Hon. Walter Francois
Christmas Message 2000
By Hon. Walter Francois
Minister for Planning, Development, Environment & Housing
Parliamentary Representative Soufriere/Fond St. Jacques
It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating our entry into a new millennium, with the hopes of progress for the future led by the technological advancements achieved over the dying years of the previous millennium.
We are now one year into the new millennium - a year of patient incremental groundwork directed towards the fulfillment of these hopes, and both of continuing and new challenges on which attention must at the same time be focused.
In retrospect, we see this year as one of mixed fortunes. While the foundation for encouraging more equal social progress has been advanced, the pressures of external factors over which no control is possible have affected the economic gains necessary for furthering this process.
Energy costs have almost doubled from the previous year; making the production cost of goods and services more expensive and export competitivity more difficult in an increasingly open global market.
Adjustments in response to changing global circumstances take time to implement, for their results to take hold, and some economic lag is to be expected during this process, especially when compounded by adverse external pressures.
The groundwork for restructuring is, however, being laid in initiatives such as the Small and Micro Business Development Project; the Rural Enterprise Development Project; efforts to expand the tourist development base by encouraging innovations such as Heritage Tourism, in fact seeking to encourage diversification of the entire tourism product to broaden the range of local investment opportunities in the sector for St. Lucians.
The growth potential of Services is being explored in efforts to develop the Financial Sector. But increased awareness by the private sector of the entire range of services which can be traded is needed if the opportunities available in this growth area are to be tapped.
Government action is being taken to promote that awareness and to create incentives specifically related to the sector's need.
But the total development effort must be housed within a strategic package even as the production of its different elements may fall to the task of separate Ministries.
The elements with which the Ministry of Planning, Development, Environment and Housing are concerned, are key support elements of the entire economic and social development structure and its planning and coordination functions are essential for preserving the integrity of the development effort.
The allocation of land, a non-renewable resource and a basic input for a range of development activities, is critical in this context. The response to the demand for land in the past had been ad hoc and the use of land haphazard with little attention given to the environmental consequences of this policy of benign neglect.
Our land resources are severely limited and inaction cannot be permitted to continue.
Some of the initiatives which my Ministry has at both its Physical Planning and Land Administration levels put in train to deal with this problem are:
1. The Development of a National Land Policy to serve as a guide for the future use of lands;
2. In terms of implementing controls on the actual use of land, an independent review of the Land Development (Interim Contract) Act and Regulations has been undertaken. Based on this review a reconstituted Development, Control Board has been appointed. A Revised Physical Planning Act is in the process of being finalised for Parliamentary action;
3. Computerization of all departments involved in Land Administration including Physical Planning, Crown Lands; Survey & Mapping Sections, and the Land Registry is being pursued;
4. The Conversion of all land information currently stored on paper into a digital database is the precursor to the development of the integrated land management database;
5. The use of Geographic Positioning Technology in conducting surveys. This is intended to improve efficiency and accuracy and allow for easier integration of new surveys into the land management database;
6. All these efforts are in preparation for the development of an Integrated Land Management Database, under which all persons who require land information will be able to share and cross-reference same. The database will also allow electronic access to stored information;
7. Improved control over the illegal use of Crown lands and the Queen's Chain in particular.
In addition to creating an environment for more effective control over land use these measures are expected to provide for greater efficiency in the processing of planning applications.
The availability of affordable housing remains a top social priority for Government. Not only is there immediate need to satisfy present demand but planning to accommodate population growth is also a necessity.
Towards this end a fully functioning housing unit was established within the Ministry and a housing policy is in the course of preparation.
A Unit has been created for implementing a programme aimed at the regulation of Unplanned Developments.
Six parcels of land have been approved for acquisition as part of a process of land pooling to facilitate an island-wide housing development drive. It is expected that every area in the country will benefit from Government's housing programme.
Safeguards for the consumer in the construction of their homes are intended in the proposal for registration and licencing of building tradesmen included in the recently concluded St. Lucia Construction Industry Standardisation Training and Certification Projects.
The environment is an economic resource. As a development asset, a factor related to community health and safety and valued for its recreational and esthetic qualities the environment must be preserved for posterity.
My Ministry continues to keep a watchful eye on developments to ensure that a proper balance between the needs of developments and the requirements of environmental protection is at all cost maintained.
In the context of its Environmental responsibilities and its planning mandate, the Ministry is also continuing to examine the feasibility of the use of renewable energy alternatives in the development of a comprehensive energy plan for the State.
At this stage I wish to turn to my Soufriere/Fond St. Jacques constituency.
The plan for turning the economic prospects of Sourfriere away from the years of economic and social neglect imposed upon the community by the previous Government were unfortunately temporarily blunted by the equally disastrous visit of Hurricane Lenny, requiring financial and physical resources to be diverted for emergency action to deal with this problem.
Re-housing the many persons of Baron's Drive/Coin de l'Anse made homeless became a major priority and we are pleased to note that this task is now well underway. Families have taken up residence at the new houses at Celine and more buildings are being constructed there as I speak. The Cressland development will be undertaken in the new year.
But the overall housing situation in Soufriere needs to be urgently addressed and the coming year will see further action being taken in this area. The Private sector investments in two substantial housing projects are scheduled to take place soon. These are most welcomed developments.
