I have often said about our country that there is never a dull moment. When it is not one thing it is another and so it goes. This week I make some preliminary comments on our 2024 Budget. This was not my intention. I was expecting to write about it next week when I had a chance to read the Minister of Finance’s Budget address and to follow some aspects of the debate, which I expected to last until at least the end of the week. I got a copy of the Budget address on Tuesday and had just started reading it when I received the startling news on Wednesday morning that the Debate ended. What is interesting and galling about this is that only four members of the House contributed to the debate. This did not include the Prime Minister who called on the Minister of Finance to wind up the debate, when for a short period of time no one got up to speak. There seemed to have been some confusion when the Prime Minister stood, for some members thought he was going to speak. He had apparently indicated to some that he was prepared to speak on Friday. I am not sure about the details of the few minutes that went by before that call to end the debate. It is also not clear to me at this point if the Minister of Finance was responding to the Prime Minister or to the Speaker of the House. But it is the height of the ridiculous that not even the Prime Minister spoke on the Budget presented by his own government. As I write I do not have the full details of what transpired. This I am sure will surface later. But why did the Prime Minister not speak when he got up to call on the Minister of Finance to wind up the debate? (If that was what transpired) This really sounds like a comedy show, starring some serious comics.
As I write what I am picking up from social media from the Opposition side was that there were only four of their members in the House who would have been in a position to speak, two of their members having been ill. They were making two other points, that as shadow ministers they were awaiting the contributions of the ministers of the ministries that they were shadowing. Clearly the details of the functioning of the respective ministries in 2023 and the prospects for 2024 would have been dealt with by the relevant ministers. I am not sure, for instance, if the Budget address dealt in any detail with the Crime and National Security issue. It would have been expected that the PM would have covered that in some detail.
The media had been highlighting the additional taxes that were being imposed, but these needed to be put in context. The Budget debate with contributions of the Opposition would have provided more information to the public. As a Vincentian I was looking forward to serious debates on our crime situation, we having ended 2023 with 55 murders. Issues relating to unemployment, underemployment, poverty, the NIS, needed serious attention. There are obviously business people who would have been looking carefully for the economic trends since they would inform how they went about their business.
I have seen a number of projects listed to be implemented and wonder about our capacity to do so in the short term given our human resource limitations and our shortcomings in the overall management of these projects. I note that one of the talking points in 2023 was the fact that we had to import construction workers from overseas. I believe even blocks had to be imported. Our plans for 2024 and beyond must consider our high unemployment rate, especially among young people, our poverty level, noting that the last poverty report has still not been published but had apparently been leaked. The number of projects that have been listed gives the impression that we are playing catch up. This applies particularly to Tourism since we have acknowledged that we have fallen behind our neighbours. Great emphasis is put on the hotel stock, and we are expecting great wonders from Sandals which has a reputation to live up to. But what of the other aspects of Tourism that have to be put in place if we are expected to make a take-off in this area?
ECLAC (The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) in a press release of 14 December 2023, noted that according to its last economic report the region was expected to grow 2.2 percent in 2023 and 1.9 percent in 2024. It estimates that the number of employed persons would have grown 1.4% in 2023, which meant a drop from the 5.4 % recorded in 2022. That lower rate of job creation was expected to continue in 2024, “when the number of employed persons is projected to grow by 1.0%.” The good news for SVG is that the projected GDP growth rate is 5.5 %, just behind Antigua that is listed at 8.2. We are told that “Budget 2024 is crafted against a backdrop of international volatility, high inflation, a global economic slowdown, and a deeply- scarred region that is still regaining its footing in the wake of the COVID pandemic.” Has the budget really been crafted against that backdrop? As was to be expected there is the usual rhetoric that means little, “The critical economic and social sectors that underpin Vincentian society all receive significant, targeted investment, in line with the Government’s vision to create in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines a modern, post-colonial, competitive economy that is at once local, regional and global.” Amen!
- Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian