Last night the PM addressed the nation on one of such addresses to be held weekly. Last night's address focussed on the ECONOMY. We bring you this address unedited.
FIRST WEEKLY ADDRESS TO THE NATION
ON NATIONAL ISSUES AND PERSPECTIVES
(October 20, 2011)
By Honourable Stephenson King
Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Economic Affairs and National Development
Fellow Saint Lucians, I am pleased to report, that, under the United Workers Party Administration, the Saint Lucia economy has weathered the stormy years of natural disasters and the global financial crisis and is now poised to achieve more robust growth and provide even greater opportunities for all.
A St Lucia Labour Party assessment on the World Wide Web highlights the widely known truth that these past few years have been the worst of times all around the world. In their assessment the SLP claim:
“We are operating amidst the backdrop of the most financially depressing period since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The effects were first felt by the industrialized world but shortly precipitated to our developing sphere before we even knew it.
“As a small open economy we are susceptible to the economic conditions prevailing around the world. This predicament is further exacerbated when the hardships are centered on our primary markets of the US & UK.
“The global financial meltdown has therefore created an environment that forces policy makers to act. Our leaders will not and cannot proffer all the solutions or fix all problems but policies must be formulated to safeguard the most vulnerable, while creating an environment enabling to economic activity”
I remind you, fellow Saint Lucians, that this is the official position of the St Lucia Labour Party. Yet the same St Lucia Labour Party is critical of the fact that in these difficult circumstances, Saint Lucia, like other countries around the world experienced economic decline, job losses and increased debt.
However, while the Opposition steadfastly refuses to acknowledge our outstanding success in managing the economy, the international institutions and global community recognizes our efforts. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in a press release issued in August of this year regarding the recently concluded Article IV Consultation on Saint Lucia, noted “Saint Lucia’s economy recovered rapidly from the global crisis, supported by timely policy action by the authorities and a rebound in construction and tourism”.
It has not been an easy road for the Government and people of Saint Lucia, but through caring, visionary, competent leadership, the UWP has improved the country’s economic management performance and thereby strengthened the country’s position as the leading economy in the OECS.
In the last two years as a result of the effectiveness of your Government’s response to the global economic crisis, Saint Lucia moved from its long-standing second position to surpass Antigua and Barbuda as the largest economy in the OECS.
When we came into office at the end of 2006 we met:
• Average economic growth of 1.6% over the previous 5 years
• An unemployment rate of 16.6%
• A national debt of 1.6 billion EC dollars (approximately 64% of GDP)
These numbers from the Government’s Statistics Department and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank are extremely important in setting the record straight about economic activity in Saint Lucia since 1997.
In the six years of the decade ending 2010 when the world economy was buoyant and when the St Lucia Labour Party was in power, it was only able to achieve an average economic growth rate of 1.6% per year. In 3 of those 6 years, while the global economy blossomed and the Dow Jones indicator of wealth creation was cruising above 15 thousand, the St Lucia Labour Party came up with negative growth. In other words, the St Lucia Labour Party sent Saint Lucia into reverse gear 3 out of 6 times (50%) in the six years of the decade when the economy was doing well.
Today, the SLP criticizes an average growth rate of 2.6% per year since 2007 under my leadership in the near impossible circumstances of a global financial crisis, the ravages of Hurricane Tomas and with the Dow struggling to keep its head above the eleven thousand mark.
The Saint Lucia economy grew by 4.4% in 2010 and the rate of inflation was 1.9%. This was by far the best performance in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union where member nations registered an overall economic decline of 2.7% and an inflation rate of 2.9%. The response of the SLP to this impressive performance is the cynical statement that nationals are not feeling the growth.
Nonetheless, once again in 2010 which is the latest year for which we have data, key indicators of economic activity continued to point relentlessly in the upward direction for the benefit of nationals from all walks of life:
• Tourism revenue – up 33.7%
• Construction - up 20.5%
• Airline activity at Hewanorra - up 26.5%
• Vehicle registrations - up 4.8%
• Electricity consumption – up 4.8%
• Commercial Sector – up 4.9%
• Hotel Sector – up 7%
The UWP believes that these results as documented in the official statistics bear eloquent testimony to the resilience and effectiveness of its stewardship through environmental disasters in an uncertain global economic environment.
While much is made of unemployment numbers, official Government Statistics confirm that the 2006 unemployment figure of 16.6% was the best achieved in two consecutive terms under the St Lucia Labour Party during which the average annual unemployment rate was 19.2%. The UWP on the other hand, drove the average annual unemployment rate down to 17.1% since it assumed office in 2006.
While we acknowledge a reduction in employment opportunities as a casualty of these challenging times, no other government has done a better job of providing more jobs for more people. We did it in the toughest of times and we will continue to do it. There was no need for any clumsy STEP and no need for any blind LEAP either. All we relied on was the basic common sense that jobs are created by the increased consumption of goods and services and sound investment in an economy on the move.
In 2006, the SLP left behind a national debt of 1.6 billion EC dollars (approximately 64% of GDP). In the five years prior, the debt stock grew by 677 million under the SLP and in the last five years under the UWP it has increased by a further 532.1 million. There can be no question that debt financing was a more critical need to keep the economy afloat in the last five years of natural disasters at home and financial market disasters abroad. Side by side with the economic performance results, the debt comparison numbers allow an easy assessment of the superiority of UWP economic management talent and ability over that of the SLP.
Saint Lucia’s official debt at December 31, 2010 stood at approximately 2.0 billion EC dollars and the debt to GDP ratio of 64.8% is the second lowest in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union. Let me repeat fellow Saint Lucians, that our current debt burden which is being criticized left right and centre by the political opposition is actually smaller than that of St Kitts, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica. It is also substantially lower than the debt ratios of Barbados and Jamaica.
We approach the end of this five year term with the encouraging news that in the worst of times around the world your UWP government was able to lead Saint Lucia to become the largest economy in the OECS while at the same time ensuring that it has one of the smallest debt burdens in the grouping.
This performance clearly documents the ability of your United Workers Party government to deliver and points the way forward to the next level of balanced human development that, with your approval of another term for our Administration, awaits a deserving Saint Lucia.
Source: Government press secretary