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Government of Saint Lucia

 Address by Saint Lucia's Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy to the Saint Lucia Association in Toronto Canada - March 1, 2003

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It is indeed a pleasure to be here this evening to share with you the love you obviously have for our country and to feel the pride which surely must have spurred you on to put on this magnificent event in celebration of our country’s twenty-fourth anniversary of independence. It is a celebration which equals any we held at home during this past week. There may just even be a deeper intensity of feeling at your celebrations as we all know that the heart grows fonder with each passing day of absence from that or from whom we love. I therefore bring you warm greetings from the Government and people of St. Lucia and our sincerest thanks for so ably “marketing” our country in this part of the international community. On my own behalf and on that of all St. Lucians at home, I want too, to express deepest appreciation to the Canadian nationals and to the nationals of all the countries that have joined us here this evening for providing St. Lucians with the type of environment that allows them to celebrate, to laugh and dance and so openly enjoy themselves in a land so far away from home. It is truly an example of what we need in the world today.

For the past twenty-four years, we have been engaged in the long and often challenging task of building ourselves a nation and fashioning us a people. In 1979, we had a vision of nationhood which went beyond mere attainment of full responsibility for the government of our own affairs. It envisaged the full development
of our human potential and the astute management of our resources. True, we anticipated struggle and sacrifice, but we recognized that what we needed was unity and discipline. We were promised that independence and sovereignty were instruments that we could use to free ourselves from the scourges of ignorance, poverty and disease, but we were warned that we had a choice : we could use these instruments wisely to achieve our national goals or we could dissipate them in foolish and unproductive strife and discord. The celebration of yet another anniversary of this special event in the history and life of our country, would seem to suggest that we believe that we have chosen wisely. Why else would we celebrate ?

A significant amount of resources have been put at our disposal both in human and financial terms, and indeed much has been achieved. Could we have done more with what we have, had we all been willing to take personal responsibility for the country’s successes as well as its failures ? Of course we could have. In every anniversary message and theme the appeal goes out to all St. Lucians to discipline ourselves to ensure that we remain on the path of continued growth and progress. Every year we are encouraged to use our sovereignty wisely so that we could control or shape our own destiny, to face the challenges of this and the future world order with dignity and pride : pride in ourselves, in our achievements as a people, pride in our country. This year, we are sounding the same clarion call ; with a most appropriate theme : “Guarding our national pride amidst the global tide”. There is now more than ever an urgency in the appeal for all of us to raise the level of our national consciousness, to hold our own in these increasingly challenging times or face the prospect of losing the independence and the sovereignty that we worked for and earned. True, these appeals are made primarily to those of us who have remained at home. But St. Lucians overseas have as much a stake in our country’s survival, in whether or not we remain a viable state.

The theme which incidentally was proposed by a member of the public reflects both our concerns and our hopes. We are concerned about the viability of our economy in an environment of increasing international competitiveness. We are concerned about the effects on our economy of negotiations currently underway simultaneously on four fronts : The World Trade Organisation, the Free Trade Area of the Americas which stretches from Alaska to the tip of South America, the Caricom Single Market and Economy and the Economic Partnership Agreements between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of Countries. St. Lucia is under tremendous pressure to find both the human and financial resources to do battle on all these fronts all at once. We are concerned that we may have reached the limit of our ability to hold our own. We are worried about how much longer we can defend our cultural patrimony in the face of a relentless global culture. We are worried about the escalation of crime, about the growing drug culture. We are worried about the effects of a war on our already battered economy. Of course, not all our troubles are externally influenced. For my part, I am particularly concerned about our reluctance to become personally engaged with some of the pressing issues that affect us, our seeming inability to speak with one voice on matters of national importance, and our persistence in seeing everything through the lens of partisan politics, no matter how apolitical the issue.

