(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Presentation during the 2023 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure debate)
The Estimates of 2023 come in a context of a country that is recovering like most countries in the world from the COCID- 19 pandemic and all its implications. We have had severe effects because we are a small country, open economy, very much dependent on tourism and remittances from abroad, especially from those places where the COVID crisis hit very hard. It affected remittances, so we have that as a backdrop.
We are also recovering from the volcanic eruption. It means rebuilding of homes and infrastructure particularly in the northern areas of the country that were severely affected. That process continues for many people especially for those in the private homes far too slowly. It also involves the repairing of farms and other productive assets again particularly in those areas.
As for coming out of the crisis, created by the COVID pandemic. This means that we have to reboot tourism because as the Minister said and everybody understood, if planes weren’t flying, people weren’t flying, tourism would severely be affected, and we have to do all we can to recover. Although, now people are saying that there is this pent-up demand and a tremendous boost of tourism that will take place over the next couple of years, so we have to be ready to take advantage of that.
It also means investing in the things that are necessary to boost our economy and preferably in a way perhaps a few years ago we may not have been considering. We have to go in different directions. We have to think outside the box. We have to be of a mind to say that we can transform this country not just to have incremental changes. Coming out of COVID, we have got to adopt to new modes of business, new ways of delivering services to make us more efficient, competitive and also to take advantage of modern technologies that were unleashed during the COVID crisis. Those were the two shocks that we were hit with over the past two and a half years. But, that came in a backdrop of chronic high unemployment in the country and increasing poverty, particularly in some areas.
The Minister may have dismissed earlier the question regarding the poverty assessment report and I notice that in the Estimates where it is normally mentioned alongside the Labour Survey that it is being removed. But, the fact is, you don’t need a weather man to tell you which way the wind blows. Most people know that things are harder; that life is tougher, and that it is a result of growing poverty in the country. So, that’s the backdrop against which the Estimates are being presented this year.
We have had hardship but that is not an excuse to blame everything on COVID and everything on the volcano or for us to say basically that anything goes. We still have to plan. And most importantly, we must have a frame of mind; an approach that focuses on investment in productive activity. We understand that we must take care of those persons who have suffered because of COVID. We must have those social programs. And, we have spoken about ways over the past, more will be said during the budget debate. We cannot fail to take measures to assist those persons who suffered particularly in the two crises that have mentioned and the ongoing unemployment situation.
What we have to do about the unemployment and poverty, is to focus on investment programs from government and the private sector to promote the growth of businesses and to generate jobs in our economy. That is the best way to help people and to bring them out of poverty. The handouts in times of crisis are fine but most people would prefer to be earning and to have their independence and also to plan for their future which they can do if they have jobs. That is where we have to focus. As the old saying goes, ‘When life throws you lemon, you can’t eat them, but you can make lemonade’. You have to be creative. ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’, so we have to find them in this Soufriere and the COVID crisis. It’s a good time to reset out thinking doing things differently and not just differently, doing them better.
The preparations of these estimates is a good place to start, make the estimates a true reflection of government’s expectations and plans for the year and beyond; not a political gimmick or a wild guess, as to how much you will spend here and there and how much you will raise. These are not guesstimates; they are estimates. We should have a fairly clear picture as to what the revenue, capital, and current are going to be raised and where the funds are coming from, but it’s not done here.
What we see in this 2023 Estimates, coming out of unprecedented crisis in terms of COVID, the nature in which it affected the global economy and us here and how it affected people’s mindset about the entire approach to life for some people you would think that it would also be reflected here. But, what we have is the same exercise in deception. And, it is deliberate. It’s not a miscalculation. Even though if it can’t be implemented. The budget every year is bigger. It’s bigger than last year’s; bigger, presumably is better. Even though it cannot be implemented because of a lack of money.
There is the other problem of implementation capacity. Am taking them at face value. That if you say, you have $700 million in Current Expenditure, you have Capital Expenditure in order to be implemented; I take you at your word that you can implement the entire amount of the Capital Expenditure of $471 million as projected here. And, we have repeatedly in this House spoken about the bloated nature of the budget.