fi­cult to fill. Take San­dals, for ex­am­ple: $800,000 a month in elec­tric­ity. If they were in Trinidad or Tobago—$120,000. These are just ex­am­ples, but that’s the re­al­ity we’re fac­ing. We have to use tourism as a mech­a­nism to stim­u­late wider growth in our econ­omy.”

Hav­ing es­tab­lished tourism’s place in the peck­ing or­der, Chas­tanet fielded ques­tions from the au­di­ence of un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated and over­taxed busi­ness own­ers—all of whom con­tinue to fight tooth and nail in a country whose do­mes­tic man­u­fac­tur­ers are de­scribed by the Caribbean De­vel­op­ment Bank as “highly ex­posed to com­pe­ti­tion from for­eign firms due to low tar­iffs.”

The pri­mary con­tentions ex­pressed by man­u­fac­turer af­ter man­u­fac­turer were all the same: how the fev­er­ish im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ValueAdded Tax had rav­aged the cash flows of their busi­nesses, and their in­abil­ity to ful­fill fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions to anx­ious sup­pli­ers, in­flex­i­ble port au­thor­i­ties, and an on­slaught of ma­raud­ing In­land Rev­enue au­di­tors.

Be­gin­ning to grasp the sever­ity of his man­u­fac­tur­ers’ plight, the tourism-cham­pion ap­peared to soften. Be­fore clos­ing, he re­it­er­ated his com­mit­ment to “do­ing what is right for lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing,” while not­ing that a more ac­tive and vo­cal pri­vate sec­tor would be a “good thing.”

Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet has re­lated the need for tourism to be used as a mech­a­nism to stim­u­late wider growth in Saint Lu­cia’s econ­omy.

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