Address by Honourable Rufus Bousquet Minister for External Affairs, International Financial Services, Information and Broadcasting at the Annual Dinner and Dance Gala of the Saint Lucia-Toronto Association
I bring you greetings from the Government and People of Saint Lucia on the occasion of the 28th Anniversary of Saint Luciaís Independence and of your Annual Dinner and Dance Gala, in commemoration of this anniversary. In doing this, I am mindful of the fact that I am here tonight, following an invitation extended to my Prime Minister, Sir John G.M. Compton and Lady Compton to be your special guests on this occasion. The Prime Ministerís schedule unfortunately did not allow him to be able to join you on this auspicious occasion, but because of the importance he attached to your invitation, he asked that I represent him here tonight. The Prime Ministerís loss, is therefore my gain!
However, in discharging the responsibilities entrusted to me by the Prime Minister, I have been asked to communicate to you his deep regret at not being able to share with you this occasion. The Prime Minister extends his very best wishes to all of you, he hopes your activities tonight are enjoyable, rewarding and uplifting. He also hopes to be able to visit you in the not too distant future.
I wish to thank the Saint Lucia-Toronto Association and in particular, itís President, Ms. Delores Watson for inviting the Government of Saint Lucia to be part of this event. Madam President, I trust that this will be the beginning of a long fruitful and rewarding relationship between your association and the new Government of Saint Lucia.
Ladies and Gentlemen, twenty eight years ago Saint Lucia attained its independence from Great Britain. By this act Saint Lucia acquired responsibility for its own governance in every sense. Independence therefore brought with it certain responsibilities, obligations and expectations.
The principal expectation from an individual point of view however was that our quality of life would improve, the development of our Country would be enhanced and that our citizens would have a stake in this development. It required of us commitment, a sense of national pride, a willingness to make sacrifices in the interest of our nation, and all of those requirements associated with nationhood.
Now, twenty eights years later, if we were to review our achievements thus far, I think it would be fair to say that we have traveled a long way, that we have made much progress but there is much more still to be achieved.
It is in this context therefore that we must view the events of December 11th, 2006 in Saint Lucia when Saint Lucians expressed their dissatisfaction with the performance of the previous administration in office, their unhappiness with the direction in which the Country was going (or was being taken), by returning the Government of the United Workers Party to office.
This Government therefore, comes into office on the basis of a mandate for change, a mandate to change the direction in which the Country was proceeding, to pursue tirelessly the development of Saint Lucia, and to give all Saint Lucians the opportunity to participate in and to benefit from this development.
The term ďall Saint LuciansĒ used here refers not only to those currently resident in Saint Lucia but Saint Lucia residents all across the globe, the entire diaspora.
It is for this reason therefore that I am particularly pleased for this opportunity to speak with you tonight, to participate in this activity, and to exchange some ideas on what role you all Saint Lucians resident in Canada can play in the development of your Country.
The issue of migration has become a major topic in discussions on Economic Development. So much so that the United Nations last year convened in New York a High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development on 14th and 15th September at the United Nations Headquarters.
There is clearly a linkage between migration and development which needs to be better understood by Governments and organizations. Migration on the one hand can have positive developmental impacts, in terms of increased remittance flows, the provision of employment opportunities, increased cultural interaction among peoples through the creation of diasporic communities and skills transfers to migrants that could benefit their home countries on their return. On the other hand migration may also have negative developmental impacts for the home Country and adverse personal impacts for the migrants themselves.
My purpose here tonight however is not to outline in theoretical terms the merits or demerits of migration, but merely to explore with you some thoughts on how we may strengthen the relationship between the Saint Lucian Community at home and overseas, and to devise mechanisms to ensure that you who reside overseas are able to fully participate in and contribute to the development of your Country.
I wish to emphasise that the Government which I represent views the diaspora as a very integral part of the Saint Lucian community and nation. In addition, citizens who reside overseas are a tremendous resource in terms of the transfer of remittances to their families; are a potential source of expertise in areas where the Country may be deficient and could be useful in terms of attracting foreign investment for wealth generation and job creation. The challenge we face is how can we effectively utilize this resource.
The previous administration had instituted a regime for returning nationals, the purpose of which was to facilitate and make certain concessions available to those nationals wishing to return home to Saint Lucia. So far most of those returning have been retirees. The regime provides for duty free concessions on household and personal effects, whether used or new adequate to furnish a family residence; tools of trade whether new or used; and one motor vehicle per family whether used or new.
My Ministry will be reviewing this regime with a view to making it stronger as a tool not only to encourage those who have retired to return home, but also to encourage those who are still in their active working lives to return home to contribute their Countryís development in a very direct way, whether by meeting a shortage of skill in a particular area or investing in some aspect of economic activity.
Madam President, one of the observations which I particularly welcome is the apparent close relations among Saint Lucians in the Toronto area. This no doubt is being fostered by organizations like yours which serve as a sallying point for all Saint Lucians, as a source of support, as a vehicle for information, for resource pooling and such other initiatives for the support of Saint Lucians. For this you deserve to be congratulated.
I am also aware that your organization forms part of a network of Saint Lucia Overseas organizations which includes groups of Saint Lucians from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and St. Croix among others which meets on an annual basis to discuss matters of mutual interest, and to strengthen the Saint Lucia diasporic community. I understand that the last meeting of Saint Lucia Overseas organizations took place right here in Toronto. I commend you and the other organizations on this initiative and encourage its continuation.
I also wish to thank you for the various gifts, donations and other materials and supplies, such as health related equipment, educational supplies and others which you procured and shipped to Saint Lucia.
One of the issues which has been raised by some organizations with which I have been in contact is a recommendation to appoint someone at the Ministry who will have specific responsibility for liaising with organizations of Saint Lucia nationals overseas. I am pleased to advise that my Ministry is in the process of acting on this recommendation and we will be informing you all in due course.
This initiative is not of course intended as an initiative to replace or duplicate the functions of Saint Lucia Consulates, where they exist. I take the opportunity now to confirm that Saint Lucia will continue to have a Consulate in Toronto. It is not our intention at all to close this office. We will however look for ways of making it more effective.
As a small Country with limited resources, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are well spent, and that we derive the maximum benefit from such expenditure.
I am aware that there are many issues which affect Saint Lucians in Canada. One of these is a concern that persons may compromise the special immigration relationship which we enjoy with Canada. I refer here to the tendency in recent years for persons to travel to Canada and on the advice of others, apply for Refugee status. We hope that the change in circumstances in Saint Lucia has negated the necessity for such action. But I assure you that we as a Government will do all in our power to preserve this special relationship.
Madam President, as a new Government just assuming the reins of office, we have been engaged over the last three (3) months in an assessment of the situation in the Country, particularly the financial state of affairs. We are also involved now in the preparation of the national budget and in the weeks ahead the Prime Minister and Minister for Finance will be outlining the governmentís policies for the next financial year. This will be a major policy statement to the nation which I encourage you to follow closely.
Finally Madame President, I wish once again to emphasise my deep gratitude to you and to your organization for the opportunity to be here with you tonight. It has been a real pleasure and I look forward working with you, representing and protecting your interests for a very long time to come.
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