Published On: Mon, Jul 7th, 2014

The tragedy of old positions and perceived newness

Melanius AlphonseLast week the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) issued a press release with a view to establishing a network of business ambassadors. This caught my attention, knowing that this is nothing new, and that the last crop of “business ambassador(s)” had failed to deliver to the nation except for themselves.

However, I could not resist the nudge to revisit my notes in relation to the Saint Lucia’s foreign policy and government guide prepared by the Foreign Policy Review Committee headed by Dr Vaughan Lewis.

Of which I wrote, April 8 2013:

Actually, to the unsuspicious public the recommendation of Honorary Consuls that was constantly repeated at the news conference is not a recent invention. Thought it may sound innovate and cool like “Better Days”. But to the seasoned and knowledgeable this is worrisome as it seeks to categorize an old position to perceive newness. We can now add “business ambassadors”. It also seeks to carve a golden nest egg, of bigger government via self recommendation(s) that is not in-tune with global trends for the most part.

This perceive newness could have materialized had the recommendation stated that Saint Lucia’s embassies, in New York, Toronto, Miami and Washington operate under the guidance of better leadership, concentrated from the UN Mission, or thereby make use of Honorary Consuls in exchange for embassies and consulates.

And, while I note the non recommendation to Saint Lucia’s new foreign policy thrust the non-use of virtual embassy in the age of digital diplomacy, shared embassy space and the lack of urgency to a regional approach to diplomacy.

The viability of Saint Lucia’s foreign policy and the region is best served by utilizing the OECS Mission to the European Union and the UN Mission in a collaborative approach. Because, Saint Lucia’s magnitude, in terms of economy of scale, social change issues, extractive industry potential and security prepositioning is not a global source of power to influence by itself, any significant world view.

Now back to the present. The press release from the OPM stated, “The ambassadors will help the government of Saint Lucia identify sources of investment and promote Saint Lucia as an ideal location for investment.” The release continued, “Some areas for immediate investment were identified as tourism, property development, creative industries, national infrastructure, medical research and education, and renewable energy.”

By that time a litany of thoughts were already like high-tension wires racing through my mind, including Saint Lucia’s foreign policy of expensive consulates, embassies and “cocktail ambassadors.” The Lucian Peoples Movement, (LPM) policy dating back to January 2013, is very clear: Political party says embassies and consulates are bankrupting Saint Lucia.

Unlike Saint Lucia’s nonexistent strategic development plan and investment policy, to name a few that are stuck in pipe dreams.

What struck me even more was the line: “This initiative is modeled on the United Kingdom Department of Trade and Investment Business Ambassadors Group and was a recommendation of the Foreign Policy Review Committee.” Is this the same socialist SLP government of Dr Kenny Anthony that wants to have nothing to do with the Privy Council, yet attempts a partial carbon copy of the British business and foreign policy system?
At this point my previous article: “Build a Saint Lucian brand not a charity economy”, refreshed my mind, as the reality of what confronts us is like a mirror to our faces.

The first indication is that there can be no hope in the face of mediocrity. Neither can there be optimism when a country is not led with a development vision and guided by an inclusive multiyear strategic plan. As a result, economic recovery will be a long and winding road of hit and miss with a blind composition of trial and error, narrow political self-interest and ideology confines that inhabit disorder and misery.

Therefore, in an ideologically manner, the surge is on as Saint Lucia’s economy is on death row. However, government is seeking to expand its scope though special interest groups that have in times past contributed little to the public wellbeing. This is counterproductive, considering the slow progress of public private partnerships (PPPs) and the red tape to doing business has not allowed the private sector to expand. This will not attract the network of business ambassadors to lure investors in the short term, long-term and high-risk sectors areas.

More so, the power of government has failed to name or to attract one single investor since returning to office in 2011, much less to announce a MOU of significance from all those “high powered trips”, not to mention a single donation for the people of Saint Lucia.

Getting things done (to borrow a local political slogan) will require modern operational systems to make government function more efficiently and responsive to real time transactions, perhaps run by private entrepreneurs as smart centres, or service centres to provide e-governance services, postal services, and various government services in one location. In the modern delivery of services, governments need to keep up with smart, efficient systems to monitor performance to improve the functions of government, and to make government efficient and effective in service delivery.

The other is consistency in policy, and a lower fiscal deficit in order to attract credible investments. And in exchange for the grand illusion of the blueprint for growth (no growth), it is important to restate that a development vision guided by an inclusive multiyear strategic plan is tabled and messaged, to give an indication of the way forward for growth and development. This is a constant worry for developers and investors. It is time to pursue the right steps as shared in my writings: “Enough of hoax development” published on September 18, 2012.

In this present environment there must be immediate prioritization and the implementation of projects and investments as a gateway to improve Saint Lucia’s balance sheet. As it stands, investments and investors’ risk exposure is considerably high, as government financial needs continue to balloon with debts over their heads. This is compounded by low growth prospects, low currency reserves, possible debt default in the coming months and a very real risk of negative international credit ratings.

As such there is urgent need to fast track the work towards credit upgrade and to underpin a solid macroeconomic plan and ensuing performance for Saint Lucia. In the current environment of sovereign bankruptcy, investors are unusually worried on how hard it is to get their money back in industrialized nations, much less small states like Saint Lucia, with the socialist SLP government of Dr Kenny Anthony.

Investors know when dealing with political units of leftist ideology, what really matters is votes and the next election. The Hon. Phillip Pierre constantly reminds us of this, to paraphrase: I am a politician… everything I do I think in terms of politics.
The present landscape has numerous reasons to be worried. The government is not in a good shape politically and the country in not in good shape financially – anything can happen between now and then as deliberate spending to please voters has dried up. There is no room for maneuvering in the narrow crevice.

Coming out of this funk and moving forward is a serious matter of survival that will require a firm restructure and reformulation never seen before in Saint Lucia. The option for flexibility has decreased and the last remaining option is the necessary will to act.

Will the action come down to political ideology, or economic prosperity to safeguard nation identity? That’s the reality of the tragedy and cash-strapped socialist SLP government of Dr Kenny Anthony.

Investors are always looking for returns on investment (ROI) and great yields. But the question is will old positions perceived as new stop the slippery slope of ballooning debt, increased costs and more interest payments going to persuade investors to our shores?

Or is it cost containment and an improved balance sheet, a national policy initiative that shores up competiveness and growth to reduce Saint Lucia’s risk exposure on the world market in short order doable?

The third eye is not far away, even as the BRICS nations plan to have a $100 billion development bank ready by 2015, to be finalized at the sixth annual BRICS summit on July 14-16 in Brazil. On top of this, China is making preparations for its own version of the World Bank with $100 million in capital to rival the Asian Development Bank, the US and other western nations.

Time has run out for Saint Lucia, with a combination of bad, and incoherent old positions perceived as new and just plain old ideological narratives that lack relevance in the modern arena.

Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) www.lpmstlucia.com critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at malphonse@rogers.com

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