St Lucia spends more money on government wages and salaries than it spends on fuel for the entire country. And not just by a little bit. By over a $100 million dollars.
That’s why over the next few years, the battle to make wages a smaller percentage of government’s expenditure is going to deepen and widen, perhaps even cracking serious fissures between the Labour party and the trade unions.
It’s simple, but brutal math.
The government is operating at a deficit, and despite what some politicians have said about contemplating surpluses, Treasury officials confirm that government almost always run deficits, no matter what they say in the budget.
St Lucia needs to cut $80 million a year from its expenditure for the next three years in order to realistically meet all its financial targets and not end up like Jamaica and St Kitts and them – in the hands of the IMF.
There are many long term solutions for increasing productivity, competitiveness and standards, decreasing waste and all that good stuff. But where is the $80 million a year going to come from in the short term.
Of all the things that the government can cut without causing a drop in services there is only one that can deliver the $80 million. AND THE ANSWER IS WAGE CUTS.
Either less people are working for the same money or the same number of people are working for less money. But there is no chance of more people or more money. No healthy chance anyway.
The question now is, who is willing to take the first cut? If the leadership thinks that less people are needed, then which ministers will become redundant? If less money for the same number of people is the answer, then how deep a cut will Cabinet and Parliament take, in order to show us the right way forward?
The leadership of St Lucia has, for about a decade now, had the opportunity to inspire us and lead by example.
The first cut is the deepest. If they are our frontline generals, shouldn’t they volunteer to take the cut?
After that, it would be so much easier for the rank and file soldiers to endure the kind of truly reasonable austerity that Labour’s enemies want people to revolt against.
The opposition, being a victim of its own folly, can only wait for Labour to make mistakes. Instead of treading softly and taking half measures, Labour should be heroic. They should do exactly what Flambeau promised to do but never did – take pay cut.
Now Jimmy will say that this will not even make a pinprick of a difference to the Treasury, but I dare say it would be so symbolic, so heroic, so damned epic and it would only cost a little more than a month’s salary.
Restore the faith of the faith, especially in these times when the heathen are taunting them, saying “Better Days? Better Days? En chou zot!”
Come out of the tents, generals.
Get down here on the economic battlefield with us.
Show us your wounds and we’ll show you ours.