Prime Minister's 2002 New Year's Address
Broadcast: January 7, 2002
My fellow Saint Lucians:
I am grateful for this opportunity to convey to you and your families, my own best wishes and those of the Cabinet of Ministers, for a healthy, happy and fulfilling New Year.
I am always happy when an opportunity such as this presents itself - when I can share with you my own reflections on the year just ended, as well as my sense of the overall development prospects of our country, as we continue our journey into the future
Fulfillment But Pain and Hardship
There are those among us who will look back on this past year with a sense of fulfillment, after having accomplished some of our personal goals - like finally moving into our own home, or securing a promotion, or completing a course of study. Others among us may have reason to look back on 2001 with a sense of sadness. Some may have lost a loved one. Others may have been laid off or lost their jobs.
I sympathise with those of who may have experienced pain and hardship and I rejoice with those of you who have experienced happiness. Whatever memories that 2001 may have left with you, it is my sincere hope that the year has in some small way, been a good one for you and your loved ones.
When I look on the events that have taken place, here at home and in other parts of the world in 2001, I am left in no doubt that we are truly a blessed people. By the grace of God, we were able to emerge from under the dark clouds that had gathered over our country, after the disgraceful events at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. That event served one critical purpose. It forced us to take stock of ourselves. I believe that the calm and peaceful manner in which we conducted ourselves during the December 3rd General Elections, was the outcome of this national “soul searching” exercise.
When we look upon the many nations, that in 2001, were ravaged by war, strife and tension, we come to realise that the relative peace that we enjoy, is indeed priceless. It is this peace that has kept our economy afloat after the outrageous events of September 11, in the USA.
New Sense of Caring
That event too, has brought its benefits. The global response to the senseless carnage which claimed thousands of precious lives, has been nothing short of revolutionary. A new sense of caring and of community, has been ushered into the world. World leaders have come to see the wisdom behind the entreaties of the great Civil Rights leader - Martin Luther King - that poverty and instability anywhere, is a threat to prosperity and stability everywhere.
The year 2001 also brought home the twin terrors - drought and leaf spot disease - which severely affected our vital banana industry. But mercifully, our country was spared the ravages of storms and hurricanes.
The year just passed, also brought an end to the long-standing dispute between the European Union and the USA. The waiver granted by the WTO to the new market access arrangements for our bananas, now enshrined in the Cotonnou Agreement, has given our farmers a precious adjustment period of at least eight years, within which to prepare for full competition.
The tourism industry also experienced mixed fortunes in 2001. Even as announcements of temporary and permanent closures of hotel plants were being made here and elsewhere, news was being received that new hotels will be built at Soufriere, Pigeon Island Causeway and at Belvedere.
The surge in Cruise ship arrivals has also helped to draw the sting from low occupancies in the accommodation sector. And while other destinations were gravely affected by reductions in airline access, more airline seats are being added out of Europe and the USA, into Saint Lucia. Only last month, U.S. Airways began a direct, weekly service out of Philadelphia, into Saint Lucia. There are signs that recovery is on the way.
The mixed fortunes of 2001, at the personal and national level should remind us of the powerful lines in Ecclesiastes, that “…to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven”. Some will weep while others laugh and some will mourn while others dance. All of us will want to be happy and contented all of the time. But life will not permit it. That is the nature of live and living.
The World in 2002
All indications are that the year 2002 will be a particularly difficult one, not just for us in Saint Lucia, but for virtually all countries, large or small, developed or developing. The US economy - the largest in the world - is officially in recession. Nearly 1.2 million people lost their jobs last year - 650,000 of those since the events of September 11th. Nearly 6% of Japan’s workforce is unemployed. Argentina is broke. In the face of violent, public protests, it has postponed repayment on about US$135 billion of its debt. The hope is that Argentina’s woes will not spread to the already shaky economies of Brazil, Mexico, Chile and the rest of Latin America.
