Are We There Yet? Where are the 2021 Manifestos — Part 2.
There continues to be an air of a looming election in Saint Lucia. Saint Lucians have still not been reassured of the plans of either political plans (particularly presented in a contract of faith). What metrics should the public judge the political parties on? Further to the initial post concerning manifesto ideas, the subsequent material will serve to present additional ideas to the future Saint Lucian leaders.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many persons working from home for the first time. Many remote workers were not adequately equipped for this new modality of working but it is clear that remote working will be more common in the future. A culture of remote working would also allow more Saint Lucians to live in Saint Lucia and work for non-Saint Lucian companies. This could very well eliminate the need for the government to pay significant subsidies to these companies such as the current administration has provided for OJO Labs and ItelBPO. Furthermore, this could be a perfect opportunity for the St. Lucian government to attract foreigners to work and live in St. Lucia which could reap further economic benefits for the island (Dominica, Barbados). Remote working within the government could also significantly reduce the government’s rental cost and avoid costly unnecessary projects such as the refurbishment of the Daher Mall. The next administration should consider initiatives such as the following:
· Incentives for local and foreign businesses to continue to encourage remote work when possible
· Training in various remote working collaboration tools
· Subsidizing infrastructure (laptops, mics, cameras) required for remote working
· Improved and cheaper internet access — island wide internet needs to be rejuvenated with consistent quality
· Reduce government rental cost via remote working.
· Consider cloud computing resources for remote working environments
Agriculture needs more focus by the next administration due to Saint Lucia’s high food importation bill of close to $5M. COVID-19 exposed the fragility of the global supply chain and resulted in shortages of various products during the pandemic. COVID-19 reaffirmed the importance of safe, sustainable and short supply chains. The importance of agriculture to the Saint Lucian cannot be overstated for ensuring food security for the Saint Lucian people. President of Guyana Irfaan Ali stated “We cannot continue to eat third quality or second quality food when we can produce first quality food. We have to be brave; we have to be brave in addressing these issues. We can’t walk along the sidelines anymore. We have to confront these issues as a region.” Saint Lucians will require the next administration to provide support to the Agriculture sector by considering the following:
· Support and encourage sustainable farming practices — capitalize on the organic farming market
· Provide subsidies to farmers, as such has been done for other sectors (tourism and call centers) where foreigners have been primary beneficiaries.
· Encourage the cultivation of non-traditional crops such as cannabis after legalization
· Improve ocean literacy and provide support to fisher-folks and other blue economy participants
· Provide training and resources to farmers to better track revenue and costs.
Saint Lucia needs to continue to make progress on renewable energy given the significant foreign exchange that is required for fuel imports. The Saint Lucia National Energy Transition Strategy and Integration Resource Plan remains a roadmap that should be followed by the next administration. Some key areas of focus should be the following:
· Continue efforts to develop and install sustainable projects (e.g., solar PV).
· Modify rate structures and allow for managed competition such as select independent power producers (IPPs).
· Test and monitor certain technologies that offer potential benefits (e.g., energy storage, automated controls).
· Explore additional revenue streams for new local revenue (e.g., electric vehicles and selling electricity to cruise ships).
Estimates suggest that over 100,000 Saint Lucians live outside of Saint Lucia. We need to ensure that we are able to better leverage the Saint Lucian diaspora as this would be instrumental for further economic growth. Saint Lucia had 2 consecutive years of negative growth (-0.1% in 2019 and -20.4% in 2020) and significantly below the regional averages of (0.6% and -7.2%). Should the government provide similar incentives to the Saint Lucian diaspora as we provide to foreign “investors”? Areas that the next administration could explore for additional diaspora involvement include the following:
· Create mechanisms for the diaspora to purchase government bonds or treasury bills.
· Provide ways for the diaspora to invest in projects that can benefit Saint Lucian particularly in agriculture, creative and technology industry.
· Encourage the diaspora to assist in the education sector by becoming mentors to students, developing educational content, scholarships, writing examination questions and guest lectures.
· Leverage the skillset of the diaspora more effectively in areas of their expertise
Election Date Reform
While the 2016 UWP Manifesto called for a fixed elections date, this promise was not fulfilled by the current administration. This idea should be revisited and remain a key priority for the winner of the 2021 election as the current system introduces significant uncertainty and costs to the Saint Lucian public. The St. Lucian PM indicated that the election date is his prerogative and that he has 90 days after the first sitting of Parliament. It is important to note that the first sitting of Parliament of July 12th 2016 was held outside the bounds of the Saint Lucia Constitution which specifies that it must be within 1 month of the election date (June 6th 2016). The PM also indicated that he did not want elections to conflict with school or with CXC examinations and given the revised CXC timetable from July 14 to July 30, this would rule out a July election.
While the Constitution provides him with this buffer time, it is generally expected that elections would be 5 years after the last poll as tracked by caribbeanelections.com. Former Bajan PM Freundel Stuart called the 2018 election 5 years and 92 days after the previous 2013 election; his party lost all 30 seats.
Are both political parties really bereft of ideas and plans for Saint Lucia’s post COVID19 recovery plan? Thoroughly researched and data-driven analysis is an essential requirement to determine the best trajectory for the people of Saint Lucia. The effects of COVID-19 will remain for a long time and as stated by Ian Durant, CDB Economist. “As countries implement policies to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, BMCs need to reduce the susceptibility to shocks, limit output volatility and increase the rates of inclusive growth through improved competitiveness that leads to export diversification. Such policies also need to be geared towards a green recovery.”
The Saint Lucia Analyzer has an ongoing Youth Essay Competition on “What suggestions would you have for our leaders to help improve our economic situation and build a more diversified economy that raises the standard of living of all Saint Lucians?” This may seem like a trivial exercise, but at this point, our leaders should welcome any out of the box ideas as St. Lucia has a difficult economic recovery road ahead.