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Sunday, January 31, 2016

KENNY VS OBAMA: ADDRESS TO THE NATION VS STATE OF THE UNION



The rebuttals to the PM address were disappointingly weak with the same old tired clich├ęd responses hardly worth the TV time they were offered. This time around, the Leader of the UWP took a new line of rebuttal trying to refute what he claimed was never uttered in the PM's Address to the Nation.

The LPM continued to remain a non-entity in St. Lucia’s political universe, falling short both in terms of numbers and substance in its "pseudo-rebuttal". It's not the sort of rebuttal you would wish your O'level, A'level or college student be exposed to if s/he desires to learn the practice of argument theory. Mr Prudent continues to make the loudest noise even when his party is numerically weak by some distance.

I have hitherto not heard from the peripatetic and vociferous Mr Springer; I suspect he may have taken “sabbatica” from his own intellectual crudities.

With Lent round the corner, the PM in his address to the nation, served us with a substantial “Last Supper”; what perhaps made it even better was the apparent lack of a genuine “Judas” to spoil it.

I am certain that when the "Pontius Pilates" ask, “who should we set free from the cross?” that we will hear a chorus of "Barabbas" from the UWP and the LPM! Equally, on the hand, we will hear a chorus of "Kenny" from the SLP faithful! 

Apparently, the rank and file of the UWP may not have been happy that Prudent was louder than Chasse this time; so, they sent Lionel Ellis to the shouting game. In the end, the game didn't change anything: the algebraic sum of all the rebuttals was still zero!

Hence, we waited for the professionals like Frank Mayers, Richard Peterkin and Jn Marie for an injection of substance; but they passed - and understandably so.

I   missed Jeff Stewart - my Choiseulian counterpart. I don’t know if a New Year’s Address would fall within the purview of his competence; but in the past, he stood out for his structured and clinical dissections of estimates of expenditure and budget addresses.

So the question is: why is the land with the highest density of Nobel laureates per square foot apparently losing its way when it comes structural intellectual analysis. Might the “Economist” IQ rankings be right when it placed us the second from the last in the world? No, it can’t be!

We’ve just become an unknown species of homo sapiens who give more honour to our “new-found genii” like Mr Prudent, Hon Guy Joseph, Lionel Ellis and Allen Chastanet among others, who seemed to have become the intellectual axis on which our world turns.

How does the PM’s address stand up to my expectations? I’m prepared to upgrade my score to an A grade primarily because of the "value-added components": his posture and mood; his excellent and proactive analysis of the economy; his frankness and honesty; but in my opinion, what stood out most was the general “falsifiability” yet (hitherto) “irrefutability” of the address. The sum total of all those principal components apparently must have caught detractors off guard to the point that they have not been able to penetrate holes in it!

There are a number of similarities between Kenny and Obama but I do not know if those are sufficient to merit a comparison. For example, they both were community organisers and law professors; they both are of Caucasian/Negro descent; they both are strategic thinkers and also formidable/destructive platform speakers; and they both have been accused by their detractors of embracing socialism.

Let us therefore juxtapose selected elements of Obama's “State of the Union” address to Kenny’s Address to the Nation without necessarily losing sight of their context, orientation and substance.

Firstly, I’m prepared to state that Kenny’s Address was more logically-driven - Obama seemed to be playing more to the gallery than Kenny! Secondly, Kenny’s outputs were more specific. Obama focused more on long-term processes than he did the outputs for the period under review. Hence, Kenny’s performance was perceived to be more measurable. Thirdly, much of Obama’s speech was not only refutable but was refuted the very night it was delivered.

 On those three counts, I am prepared to rate Kenny’s Address to the Nation higher than Obama’s State of the Union address both in terms of format, (significance?) and content.

However, despite a drastic change in Kenny’s demeanour and an apparent attempt to sound more inspirational this year, there’s still a lot to be done to motivate and inspire the nation. He is apparently still wearing the professorial veneer from academia which just won’t go away when he makes his presentations.

He could do with a with some notes from Obama (regarding being less professorial) just as Obama might do with a few from him (in terms of sharpening his focus). They are two great 21st Century leaders in their own right, seeking to change their respective political universes).

