Commentary: Polls, VAT and flawed manifestos mire St Lucia election

By Melanius Alphonse

Still unknown to many is whether Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony’s address to the nation on May 19, to call early elections June 6, 2016, was predicated on polling data and snap election syndrome.

Election Survey

A copy of the poll commissioned March 1-15, 2016 on the influence of the United Workers Party (UWP), until recently was restricted for obvious reason.

Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and NewsNow Global analysis. He can be reached at
Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) conducted a survey between May 20–23, 2016, of approximately 1,000 persons who were interviewed face to face by a team of interviewers.

However, while the release by CADRES looks interesting, it is not substantive in the context of definitive factors, trend and culture on a constituency by constituency basis, candidates’ parity and their ground game.

Notable are the statistics: won’t vote of twelve (12) percent: won’t say ten (10) percent: don’t know/not sure eight (8) percent and other party / independent three (3) percent. Besides that is the leadership preference tabulation that “31% of respondents would prefer to be led by Dr Kenny Anthony and 28% of respondents preferred Mr Allan Chastanet.”

In contrast to CADRES’ “too close to call” theorists, it is revealing that Caribbean News Now team on the ground in Saint Lucia is projecting seven expected “safe” seats out of the nine needed for a majority of the seventeen (17) total seats in parliament.

CNN findings outlined nine seats “in play”, namely, Gros Islet; Babonneau; Castries Central; Anse La Raye-Canaries; Choiseul-Saltibus; Micoud South; Micoud North; Castries South East and Dennery South, it is agreed that between one and two percent swing vote is a deciding factor.

Based on the nine “in play” constituencies, the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) is projected to win six seats, an independent candidate one seat and there are two seats that are too close to call, hence, projecting the SLP to win the General Elections.

The great unknown is by how many seats and the margin of votes.

Epic declaration

Following Prime Minister Anthony’s address to the nation on May 19, the University of the Castries Market Steps was the preferred location to outline 15 major promises his government plans to deliver if re-elected to office.

Prior to that, on May 12, Allen Chastanet, political leader of the UWP, unveiled “Five to Stay Alive” to “deliver much needed relief to our ailing country… doable in the short term with long term results”.

However, at a follow-up press conference, Chastanet disclosed that attempts to suggest that the “Five to Stay Alive” proposal is the economic plan of the UWP is incorrect. “This is one part of our overall economic plan, a significant part addressing a specific sector of the society – one that has been forgotten and taken advantage of. That sector are the pensioners of our country who are living on a fixed income, unemployed people who have no income and more than likely no savings and people who are already impoverished.”

If that was not enough, at the UWP rally on Sunday May 29, a “Five to Thrive” initiative was launched. As usual, neither the SLP nor the UWP are willing to outline how their pledges and initiatives will be financed. Is it because they “can’t?”

This year’s budget of EC$1.426 billion is reduced by approximately EC$37 million. EC$1.1 billion is committed in large part to wages, salaries, pensions, transfers, interest payment and loan repayment.

Value Added Tax

Indeed, central to the SLP and UWP argument is value added tax (VAT).

Chastanet has stated that the UWP will do an “immediate reduction and ultimate removal of the dreaded VAT. We will find a more creative way and less onerous way of raising revenues generated by VAT.”

Prime Minister Anthony has described the UWP proposal on VAT as “opportunistic and bizarre.”

UWP Manifesto, page 10 (B) Taxes and the cost of living: “Reduce the Value-Added-Tax (VAT) and outline a plan for its ultimate elimination; and replace it with a restructured tax regime that will be less burdensome but without compromising the revenue base.”

Vague ideas such as a “sales tax”, and “something else tax” keep floating around aimlessly without specifics on the replacement of VAT. Or perhaps novel ideas to new sources of revenue, grants and loans, to compensate Saint Lucia’s debt is in the proximity of EC$2.9 billion.

“In 2015/2016 our country earned $346.37 million dollars from VAT. It is this revenue that pays for our nurses, doctors, teachers, police officers, civil servants, and repays our debt. For every 1% reduction in VAT Revenue, the country loses $7.0 million dollars.” ~ Prime Minister Anthony.

In opposition, Dr Kenny Anthony declared VAT “oppressive and punishing” but immediately upon securing the 2011 election, value added tax suddenly became the bitter cure to government ballooning expenditures.

