Focus on debt burden
CASTRIES, St Lucia (CMC) – Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony says his administration will now focus on reducing the island’s debt burden.
St Lucia’s public debt is estimated at 77 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and according to World Bank figures for 2012, the GDP stood at US$1.2 billion.
In his first public response to the recent disclosure by the Department of Statistics that unemployment now stood at 25 per cent, Anthony said while he was of the opinion that the situation could “get a little worse before it gets better” there was now light at the end of the tunnel.
The private sector here has been calling on the government to revisit the introduction of the 15 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) which it said had been crippling its ability to expand and provide more jobs on the island.
“I have said before that it would get a little worse before it gets better, and I believe that the worst is over for the private sector, and the problem now lies on the government side, given the fiscal adjustments that we have to make,” Anthony said.
“Over the last year, several St Lucians have lost their jobs, and some of the island’s major retailers such as Minville and Chastanet, and a number of regional banks have been forced to reduce employees prematurely by inviting them to accept severance packages.”
Prime Minister Anthony said the recent decision by the majority owned British telecommunications company, LIME, to terminate several employees had prompted him to write the company.
But despite this, Prime Minister Anthony said he remained convinced that the situation was stabilising and that had it not been for the National Initiative to Create Employment (NICE) programme, unemployment would have been higher.
“In a sense the NICE programme is helping to contain the numbers at the moment. But while it is true that people are getting jobs, it is an artificial containment in the sense that it is employment that is not nationally created by growth in the economy,” Anthony said.
The opposition United Workers Party (UWP) has accused the government of being clueless on how it would deal with the economic situation. Anthony has brushed aside the criticism saying that the unemployment rate was as high as what the former government had left behind.