“We can’t be afraid to em­brace new things!”

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

In his first-ever bud­get ad­dress to the na­tion, Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chastanet de­liv­ered a blis­ter­ing re­buke of what he char­ac­ter­ized as the egre­gious mis­man­age­ment of the na­tion. Re­fer­ring specif­i­cally to the slow-mo­tion, eco­nomic train wreck that was the Labour Party ad­min­is­tra­tion, Chastanet de­scribed the SLP as an eco­nomic vam­pire. The only legacy left by the SLP, he went on, is the sep­tic, jugu­lar wound they left in the neck of Saint Lu­cians: “First we must stop the bleed­ing. The na­tional debt must be re­duced be­fore it kills us!”

The coun­try’s eco­nomic and so­cial in­di­ca­tors af­firmed what we al­ready knew: the coun­try is broke. Saint Lu­cia has all the trap­pings of a coun­try on the brink: low growth, high un­em­ploy­ment, and un­prece­dented lev­els of debts. The prime min­is­ter ar­gued that dur­ing its farewell bid to the reins of leadership on June 6, 2016, the SLP left Saint Lu­cians with a part­ing gift: the kiss of debt. Over the past five years Saint Lu­cia’s econ­omy grew only 0.03% - a fig­ure Chastanet de­scribed as “un­ac­cept­able”.

“We must also ad­dress the high cost of do­ing busi­ness in Saint Lu­cia which gives our com­peti­tors an ad­van­tage,” he said, re­flect­ing on the coun­try’s crum­bling rep­u­ta­tion on the Ease of Do­ing Busi­ness rank­ing which de­moted Saint Lu­cia from 34th place in 2008, to 86th in 2016.

Cit­ing a slight re­duc­tion in the un­em­ploy­ment rate from 24.1% in 2015 to 21.6% in 2016, Chastanet vowed to ag­gres­sively tackle the per­ni­cious is­sue of youth un­em­ploy­ment. Saint Lu­cia’s youth un­em­ploy­ment rate is among the high­est in the re­gion, seem­ingly frozen at over 40%, like a bug in am­ber.

Not all of 2016, how­ever, was doom and gloom. There was some growth in the Saint Lu­cian econ­omy over the past year, al­beit it mod­est growth. Con­struc­tion was by far the most dy­namic sec­tor as a re­sult of in­vest­ments in ho­tels and com­mer­cial prop­er­ties. Out of all per­sons who landed jobs in 2016, 17% of them were in con­struc­tion. Man­u­fac­tur­ing also clocked some growth with a 7.2% in­crease in pro­duc­tion, de­spite Saint Lu­cia’s in­fa­mously ex­pen­sive elec­tric­ity costs which Chastanet vowed to at­tack head-on through a Sus­tain­able En­ergy Sec­tor De­vel­op­ment Strat­egy aimed at re­duc­ing de­pen­dence on fos­sil fu­els while cre­at­ing an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing a re­new­able en­ergy in­dus­try.

De­spite his well­doc­u­mented pen­chant for tourism, the PM tossed a life­line to the coun­try’s man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor: the in­tro­duc­tion of a de­fer­ral pro­ce­dure for pay­ing VAT on im­ports. Last month at a SMA meet­ing, over­taxed man­u­fac­tur­ers vented to the Fi­nance Min­istry about the plague of “re­verse charg­ing” on the in­dus­try. In un­de­ni­ably in­clu­sive fash­ion, the de­fer­ral scheme an­nounce­ment was a di­rect con­tri­bu­tion from civil so­ci­ety.

Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing con­text, the PM iden­ti­fied five strate­gic im­per­a­tives that his gov­ern­ment plans on un­apolo­get­i­cally pur­su­ing: cre­at­ing sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment; so­cial reengi­neer­ing; mak­ing gov­ern­ment more re­spon­sive to the busi­ness com­mu­nity; se­cu­rity and jus­tice; and en­ergy and cli­mate change.

Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chast­net ad­dressed the high cost of do­ing busi­ness in Saint Lu­cia dur­ing this week’s pre­sen­ta­tion.

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