ADDRESS BY PRIME MINISTER OF DOMINICA,
HON. ROOSEVELT SKERRIT
AT THE 38TH MEETING OF THE OECS AUTHORITY
SAINT LUCIA ON JANUARY 22ND 2004
Governor General, Fellow Colleague Heads of Government, Members of Cabinet of
St. Lucia, Ministerial Delegates, OECS Director General, Members of the
Diplomatic and Consular Corps, the Media, Ladies and gentlemen.
I have mixed feelings as I stand before you today to address you as the new
Prime Minister of Dominica. My joy at being here at the highest decision –making
body of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States – the OECS Authority – is
tinged with deep sorrow.
The Chinese philosophers of the Han Dynasty (about 200BC), in an attempt to
reconcile the apparent contradictions of life, taught that Yin and Yang were one
and the same, that is, two moments in the same cycle. Hence the answers of life
were to be found in death, the keys to prosperity in poverty and the source of
happiness in sorrow.
We Dominicans have been forced to reflect on this wisdom in recent years.
On January 6th 2004, our beloved Prime Minister of Dominica, Hon Pierre Charles,
died suddenly. The death of Pierre Charles came less than four years after the
passing of another great leader, Roosevelt Douglas.
Dominicans are a resourceful and resilient people, but the death of two Prime
Ministers in a relatively short space of time is a heavy burden to bear.
Pierre Charles was a sincere, humble and deeply committed Dominican. From his
early entry into local politics in the southern community of Grand Bay in the
1970s to national politics in the 1980s, Pierre Charles was willing to make
sacrifices in the service of Dominicans. He was also willing to listen and learn
from ordinary people who are often overlooked when national decisions are being
I make this promise to you that I will continue the good work that Pierre
Charles started. I remain totally committed to pursuing, with even greater
urgency, the economic stabilization and adjustment programme embarked upon by
the Government of Dominica in June 2002.
Governments of the OECS, CARICOM and the international donor community have
demonstrated their support for the Dominica Government’s efforts to stabilize
the public finances as a first step before the resumption of growth. I want to
assure you that I will build on the solid foundation that my predecessor has
left me. I will continue to the right thing for the long-term benefit of this
On 19th December 2003, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) approved a new arrangement with Dominica under the Fund’s Poverty
Reduction and Growth Facility. Access to this facility represents a major
achievement for our country and Government and a most important message to the
entire regional and international community.
Another stage of my Government’s ongoing economic stabilization and adjustment
program is the restructuring of our public debt. Last month, the late Prime
Minister, Hon. Pierre Charles, led a delegation to Barbados to discuss debt
restructuring with our creditors and donors. Extensive consultations with our
creditors have already commenced and we hope to complete the debt restructuring
during the first quarter of this year.
The economies of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union have been experiencing
declining growth in output and GDP; increasing fiscal deficits and unsustainable
debt burdens in most states in recent years. We need to accelerate the process
to give effect to the 2002 Action Plan for Economic Growth and Transformation in
Changes in the international trading environment have severely affected small,
open and vulnerable economies like ours. There is the need to pursue with
greater vigour the creation of an OECS Economic Union. My Government will do all
it reasonably can to remove all impediments to ensure the establishment of an
economic union in the OECS.
With the advent of the CSME and the FTAA in 2005, and a new relationship with
the EU with the establishment of Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU
and ACP States, we can’t afford to waste any more time if we wish to survive as
viable economic entities. The forefathers of integration in the OECS fought for
political and economic union in the OECS. The new global realities dictate that
we must make that dream become a reality within our lifetime.
I urge Colleague Heads to place special emphasis on relations with the French
Doms and those OCTs that are not members of our Organization. They are an
integral part of our history, our culture and our Caribbean family. We must
forge closer relations with the Doms, the Dutch Antillies and the US Territories
in our region as we seek to strengthen our integration movement. Those
territories are of critical importance to Dominica and the OECS.
As small countries in the global marketplace, it is easy to become overwhelmed
by the monumental changes taking place in the international arena. But the
accumulated wisdom we have inherited from our predecessors suggests that the way
forward is to dig deeper into our own reserves. My instincts tell me that we
should consult more regularly and honestly with the masses of our people and in
particular with our young people. In effect, we must lead by consensus.
Our youth represent both our greatest strengths and weaknesses. We are all
familiar with the plight of young people growing up in a rapidly changing world.
This plight of youth in Dominica has been placed high on my Government’s list of
priorities. But my Government also recognizes the enormous potential of youth.
As a result, a new portfolio of human resource development has now been added to
the brief of the Minister for Education, Sports and Youth Affairs.
Within the next few weeks, my Government will take to Parliament a National
Youth Policy. The Policy is the result of extensive consultations with all the
stakeholders over several months.
At the same time we are acutely aware that the scourge of HIV/AIDS can wipe out
the seed-corn of our nation. By 2020, it is estimated that 68 million people
will have died from Aids. The Caribbean is in the unenviable position as being
second, behind Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of infection rates. AIDS is now the
leading cause of death in the 15-44 age group in our Region, striking at the
heart of our most productive sector. This situation threatens the economic
growth potential of our small and fledgling economies.
We must acknowledge the outstanding contribution of our own Dr Denzil Douglas in
the role he is playing in the fight against the scourge of our age. Earlier this
month, US President George W Bush praised the tireless efforts of Dr Denzil
Douglas in combating the disease in the Caribbean. We must redouble our efforts
and engage a number of groups, charities, organizations and governments to
tackle effectively the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In this regard I plan to accord to the
fight against HIV/AIDS a high priority.
The AIDS crisis, this threat of death, should heighten our sense of urgency to
improve the standard and quality of life of our people.
Colleagues, I want to challenge you, as we have been challenged in Dominica, to
look again at the solutions we have been recommending to our people. We are
committed to empowering young people, but have we given them the opportunity to
participate fully in the major institutions of our lives?
We need to move with a greater sense of urgency and put provisions in place for
the unhindered movement of the masses throughout our Region.
Our hucksters have been yearning for the free movement of people and produce
throughout our Region but have we assisted them in any significant way to get
locally produced goods from point A to point B?
Where are our schooners, where are our mass transport systems, where are our
facilities for shifting resources around our Region? Will we have to wait until
after the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007 to realize that we must use
our local God-given resources to create wealth and happiness for our people.
As the newest Prime Minister to join the OECS family, I look forward to
developing the kind of close relationship that my predecessor had with you.
I pledge to continue with even greater commitment the task of returning the
Dominican economy to a sustainable growth path and to making a significant
contribution to Regional economic, social and political integration.
We have the responsibility as leaders in this region to transform the lives of
our peoples. I have already declared that the youth will be given special
attention under my stewardship.
I am convinced that it is only when the masses are fully motivated and mobilized
that we will reach that level of productivity that enables our region to put
poverty and despondency behind us.
May God guide these deliberations.
I thank you.