The challenge now is to ensure that the desire of job holders to own their homes is made achievable by making available housing which is affordable.
I wish to assure the people of Soufriere that in the overall National programme for land acquisition and the sourcing of funds to enable the construction of houses, that they will obtain their deserved slice of the housing cake.
But in doing this we have also to bear in mind the need for, as far as is possible, preserving Sourfriere from the kind of damage which was the experience of Hurricane Lenny's enraged seas.
We have received funds from USAID for the Design and Implementation Phases of the Storm Defense Wall to be constructed within the general development of the Waterfront area intended to exploits its value for touristic and social purposes - a planned project which suffered a set back as a result of Lenny.
The planned Anse Chastanet Hotel expansion project is scheduled to commence early in the new year. This project will generate much-needed jobs, both during its construction period and on its completion.
While the modernization of the town of Soufriere is considered of major importance and in this context Cable and Wireless successfully implemented its programme of home connections in town. Its rural programme was out of schedule because of a number of unforeseen technical problems which were encountered, especially the purchase of the wrong cables. All the rural areas should be connected in 2001. The emphasis placed on the development of the constituency is on providing roads, water, electricity and telephone services to all areas. This programme is necessary for encouraging progress and rural development and stemming the tide of migration of young people to the town.
In the new year, the streets, drains and sidewalks of Fond Benier, New Development and Belle Plain will be upgraded; also the roads at Fdond St. jacques/Migny/Edmund Forest, Belfond, Esperance/Bois Den, Chateau Belair and Etangs/Deville/Union Vale will all receive attention.
Bouton and Belfond have at last been electrified thus every major community in Soufriere has had electrification extended to it. Further progress in expanding electricity services is scheduled to take place during the coming year. The water supply in the rural areas will be extended especially the Fond St. Jacques catchement which will be upgraded.
Within this new millennium economic success will more and more depend on our ability to use the technological developments which are the tools used for conducting business within the global economy.
In Soufriere, as throughout the nation, our young people must become educated not only to the new ways of doing business but in the use of the new tools of modern business.
The establishment of a branch of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College in Soufriere is therefore welcomed and it is hoped that the continuing education opportunities offered by its presence will be taken full advantage of.
In the same context Soufriere is to be a testing ground for the New Modular Adult Education Programme with a module provided for basic adult education, one for progress to a higher level and a level for technical, creative and cultural studies.
The young people of Soufriere are now being provided, at their very doorsteps, with opportunities to acquire the skills which they will need to function successfully in the world ahead. I urge you to make profitable use of these opportunities not only for yourselves, but in the interests of the development of Sourfriere as a community and St. Lucia as a Nation.
At long last, the special education programme for the physically challenged children of the district will begin in January. These unfortunate children will participate in a formal setting for the first time.
The work of the Poverty Reduction Fund and the Basic Needs Trust Fund in areas like Palmiste and Fond St. Jacques will continue. Programmes will be implemented in other areas like Zenon, Bois Den, Union Vale.
If I have certain regrets which I wish to express, it is in the area of sports development, an area which is so useful for teaching team spirit and discipline, and for developing leadership qualities. I regret that we do not have teams competing in national sporting activities. I have myself tried to encourage progress in this area but perhaps increased motivation is the key to achieving success.
Increased motivation can however only be partially generated by providing additional assistance in the form of playing facilities and in coaching assistance. We will do this. In the final analysis however much of the motivation must come from our young people's personal commitment to the development of an active sports programme, to their ambition to excel in doing so, to work towards winning in a competitive environment, and to undertake seriously to engage themselves wholeheartedly in the organisational work needed to achieved this end.
I pledge my fullest support in helping to achieve this purpose and to work closely with you in this context, but you must be yourself motivated enough to want to share in the job of placing Soufriere on the sports map. There are also economic gains to be achieved in sport. The Tiger Woods, the Tennis Williams, the Brian Laras, the Dwight Yorkes, the NBA stars are indications of this fact. Like in all endeavours, it all depends on ones willingness to focus on ones ambitions to work steadfastly, despite all odds, towards achieving his or her goals and to make whatever sacrifices necessary to attain what is desired.
Finally as we approach the end of another year we look back not only on events which have been pleasurable but on those which have been the cause of regret and sometimes deep sadness.
The destruction of the business owned by Mr. Arnott Valmont by fire has served as an unfortunate loss for him and the many persons who were employed there. This will surely have a negative impact on the celebrations of the festive season. It is another reversal for the economy of Sourfriere. We are all hopeful that the management will decide to retain its confidence in Soufriere's future and to rebuild as soon as possible.
There are those of us who have been saddened by the loss of loved ones sometimes in very unfortunate circumstances. My heart, and I am sure the hearts of all of us in this community are with the families during this season of family togetherness. This season which is not simply one of festivity and abandonment, but a season of spiritual significance, one to mark the birth of Christ our Saviour. We trust that our faith in him and the support that we offer each other will help us to see it through.
May I wish, especially all of you in the Constituency of Soufriere and Fond St. Jacques, but indeed throughout St. Lucia the joys and blessings of the season and of hopes fulfilled in the new year.
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