In Asia, only China has been able to register robust rates of growth, while in Europe, Britain and Ireland are the only ones with reasons to feel reasonably good about 2001.
Nearly all the leading financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF are predicting a significant slowdown in the rate of global economic growth in 2002. The US economy is not expected to recover until the third quarter of 2002.
On top of all of this, we must contend with the dramatic developments within the Multi-lateral Trading System, being managed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Planning the Nation’s Response
Fellow Saint Lucians, what I have just shared with you - yet again, is the reality of the global situation. It is reasonable to expect that our economies - open and vulnerable as they are - will be hurt at least in the short term, by the projected global economic downturn.
The reality is that there is nothing we can do to improve the economic fortunes of the industrialised world. But that reality, stark as it is, should not depress us. Rather it should inspire us. The tough times that lie ahead should help to stiffen our resolve.
The most that we can do, is to do the things that we can do. We will have failed if we should attempt to do anything less.
Reasons for Confidence
You will have heard me say several times that I am confident we can survive the lean times ahead. This is not mindless optimism. It springs from a profound belief in the capacity of our people to manage adversity and to eventually triumph over it.
There are so many things that give me hope.
I draw confidence from the sure-footed manner in which Saint Lucia ventured into the International Financial Services Sector. Indeed, we have done this so well, that we have averted the criticisms that have been leveled at other mature jurisdictions.
I take courage from the hunger for education of hundreds of our people of all ages, who on leaving work every evening, make their way to night classes. And I am encouraged by the solid increase in the number and quality of academic degrees that are being claimed by Saint Lucian students, from Universities in and out of the Caribbean.
My optimism is also based in part, on the entrepreneurial spirit of the owners and operators of Helen IT Systems, who risked so much when they ventured into the uncharted area of Information Services. Not only have they have created jobs for hundreds of our people, but they have built up a huge reservoir of expertise on the workings of a very complex sector.
Then too I see evidence of new investments, new risks, and new enterprise. Only recently BIG J’s began to offer Saint Lucians a new experience , wholesale shopping.
I am also encouraged by the on-going restructuring and renewal of local firms - like J.Q Charles Limited - as they strive to better compete, nationally and internationally. I share the expectations of all native Saint Lucians that this bastion of our heritage will emerge from this programme as a stronger and better diversified enterprise, with increased activity in the export sector.
My optimism is also strengthened by the phenomenal developments in the literary and creative field. Over the past two years, in particular, we have seen a spate of high-quality, book and magazine releases, most of which were published locally. Our musicians too, have scored major hits, that rival productions from other, more mature parts of the Caribbean.
The sterling performance of our banana farmers over the past six months, is also part of the reason for my optimism. During this period, we have seen after a dramatic decline in production a near doubling of output, supported by impressive quality scores.
These developments, limited though they may be, have given me hope. They tell me that with the right support, our people can be encouraged to do more to help themselves and in the process, place our country on a sounder economic footing.
Those responsible for ensuring law and order, can be of immense help by redoubling their efforts to deter crime and to promptly solving any crimes that may have occurred.
Those charged with nurturing the minds of our young people, whether as parents, teachers or mentors, can assist the cause of nation building by encouraging your wards to be imaginative, disciplined and creative.
And those entrusted with the mantle of leadership should lead by example, with a sense of responsibility and with vision, courage, integrity and humility.
In a few weeks time, we shall be celebrating the twenty-third anniversary of our country’s Independence. We can, by the resolutions that we make today, propel our country confidently into the future. We can do this by pledging to work with each other; by respecting each other’s opinions; by putting reason into our every enterprise and counsel before our every action; by reaching out to assist those who are less fortunate than ourselves; and by invoking God’s guidance and presence in our lives.
If we can do these things, then we can transform our beloved Saint Lucia into a mighty nation that the rest of the world can gaze on with admiration, for ever.
May God Bless you and keep you. May his face continually shine on our country and bring us happiness and peace.
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