But nations have a resilience which sometimes defies what looks like unsurmountable challenges. So it is that St. Lucia in its twenty-fourth year of political independence is positioning itself to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself in the global environment to safeguard the gains we have made and to ensure our viability as a sovereign nation. Therein lies the hope expressed in this year’s theme. I thought therefore that I would share some of these initiatives with you to keep you informed, but also to engage you in the development and implementation of some of these. It is well known that some of our finest minds have left the confines of our shores. This is not a bad thing at all. What we need to guard against however is the loss of the creativity, the capability and the ingenuity of these fine minds.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing St. Lucia today is that of remaining competitive in this new era of trade liberalisation and world-wide economic recession. It is this concern which prompted the establishment of the National Economic Council, an advisory body composed of persons from the public and private sectors and non-governmental organizations. It is in some respects a type of think-tank for discussions on the key economic and social challenges confronting the country, and for recommending realistic and cost effective measures aimed at responding successfully to these challenges. It is our expectation that a vision shared nationally would guide the process of transforming our economy over the next two decades ; even while we realize that the European Union has given us a deadline of 2006 to prepare for open competition for our bananas. Our strategic priority continues to be therefore the diversification of economic opportunities and activities to decrease our dependency on a single sector for foreign exchange earnings. Hence the expansion of our tourism industry into new areas like Sports Tourism, Festival Tourism and Heritage Tourism ; the strengthening of our International Financial Services Sector, and the diversification of our manufacturing sector.

To assist in this transformation, and to create the enabling environment through which St. Lucia’s private sector can become more competitive internationally, Government has been funding a Private Sector Development Programme over the last three years. Support has been given through special tax and duty concessions to promote development and investment in the southern and western parts of the island, through technical assistance initiatives in the fields of product development and human resource development among others. Other initiatives funded both by Government and external agencies, like the Ministry of Commerce’s Small Enterprise Development Unit, the St. Lucia Bureau of Standards, the James Belgrave Micro Enterprise Development Fund and Canada’s CPEC - the Canadian Programme for Economic Competitiveness – are all geared towards the generation of St. Lucia’s sustainable economic development, growth and stability.

Another pressing challenge is the development of our social infrastructure : our educational institutions, our health care facilities, our housing stock, our social services, our care institutions, our correctional facilities, our leisure and recreational facilities ; the list can go on. We speak with pride of the achievements of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, but we are still working on our goal of providing a secondary school place for every child. We speak with pride of our two state of the art sports facilities – the Beausejour Cricket Grounds and the National Stadium - but we are still far from reaching the goal of providing recreational and sporting facilities in our communities nationwide. We would have preferred to use the resources we spent on the new Bordelais Correctional Facility in some other area, but to have ignored the serious threat to national security which Her Majesty’s Prisons on Bridge Street posed would have been folly. One hundred years ago the Report of the Gaol and Police Commission found the building housing the Prisons to be unsuitable and inadequate for its intended purposes. In spite of recent interventions in the health care sector, we are painfully aware of the condition of Victoria and Golden Hope Hospitals. We welcome therefore the decision to build a new general hospital and a new Psychiatric Hospital in Coubaril, Castries. The most vulnerable of our population – the young and the old – need to be provided for and quickly.

But we do have a commendable profile of achievements to our credit. During the past year, we have been particularly proud of the National Television Network and the strides it has made in public service broadcasting ; of the National Skills Development Centre and its provision of training and skills development opportunities ; of the establishment of the Cultural Development Foundation ; of the Programme for the Regularisation of Unplanned Developments which has resulted in the transfer of land title to long-established illegal occupants of Public Lands : and of the improvements that the Poverty Reduction Fund is making in the quality of life of many of our rural communities.

What we are not proud of is the escalation in the crime rate, and in the increase in the incidence of child abuse, neglect and abandonment. To reduce the level of crime, the National Crime Commission was launched last month to form civic partnerships with the police who have had some success in particularly difficult areas with their community policing programmes. We can only hope that the Commission’s theme “Crime is everybody’s business” strikes that kind of chord in the consciousness of every peace-loving St. Lucian to motivate them to become personally engaged in the building of a safer nation for all through co-operation and affection for one another.

