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The Budget

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by C I Martin

The Budget was sound and well conceived. Like most budget addresses, this one dealt with economic sectors, policies and finance. Here we look at each of these in turn.

ECONOMIC SECTORS

The economic sectors looked at were tourism, energy, construction, education, health, security and agriculture. They are briefly discussed in what follows.

While our small domestic market almost precludes any possibility of a major manufacturing sector, our natural beauty lends itself to tourism development. With the international airport, hotels, both existing and proposed, BnBs, yachts and cruise ships we are well on our way. What we have to try to ensure is that we do not destroy the delightful environment that the good Lord has bestowed upon us. The Minister has enunciated some sensible policies in this regard. One wonders, however, if he should still be permitting the import of cars as old as 12 years.

Geothermal plants are not as uncommon in developing countries as they once were.The Kenyans now have four. They have more electricity than they can sell. We should not have this problem, since the plant planned for us merely aims to reduce dependence on diesel-fired generators. The Kenyans built a hot water swimming pool next to one of their plants. We should do the same. A pool can serve as a tourist attraction, as well as provide therapy for ourselves.

In Australia, Tesla built a solar facility and a gigantic battery for storing the electricity. We little thought then that in Union Island we would soon be doing the same on a smaller scale.

The construction sector, in its building phase, provides many jobs and when the projects are completed we have much needed facilities. The road construction programme and the seaport development should, therefore, be a cause for rejoicing.

The education revolution is producing people who want white collar jobs. Universally, however, the number of these jobs is falling. We cannot counter this by forever expanding the Public Service. The emphasis on technical education is therefore to be welcomed, in particular, the link to Humber College, with its degrees in very applied subjects.

The ubiquity of diabetes in our country demands a full frontal attack. The use of the Cuban drug Heberprot-P and our big health programme in general are fully justified. In the UK, where it is said that diabetes is costing the NHS too much, they are virtually taxing fizzy soft drinks out of existence.

In another OECS state, foreign aid has has been used to install security cameras all around the island. Our aim should be to do the same, where appropriate.

And now to that most controversial of economic sectors – agriculture.

It is not a question of being pro or anti agriculture, but rather of making the sector function efficiently. The evolution of the marijuana industry, legal and illegal, will not be straightforward. The Minister was therefore right to be circumspect in his comments.

Caricom started with a marketing protocol, specially designed to assist the small islands. Under it, the Marketing Board used to pay cash for farmers’ produce and sell it on to Trinidad and Guyana. We allowed the traffickers to displace the Board and the protocol. Now foreign exchange is scarce in Trinidad, the traffickers are in trouble and we find we have brought confusion on ourselves. There is even talk of forming a marketing cooperative. It will not be easy, given our farmers’ penchant for joining and leaving marketing coops as it suits them. A coercive element may be necessary.

Vegetable farms, similar to the one that National Properties (NP) operated at Mt Wynne, are needed, but in better locations, with professional management and some private sector involvement. To bring all these medical students here and then import fruits and vegetables to feed them makes no sense. And we say this is an agricultural country! Wisely the Government is already establishing one such farm at Montreal.

The backyard gardening and Saturday market project was started by NP and the Horticultural Society. Richmond Vale Academy is now doing their own. They should be encouraged, particularly so, as we now have so many over-sixties whose health and wealth can benefit from it.

POLICIES

Commendable policies were enunciated by the Minister on such matters as climate change, the environment, bank regulation and the role of the State. The acid test is to ensure that we adhere to them.

FINANCE

As far as project implementation and resource mobilization are concerned, the Minister has to be careful how he makes invidious comparisons with the past. It was that very great St Lucian economist, the late Sir Arthur Lewis, who pointed out to Milton Cato that one reason why he worked so hard to get a Faculty of Engineering at UWI was to improve project implementation ln the small islands. In the old days, we used to have one engineer, if that. Today, we have many, trained mainly at UWI and in Cuba.

It was Milton Cato who set up the NIS (NPF), the BOSVG and helped to create the CDB. He also led us to Independence and as an independent country, we can negotiate loans with foreign countries and institutions. In a word, Mr Cato laid the groundwork, so that Mr C Gonsalves can do what Mr Cato himself could not do.

That Alba Bank has written off the $81million for the airport is remarkable. It means that the airport was not only low cost, but substantially grant funded. Those who wanted it to bankrupt SVG are unlikely to get their wish. Of course, we still have to keep tight control on operational costs. We thank the Venezuelans for forgiving the debt and compliment Dr Gonsalves on his judicious choice of sources of finance and on his timing.

There can be no quarrel with the recurrent budget. People must be made to pay their taxes, or how else can we keep the show on the road? The pension nettle must be grasped. The world over, efforts are being made to incentivize the private sector by reducing the rates of company tax and of personal income tax.

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