St Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet insists he did not declare in a national broadcast last Sunday that his country was broke.
Instead, the message he shared with St Lucians is that if they do not continue to observe COVID-19 safety protocols the Government will not be able to again finance the raft of programmes it implemented before to help citizens cope with the financial and social effects of the pandemic.
“What I don't want is for us to close down the country, and the point I made was, if we have to close down the country, we don't have the money to redo all the things that we did the first time,” Chastanet told the Jamaica Observer last Thursday.
The St Lucian prime minister was responding to a story on his national broadcast filed by Caribbean Media Corporation ( CMC) headlined 'PM says Government is broke, can't afford to fund stabilisation programme'.
The CMC report quoted Chastanet as saying: “It is no secret the Government has exhausted all of the efforts, all of the resources with the NIC (National Insurance Corporation) and donor agencies to provide a social stabilisation programme for the public and for those persons who have lost their jobs. We have no more money. What we are hoping to do is to regain the strength of our economy so many persons can be re-employed.”
He also thanked hoteliers who have re-employed their workers “despite knowing that they are going to lose money for several months”.
The prime minister had delivered the broadcast after health authorities confirmed that a 48-year-old bus driver had become the country's latest COVID-19 case.
Up to last Friday, St Lucia had recorded just 33 COVID-19 cases, a fact that has won the Government kudos for its handling of the pandemic.
In his broadcast last Sunday, Chastanet had warned that if St Lucia lost the confidence that the rest of the world has with its management of the virus, it would significantly impact visitor arrivals, which were proving promising.
“Shutting down the country is not an option, we can't afford it,” he told the Sunday Observer.
“If I have to shut down the country, where am I going to get the money from to run the social programmes?” he argued, pointing out that his Administration had spent millions to help St Lucians cope with the economic impact of the pandemic.
He said what was at stake was not only the health of St Lucians but also the economy which, after four years of growth — during which unemployment decreased from 25 per cent to 15 per cent — is now experiencing a slump.