What were your expectations of the 2003-2004 BUDGET?

Time caught up with me, leaving me no time to go through the 45 page Budget presentation which I took off the internet from the GIS website, prior to concluding my article for this week.
However, during the lead up to Budget Day 2003 I was confronted in my capacity as President of the St. Lucia Industrial and Small Business Association (SLISBA) by the media and as an individual among my associates with the question “what are your expectations of the Budget?” I ask my readers the same question all be it after our Prime Minister’s budget presentation in the House of Assembly on the evening of April 8, 2003. I believe the question is still relevant as we all must have had expectations, even if it was - No New Taxes. In the present economic circumstances that could be fair expectation, even a reduction would have been in order.

I have learnt over the years that since as a layman one is never aware of the environment in which budgetary decisions have to be taken, especially in difficult economic times, I will be better off leaving the task of such programmes to those whom we have entrusted with the undertaking. If I were pressured for a response my expectation would have been nothing more than an AUSTERITY BUDGET and that is where our Prime Minister’s presentation is headed. We must do more with less and our coat would have to be cut to suit our cloth.

I will definitely provide my readers with my take on the Budget but that is for another article. I attended the Opening of the New Session of Parliament in Parliament Chambers and saw the 1st entry of the new Speaker, Honourable Baden Allain into the House of Parliament. I sat in a row with the Presidents of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture and the St. Lucia Employers Federation and listened attentively to the Her Excellency, Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor General of Saint Lucia as she delivered the Throne Speech. It was a very impressive gathering, comprising of members of the Senate and the House of Assembly, Public and Private Sector Representatives and Civil Society.

Budget Day was anxiously awaited and the results are now before us. It has been a long road of speculations. Many were so concerned about the effects of the Iraq war, the bad news of SARS and its potential as a major health threat that some wanted to bring their lives to a halt. Failing to realize that this too will pass. I remember 911 and I am sure you do. There will be a period of adjustment after the war but I believe the effects will be short term. Iraqis are dancing in the streets, why should we be sad or is it that we have not backed the war and we are not too sure about future relations with the USA. Dame Eugenia Charles backed President Ronald Regan to intervene in Grenada,what support did Dominica get as a result? Today Dominica needs help, who is helping? Surely not theUSA at least not yet. This time Barbados is out front, Hon. Billy Miller is not mincing words, she is standing firm and would not be intimidated. St. Lucia stands with the Caricom that a UN solution was the way to go. The USA’s position is that those who are not with us are against us. How will that play out? Are we to expect an advisory against Americans holidaying in the Caribbean? The war will end shortly and President Bush may be feeling vindicated with the response of the Iraqis in Baghdad and the USA, thanking him for the FREEDOM he has brought their country. Yesterday it was protest everywhere, today the majority of Iraqis are anxiously awaiting the beginning of freedom in a real way.

This is a test of our independence. The 2003-2004 Budget must prepare St. Lucians to stand on our own two feet. The good old days of aid, grants and protection are over. While some Governments continue to be supportive of our efforts to lessen the adverse effects of poverty, we must be prepared for a future that independence must have much more significance than it now has. We must wean ourselves from the dependency syndrome. There could be no better time. As we approach the 25th anniversary of our independence within a few months, let us seek to achieve independence in every aspect of our lives and that of our nation, especially economic independence from which all good things flow.

Praise Yahweh, we are in a zone of peace, all peace loving people will gravitate to the ISLES which the Bible speaks about. Don’t faint, keep hope alive. I can only hope that our Prime Minister and his Budget team did the best they could in the circumstances to ensure that the institutions that sustain civil society are kept in shape and functioning.

In conclusion, it is with deep regret that I note the tragic passing of a Private Sector Colleague, Mr. Lawson Calderon. May he rest in peace. My condolences go out to his bereaved family.

Keep the Faith, Our Heavenly Father is in charge!!!