CASTRIES, St Lucia — According to a memo dated March 27, 2018, from acting general manager, Therese Desir, the Saint Lucia Marketing Board (SLMB) has no money to pay last month’s salaries, apparently despite the government’s improved fiscal position and claimed three percent economic growth rate.
The memo to all staff members, headed “Payment of Salary”, said, “Management will not be able to pay salaries at the end of this month due to the serious short fall in cash experienced by SLMB during the month under review. Every effort was made to source some funds through the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture to assist in paying salaries on a timely basis, however this was unsuccessful.
“In the mean time, management is making every effort to pay March salaries in April 2018. In the event this objective cannot be met you will be informed accordingly.”
On May 9, 2017, prime minister and minister of finance Allen Chastanet delivered “austerity measures” in his budget presentation, including the SLMB: “Through the years several reports have been prepared making recommendations from closure of the Board, to restructuring of the shareholdings to full privatization. We have decided to solve this issue by winding up the operations of the Board within the upcoming financial year.”
In November last year, agriculture minister, Ezechiel Joseph, announced that the Cabinet had decided that two statutory bodies, the SLMB and the St Lucia Fish-Marketing Corporation, will be merged and the resulting entity funded through a public-private partnership
However, Saint Lucia’s dual finance ministers (Chastanet and Ubaldus Raymond) last month claimed “marked improvements” in the fiscal position of the government, stating:
“It’s difficult for everybody to feel a three percent growth. But certainly it’s a good sign. It’s a good first step. A year and a half into, into government that we’re able to reverse those times and certainly seeing an improvement in the fiscal position.
“Government’s economic performance, revenue enhancement measures and efficiencies in tax administration impacted the main tax sources as well as the anticipated improvement in economic activity for 2018/2019.”
Minister for infrastructure, ports, energy and labour, Stephenson King, praised Chastanet’s stewardship and the government sound fiscal position, referring in parliament to: “His exemplary and cautious behaviour in the application of the principles of management.”
In addition, Ubaldus commented: “We said that we will have a new Saint Lucia. Today we can boast and say that we are no longer the least performing jurisdiction in the OECS.”
Meanwhile, the government of Saint Lucia has been criticised for giving away tax and import duty concessions and withholding tax exemptions to “all-exclusive hotel(s)”; padding consulates; and contracting Ernst & Young to produce the budget, thus sidestepping civil servants that are trained to perform this function, while SLMB employees are left without their monthly salaries.
There is also the unexplained drop in citizenship by investment revenue of EC$21 million disclosed in the budget vs. the expected EC$43 million.
This article was written by Melanius Alphonse for caribbeannewsnow.com.