Facing its worst economic crisis since independence 34 years ago, St. Lucia’s Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, is appealing to nationals at home and abroad to put their party affiliation aside and use their patriotism and creativity to help the country climb out of its financial abyss.
The unemployment rate is hovering around 24 per cent, the economy’s growth is nearly 0.6 per cent and the fiscal deficit stands at 10.7 per cent of the gross domestic product.
In addition, the country’s debt will increase to 78 per cent by the end of the month and for the first time since its independence, the Caribbean Development Bank has included St. Lucia among a list of seven countries in the region with a high and unsustainable debt.
“We are going through a very difficult period in St. Lucia,” Dr. Anthony told nationals at a town hall meeting in Toronto last Sunday. “It’s a period that is going to require tremendous courage, skill, will, trust, confidence, understanding and patience.”
He said the fiscal deficit, which is about $400 million, is the worst in the Caribbean.
“We are now in the danger zone,” said Anthony, whose St. Lucia Labour Party returned to power in November 2011 after unseating the United Workers Party (UWP). “St. Lucia is the largest economy in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) earning the greatest amount of foreign exchange. It means we have a huge responsibility to the OECS to manage our affairs well. If St. Lucia, for one reason or the other, is not able to respond to the problems that exist, then we can affect the entire OECS. These are challenging and difficult times.”
In spite of the gloom and doom, Anthony said his island has been spared the worst effects of the financial crisis largely because its main banks are Canadian-owned.
“That has helped to add some stability,” he said. “It does not mean, of course, that it’s necessarily translating into resolving other problems that we have because with an economy that has contracted, you have less loans (that have) been made available. But we now have to get around those issues and those problems to ensure we give some new energy and direction to the St. Lucian economy.”
Despite the dire situation, Anthony urged St. Lucians not to despair about the island’s future.
“We have always been a people that have faced our problems head-on and we have had the courage to deal with those problems and resolve them,” said Anthony, who was PM from 1997 to 2006 before his party lost to the UWP. “The only thing about any period of crisis is that it’s one in which we have to make brave and bold decisions to do what is right. It’s really about what is in the best interest of the country at this time because – make no mistake about it – if we make errors of judgement or otherwise, the cost can be heavy.”
He said tourism is now the leading sector in the economy with Canada leading the way. The Canadian market accounted for seven per cent for the sixth consecutive year.
“With the downturn in the European and American economies, the market here in Canada is critical and vital to us,” said Anthony. “It’s vital that we continue to attract as many tourists from Canada.”
Anthony came to Toronto after attending Venezuelan Prime Minister Hugo Chavez’s funeral last Friday and the St. Lucia Calgary Cultural Association independence anniversary celebration the following day.