St. Lucia Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Antony has defended his decision not to follow into the footsteps of some regional governments and not taking his island into a programme of austerity measures with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).
He made the statement while wrapping up debate in the St. Lucian Parliament on the 2015-2016 Appropriation Bill in the face of criticisms from members of the Opposition who claimed that those countries that are under an IMF programme are seeing economic growth.
During her presentation, Opposition Leader Dr. Gale Rigobert accused Dr. Antony who is also the country’s Minister of Finance of being responsible for another period of economic contraction.
The St. Lucia budget indicated that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by an estimated 0.7% or negative growth of minus 2.7%.
The Members of the Opposition told the House of Representatives that the ruling St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration of Dr. Anthony Government should introduce revenue measures to deal with the severe fiscal situation on the island.
Mention was made of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, St. Kitts/Nevis and Grenada experiencing a little growth in their economy while St. Lucia continues to register negative growth.
In response, Dr. Antony said the people of St. Lucia must be told the truth about Grenada which is now locked into an IMF agreement.
The St. Lucia Prime Minister found nothing pleasing about the IMF program that Grenada is currently grappling with under the Keith Mitchell-led regime.
“It is the most draconian agreement that they Grenada has ever implemented, and all the things we take for granted in St. Lucia, in Grenada they don’t exist because of that agreement,” he told St. Lucian legislators.
“I am proud, I am happy that I did not take this country (St. Lucia) to the IMF,” he said.
According to Dr. Antony, he was advised that the only way the economic problems of St. Lucia could be dealt with was to go to the IMF, but he opted not to go that route.
Among the austerity measures implemented by the Mitchell-led government in St. George’s is a doubling of the Property Tax, wage freeze over a three-year period for civil servants, lowering of the income tax threshold to bring in more people in the net, as well as huge increases in user fees charged by the State.
St. Lucia’s Tourism Minister, Philip Pierre gave support to the position adopted by PM Anthony on not getting involved in an IMF Structural Adjustment Programme and referred to certain aspects of Grenada’s Letter of Intent with the IMF.
He said that in Grenada there has been a reduction in the threshold in Personal Income tax and that workers cannot claim exemptions for anything.
He also said that the Letter of Intent indicated that the base of the Value Added Tax (VAT) will have to be expanded by applying the tax to select exempt items, and applying the full 15% to construction materials.
The St. Lucia government minister also told his Parliament that the Mitchell government in St. George’s was forced to introduce a 5% excise tax on luxury goods, vehicle parts, tyres and batteries.
Pierre noted that the countries which are under an IMF program, have either sent civil servants home or cut salaries.
In the case in Grenada, civil servants had to take a three year wage freeze while the government said it would introduce a system of attrition in order to reduce the size of the public service which currently stands at just over 5, 000 persons.
Under the deal worked out, every ten posts that become vacant only three will be filled.
Another senior Government Minister in the St. Lucia Parliament stressed that it was a collective decision of the Cabinet of Ministers in agreeing with their Prime Minister not to take Castries into an IMF programme which would result in the people of St. Lucia having to experience severe pain and hardship.