Monday, January 25, 2016

EXPECTATIONS (IN BRIEF) OF THE PM’S ADDRESS TO THE NATION



PREAMBLE

It is not the intention of The PowerHouse to be overcritical of the mainstream media (press?); yet, I am of the view that the St. Lucian press is not known for proactivity. I can't recall of many instances where our local press (or political pundits who have found their way therein like the omniscient Mr Springer) attempting to make a meaningful and structured and evidence-based prediction on the contents or direction of a major address to the nation. What invariably seem to happen are retroactive and degenerative bombardments generally saturated with misguided and hate-inspired content on Talkshows and social media patently lacking in structure, rationality and objectivity in the name of analysis.

If the press is bad in that respect, then the politicians are worse and -  perhaps “worserer”! Except this time around (as far as I recall) for the leader of the LPM who demonstrated a measure of proactivity by specifying some of his expectations (albeit with his characteristic intellectual flatness), other “politicians” and especially those from main opposition were deafeningly mute.

Our expectation is the main opposition party blessed with talents and experts like Dr Rigobert (international relations) and Dr Preville (Economics) would throw out some “advanced organizers” designed to constructively stimulate our thought processes on what to expect and against which to measure the PMs address instead of the vacuous and linear ranting and raving about it.

The PowerHouse will attempt to a little bit of “unscientific prediction“ to fill in that gap, albeit  with SOME reference to Choiseul.

Tonight, I expect the PM to address the nation on the following: Government’s performance, projections for the 2016/17, Citizen by Investment programme (CIP), IMPACS and a host of issues of a general nature.

REVIEW OF THE GOVERNMENT’S PERFORMANCE


The performance scorecard wouldn't be a particularly impressive one. It may well turn out to be like Stephenson King’s scorecard largely punctuated by impressive “Ti Canal-like” community projects but there have also been significant projects. In Choiseul for example, the Balca Road, the Fiette Road, the massive Tete Morne to drainage project and the Darban Road. On the national level, the roads and bridges undertaken island wide are also worthy of mention. Government’s fiscal management of our scarce resources as well as the industrial relations climate also deserve commendation. However, with limited foreign direct and private sector investment, economic growth also remained limited. However, I expect the PM to take much credit for stabilizing the economy in difficult times and of course the whipping boy – rightly or wrongly - will be the global recession. Whatever spin he puts on it, I will be inclined to rate his performance with a B+ for his attempts to return the economy on a path of growth for the fiscal year 2014/15.

PROJECTIONS
I expect the PM to score most of his points on his projections. The fact that we have returned to growth would give him the license to do so. In addition, we have entered into an election year and I expect a proliferation of projects in the pipeline. When we add those to what have already “matured” to include the Owen King New National Hospital, the St. Jude's Hospital, the proposed 4-lane Highway (from Gros Islet to Dennery) and a host of other infrastructural projects, the list looks potentially impressive.

I hope he take the opportunity to make a definitive pronouncement on the Juffali Scientific Research Centre which I suspect Mr Chastanet’s peripatetic negativity and shortsightedness may have poured an avalanche of cold water on; and which may well turn out to be in jeopardy.


SABWISHA 5-STAR COMING?
Speculations, precipitated by a buzz of activities happening around Sab Wisha Beach in Choiseul, are rife about a potentially a new hotel project there. Invest St. Lucia Inc. has already served notice on the lessee of sections of the property to vacate. A consultant is said to be currently designing the electrical infrastructure for there and it is understood that environmental and social impact assessment have been commissioned for that purpose of the construction of the hotel. In addition, the property is currently being surveyed and there is word that the road will be re-diverted to facilitate the hotel project.

There is widespread speculation that proposed hotel project will be a joint venture between an American expatriate and potential CIP investors. If this is true, and if it is opportune to do so, would the PM deem it fitting and timely to give us a hint. Meanwhile, Choiseul continues to wait with baited breath for the outcome.

CIP STATUS
I look forward to the PM to give us a synopsis on the status of the CIP and exactly where we are with it.

On the Juffali matter, I also expect the PM to put the issue to rest for once and for all.

