ALL AH WE IS ONE: Economic pit
“Whosoever diggeth a pit, shall fall in it.” – Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley
THERE IS A FAMOUS QUOTATION attributed to United States Democrat politician, Mario Cuomo, that politicians “campaign in poetry” but they “govern in prose”.
These words have echoed in my head over the last few days from my current vantage point in St Lucia, where I have watched the newly elected (five-month) Allen Chastanet United Workers’ Party (UWP) government retreat from its “grand charge” promises of the election campaign, which included abolition of the VAT, reduction of property taxes and the reduction in fuel prices.
Today, the main issue facing Chastanet’s UWP is its inability to fulfil its economic pledges. It was fascinating to watch a television news report in which Ubaldus Raymond, the minister in the ministry of finance (whatever that means), presenting arguments which replicated word for word, the ones used by the deposed Kenny Anthony administration to explain the UWP’s poor performance: revenue streams performing below par, concerns about debt and government’s day-to-day operations proving challenging.
Raymond’s comments were being raised in the context of a postponed address to the nation on the economy by the prime minister (the substantive minister of finance). In a context of deep uncertainty, the postponement has led to speculation about difficult coming decisions. The speech, due November 7, will see a number of previously zero-rated items such as sugar and flour being subjected to the VAT. Further, pending increases in travel taxes are expected to negatively affect the tourism sector.
These taxes, mooted by the “tourism prime minister” himself, are themselves clear indications of the level of desperation about the country’s revenue situation.
Perhaps, then, when the sober history of the 2016 election is written, it will show that the Anthony administration might have paid the price for keeping the country out of the clutches of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Worrying debt-to-GDP ratios were effectively reduced in the 2011-2016 term.
Perhaps in Anthony’s mind, the first term would have been used to stabilise the economy and a second, if granted, would have been used to share the windfall more directly with the public. This was perhaps too sophisticated an approach to carry to the public. Barbados’ Democratic Labour Party’s approach of postponing the austerity for the second term might have been the more politically astute Machiavellian approach.
Whatever the analysis, it is now a reality that it is the Allen Chastanet administration which faces the prospect of being the first St Lucian administration to take the country to the IMF. The sound-bites and dazzle of the campaign have dimmed, and the foreign consultants and regional political allies have collected their hefty pay cheques. Avoiding the deep hole of the IMF is now the sole responsibility of the newly elected prime minister. Only time will tell whether he will sink in his own pit.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: [email protected]