I am not sure where we went wrong, but our children, the future of our country, feel that they are not sufficiently loved or adequately cared for by the adults in society. This was revealed during the course of a Children’s Forum that was convened in preparation for the Special Session on Children held at the United Nations General Assembly in May last year. In fact, our records show that the incidence of physical and sexual abuse, neglect and abandonment of children at home in St. Lucia has increased four hundred percent during the past five years. This has been attributed to the migration of mothers, the loss of the support of the extended family, early adolescent pregnancy and unemployment. When one adds this to the alarming rate of HIV/AIDS infection among children, (14% of the cases recorded in St. Lucia last year were children under the age of 20) we know that we are courting disaster. Following upon the launch of the national chapter of the Global Movement for Children, the year 2003 has been declared by the Government of St. Lucia as The Year of the Child. We hope to make a significant impact on this sensitive issue.

Fellow St. Lucians, Ladies and Gentlemen, these are the concerns that have preoccupied our minds during the course of the past year ; these have been our successes and our failures. I have shared them with you because I strongly believe that you all would genuinely welcome an opportunity to assist in the development of the country that you call home – an interest that has been recognized by the highest authorities in the Caribbean. Indeed the theme for last year’s Conference of Governors-General and Presidents of the Caribbean Region held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines was “The West Indian Diaspora.” We discussed the history of West Indian migration, the economic and socio-cultural reality of the West Indian Overseas, the opportunity and incentives for Investment by West Indians Abroad, the part which the West Indian Diaspora can play in retrieving our history, the economic impact of financial contributions of Overseas West Indians to their native countries, the social and cultural impact of returning West Indian migrants and ways in which we could tap the resources of the West Indian Diaspora. We were guided in our discussions by such eminent persons as the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, the Governor of the Barbados Central Bank, St. Vincent’s Ambassador to the United Nations, among others. Yes, we have been talking about you, in the most positive terms, I might add. It is a clear acknowledgement on our part of the need for us to recognize, maintain and harness the many talents and resources of Caribbean nationals wherever they reside. It is for us now to work out the arrangements that would allow that type of dialogue between you and ourselves.

Perhaps I can begin by asking all of you, in your own spheres of endeavour to engage in some intelligence – gathering and analysis on our behalf. Not the cloak and dagger stuff or the James Bond stuff of international espionage, but the sourcing of information on areas like educational opportunities and institutions for example, or sharing information generated here in Canada in the area of entrepreneurial development. The Office of Private Sector Relations would welcome support in the area of Business Diagnoses, the development of Business Plans and the implementation of Business Enhancement Strategies in its programme of strengthening the private sector to make it more internationally competitive. Or you can assist in identifying persons with specific skills not readily available at home who could be approached for consultancies or technical assistance. There is also scope and opportunity for joint work and joint projects between persons resident here and organizations and institutions at home, particularly with the work being done by non-governmental organizations like the AIDS Action Foundation, St. Lucia Save the Children (LUSAVE), the Child Development Centre, the St. Lucia Crisis Centre, the Marian Home for the Elderly, the Holy Family Children’s Home, the Blind Welfare Association, the National Council for and of Persons with Disabilities, the National Community Foundation and others. As we say, the harvest is plentiful. The beauty of the new communications technologies that are now at our disposal is that you can make your contribution to the development of your native country without having to physically return home.

I therefore invite you to consider anew how you can help build our country, how you can help fashion us a people with the discipline and commitment not only to survive, but to thrive in this new world order, to lay the new groundwork and put up the new structures for a viable future for ourselves and for those who will come after us. Let us harness all our energies, our wills, our creativity, our generosity of spirit, our love of self, of neighbour and of country to secure the foothold that twenty-four years of hard work has earned us. We cannot afford to allow ourselves to be swept away by the global tide, as so much flotsam and jetsam.

My sincerest congratulations to all of you. May God continue to shine His face upon you, and may He guide you in all your endeavours.

Bonn fèt, bonn annivèsè. Mèsi, fwè èk sè. Thank you, my brothers and my sisters.


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