Flawed manifestos

Building a prosperous and progressive Saint Lucia…for the benefit of all

It is not surprising that in the final week of the campaign no new ideas, no debates, no proposals or a set of governing principles and policy specifics on the future of the country is rendered beyond sound bites.

But, on May 31, it was not a joke that a two man “UWP Economic Form” in the form of a press conference led by Allen Chastanet conceivably continues to expose self-interest, a module to the re-incorporation of Saint Lucia and unstable thinking.

“A UWP government will establish five economic zones, which will be run by regional economic boards manned by persons from within the area. The areas identified include Rodney Bay/Gros Islet, Castries, Soufriere, Vieux Fort, and Dennery. The ultimate goal is to create more job opportunities, and to double the GDP of St. Lucia in 10 years.” ~ UWP Economic Form

On the political platform that evening in Gros Islet, the UWP Manifesto was launched “Building a prosperous and progressive Saint Lucia…for the benefit of all” in an environment filled with trepidation and bemusement by apprentice: in difference to the enthusiasm and experience of Bob the Builder.

The reality is when Allen Chastanet spoke of a revolution the unwise expectation in some quarters expected a revolution of the mind, clearer thinking and 21st century ideas.

It is also an important reminder that UWP theorists preface the manifesto as “a roadmap for change”. Yet it is unquestionably to a certain type of flawed thinking and throughout the campaign to forward policy clichés that are not prominent in the manifesto:

• “Five to Stay Alive” seems a hasty insert and mention once on page 2;

• “Five to Stay Alive” and “Five to Thrive’ are absent from any reasonable elucidation; and

• The “UWP Economic Form” narrative to “establish five economic zones and to double the GDP of St. Lucia in 10 years.”

Reading the UWP manifesto I encountered a lot of rhetorical chatter common to flippant display that is blind to the obvious social, economic and political dysfunction that is considerably greater than what we have now.

Making our country better together

The experience of the SLP summoned supporters to the University of the Market Steps on Wednesday, June 1, to unveil their prototype manifesto, dubbed “Making our country better together.”

The content of the SLP manifesto is central to 15 pledges previously espoused and supported by new deliverables to adoring supporters – a performance in the modus operandi of socialist ethics.

One point of significance during the SLP recital was the camouflage of schematic socialism in western style formality – suit and tie, and others in formal wear, under pouring rain and other elements of nature: simply to press the point of “achievements” over the past four and half years. The manifesto even went on to state 25 reasons why …. Labour!

Prime Minister Anthony was happy to report “We are admired” – asserting the esteem for saving Saint Lucia from the IMF. Meanwhile, promising Saint Lucians income tax exemption from EC$18,000 to EC$30,000 and promising the private sector corporate tax decrease from 30% to 28% and subsequently 25% respectively. Property tax exemption will be increased to EC$300,000, and a welfare list of brazen charm.

The jobs plan promise is predicated on underpinning the economic policy on construction, to which $3.5 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) is projected and subsequently aimed to reduced unemployment to 15% and below.

The crème of the performance for me was the assertion that we have managed a government without a stink of corruption…. this earns respect, admiration and honour.

The manifestos of both the UWP and SLP, released five and six days before polling day, are by design late in their audition to the masters of illusions or perhaps not – who could tell?

Your vote matters

It is abundantly clear, as the rest of the campaign unfolds, it will be down to the wire filled with identifiable disparity. The air is tightening, the horses have bolted and the mouth and hand grenades will come for the last lap.

At the opening of the new session of Parliament in April 2016, Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy reminded Saint Lucians that elections represent a fundamental pillar in the island’s democracy and should not be taken for granted.

“The ballot still remains the fundamental expression of each citizen’s political will. We have therefore, if only by virtue of this metric, achieved a mature and stable democracy. The electorate therefore expects behavior that reflects our maturity as a nation and as a people.”

There are many distractions, including the no vote campaign, and lots of political baggage to sort beneath this general elections campaign. But the sad reality is meanwhile the economy, good paying jobs, health-care and national security are major problems, the required deliberations are detached.

Thus far, delicious fascination, extravagant spectacle and scandalous comedy, add to the adventure of misery.

In a Facebook post by Kensley Charlemagne, May 24 2016:“Truth: This election is about leadership. Truth or not? KDA (Kenny Anthony) has failed us. AC (Allen Chastanet) is not at all inspiring. Saint Lucia is in a quagmire.”

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