IMPACS
The misconceptions abound about IMPACS seemingly among the rank and file of the police force and the public at large, it's high time that the matter be brought to a fair and transparent conclusion. In that regard, I expect the pm to be very specific about the way forward perhaps specifying target dates and mechanisms. We can't afford to have that sword of Damocles hanging over our head indefinitely. It's not good for our international reputation. We can't be perceived by the international community to be a nation where alleged extra-judicial killings are orchestrated and tolerated.

GENERAL
I expect the PM to offer a strong rebuttal to some of the misplaced positions propagated by the opposition and the press.

By no means do I look forward to any degree of consensus on Kenny’s Address to the nation; but I expect it to be a transparent, honest and enlightening conversation with the nation. Naturally and given the trends of the past, I do expect the predictable disjointed and instantaneous “un-prime ministerial” rebuttal from the UWP leader as opposed to presenting his own global policy-laden address specifying policy alternatives.

I look forward to the PM’s address to the nation tonight just as I look forward to the general feedback to it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

ARE THE PRICES OF FOOD AND COMMODITIES IN ST. LUCIA IMMUNE TO THE "OIL & GAS REVOLUTION"?



THE CHOISEUL POWERHOUSE has (among other things) been monitoring the price of food and other commodities on our supermarket shelves since the dramatic decreases in oil and gas prices on the world market started.

Our findings indicate that the slumping oil prices (now at US$30 a barrel) have had absolutely no impact on the prices at our local supermarket. Did the "economic law" apply when oil prices were trending up? No! We were made to pay through our nose then. The prices of the unregulated imported items unconscionably went over the roof when the price of oil was on the up. 

The question is: How does one explain this anomalous phenomenon?

A small supermarket  operator from Choiseul explained it in terms of "stock" and "time"! Indeed, his explanation needs validation. How fast is the turnover of stock?

Why do we make so much noise about VAT and price of oil at the pumps but remain silent on the irrational behaviour of our pricing structure for goods at the supermarkets and elsewhere? Why are our prices not sensitive to "supply and demand"? Are we not a free market economy? Am I left to conclude that we don’t give a damn about our country?

On top of all we have said here, the POWERHOUSE has one major fear: that based on the current trend, we are of the view (and we hope we are wrong) that prices at the supermarkets may remain "fixed" and "unchanged" as long as oil prices continue to drop. For example, a packet of salt fish will continue to remain at EC$14.10 as long as oil prices continue to obey the laws of gravity.

However, what are likely to happen should the price oil and gas start trending upward and say it peaks at US$100 a barrel in quick time? What will happen to supermarket prices? Will the laws of gravity continue to apply or will they disappear? Based on past trends, the answer is predictable and obvious: The  current unchanged prices will likely become “base prices” for calculating a new price structure.

What mechanisms do we have to ensure fairness prevails? 

While a free market economy is designed to generate profit for investors, shouldn't it also have built-in safeguards to protect consumer interests? If it does not, then we may well be encouraging a form of daylight robbery of the type which seemingly (and in my view) characterises the status quo - even in the midst of an "Oil and Gas" revolution which has resulted in the lowest gas prices in 12 years.

President Obama deserves a standing ovation for his energy and diplomatic policies which are major factors contributing to the “revolution” of the oil market. His successful initiatives re: the exploration of shale oil and his lifting of sanctions against Iran have (and will) in a large measure contributed to the status quo.

It is now up to Kenny to ensure that a “watchdog system” is designed to help consumers benefit from the "Oil & Gas revolution" - not just at the pumps but also at the supermarket chain and elsewhere. In the same way that his admininstration brought about the Telecom revolution which resulted in the liberalisation of the Telecom market in St. Lucia (although lately there seems to subtle and underhand attempts by C&W and FLOW to reverse some of the gains), he should ensure that supermarket chain becomes responsive to the the "Oil and Gas" revolution so that we too can benefit.

 
Perhaps, it may also be an opportune moment for Mr Chastanet to make broad policy pronouncements on energy and international relations (in keeping with the prevailing economic and political dynamics) instead of his fixation on non-issues concerning Juffali.