Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has confirmed that the government has proposed reducing the subvention to the Saint Lucia National Trust (SLNT) from $700,000 to zero, but pointed out that a number of other similar organisations have experienced financial reviews since his administration took office.
Chastanet told a press briefing on Monday that government has a cash problem and “every single cent” is under review.
He explained: “… Generally since I’ve come into government – and even in the opposition – I have talked about a zero-based budget where everybody has to justify every single cent that we are spending. Right now we have a cash problem in the government. We are not generating enough revenue to cover all of the costs that we have. We have to prioritise where we are going to spend our money.”
Chastanet said the Saint Lucia Tourist Board, the Jazz Festival, Radio Saint Lucia, government printery, the Post Office, the Saint Lucia Marketing Board, and the Fisheries Department are some of the organisations that are under review.
He said government spends or transfers almost $114 million annually to different entities “and every single cent that we have is under review”.
He added: “In the case of the National Trust, the intention is that I don’t believe that the government should be paying for the recurrent expenditure of the Trust. So if the Trust has a business plan and wants to make an investment then they are free to approach the government and make that request and we will invest it on the basis of the merit of the project.
“As I indicated to you previously, the Trust had submitted a plan to Cabinet of which Cabinet is still awaiting final information of (the) feasibility study, which called to convert the current museum into a conference facility, and the restoration of older building to become the office of the National Trust on Pigeon Island.
“So I am still waiting to see whether that makes financial sense. They talked about having to sell a piece of land that government gave them in town and to invest over six and a half million dollars, so again I want to be very, very clear because I have heard some of the rumours going around and some of the statements that I am upset with the Trust and this is revenge. Furthest from the truth. I have continously said the Trust is an advocacy group and I support and respect them as an advocacy group. At no time has my government on any occasion try to bypass the Trust.
In fact, the dolphin park investment that came, went to the Trust. I didn’t make any pre-announcements. I didn’t lobby anybody. It’s for the Trust to make the decision. All I have indicated to the Trust is that a vote by the membership is not a sufficient answer, that they must give us in writing the pros and the cons of the project and tell us what their position is, and so that when Cabinet now sits down to make a decision that we have that information… in order to be able to put into our decision-making process, so I am not vex with the Trust.
Chastanet reiterated that the Trust like all other entities in Saint Lucia are required to justify how they are spending their money.
“There are too many Saint Lucians who are suffering. Too many who believe that Government has abandoned them and too many who believe that the decisions that Government makes on a day to day basis don’t reflect their needs. We have to prioritize how we spend public funds given the fact that there isn’t enough money available,” he said.
In a statement on the proposed elimination of government’s contribution to its financial coffers, the Trust called this move “an unprecedented, unjustified and exceedingly unfortunate measure” given the organisation’s record as “Saint Lucia’s leading quasi-governmental institution for conservation”.
The Trust said the cut will also greatly stymy the Trust’s efforts in heritage conservation and urges all members of Parliament to insist on the reinstatement of its normal subvention for 2017-18.
“In the interim, the Trust will continue to carefully study the implications of this proposal and options available to it within the short term if this proposal is enacted.
“As such, the Trust will be hosting an emergency membership meeting at 1:00pm on Saturday 29 April at the Pigeon Island National Landmark to discuss these matters.
“The Trust will also seek the support of its international partners, civil society and the entire Saint Lucian populace, home and abroad to advocate on its behalf,” the statement reads.