Address to the Nation
The Honourable Stephenson King Acting Prime Minister
July 24, 2007
My fellow Saint Lucians, Ladies and Gentlemen
The honour, privilege and pleasure is mine this evening, to address you and to provide you with a report on the state of our Nation, eight months into the term of this United Workers Party Administration.
On December 11, 2006 you elected a Government that promised to alleviate the plight of hard working Saint Lucians, who felt increasingly alienated in their own country and who had lost hope of sharing in the benefits of economic growth that seemed to benefit only a chosen few.
The fulfilment of this promise remains the overriding focus of this Administration, as set out in our agenda on April 19, 2007, when the Prime Minister; the Right Honourable Sir John Compton, delivered his Budget Address in the House of Assembly.
In that address, Sir John articulated a vision for this country that sought to bridge the rural-urban divide; reduce unemployment and poverty; give the average working man and woman the opportunity to participate and benefit in the economic development of Saint Lucia; and to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth across the nation.
Sir John’s budget address also outlined the strategy that would be adopted to bring this vision to reality.
As you are aware, Sir John took ill soon after the Budget debate was concluded and he has been away from office ever since, as he recuperates. Recently, Lady Janice Compton made a public statement on Sir John’s health and, in the coming weeks, you shall receive further updates on his progress.
Sir John, his family, and all of his Cabinet colleagues, are sincerely grateful for the prayers and expressions of support by Saint Lucians from all walks of life, irrespective of political persuasion. We know that your love and prayers have, and will continue to sustain him, during his recovery.
Despite being away from office, Sir John continues to actively monitor and provide guidance, on matters of State. Not even his current state of health deters him from giving priority to the affairs of our beloved Saint Lucia.
Since Sir John delivered the Budget Address, and notwithstanding his illness, this Administration has worked tirelessly to advance the nation’s development agenda.
As a Government, we have never wavered in our resolve, despite the various distractions that certain elements have tried to magnify, for their own selfish political ends.
There is a saying that “perseverance brings success” and so, I am pleased to inform you that the perseverance of this United Workers Party administration, in advancing the development interests of this country has already begun to pay dividends.
Tonight, I am in a position to advise you, on the progress we have made as your Government, in a number of areas during our quiet journey, over the last seven months.
Earlier today I had the privilege, together with Sir John Compton, to sign a revised Agreement with the Hess Oil Corporation that was represented at the signing ceremony by Mr. John Hess, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and Mr. Barclay Collins, Executive Vice President and General Counsel.
Today’s ceremony signalled the re-visitation of an agreement which was signed in 1977, between the Government of Saint Lucia and the Hess Corporation, that led to the construction of the Oil Trans-shipment Terminal at Cul de Sac.
Today’s signing ceremony signals that Government and Hess have now agreed to an extension of the terms and conditions of the 1977 Agreement. This extension will lead to an immediate increase in the amount paid to Government by Hess for every barrel of crude oil stored at the trans-shipment terminal.
The extended Agreement also provides for an increase in the throughput charge to be paid by Hess to Government, for all refinery products from a refinery to be built in the future, here in Saint Lucia. This throughput charge for refined products will increase from the amount stipulated in the original Agreement. The extended Agreement also makes provision for both the terminal throughput charge and the refinery throughput charge to be automatically adjusted upwards every five years.
The extension of the Agreement, therefore gives Hess the opportunity to construct a world class refinery on St Lucia. In that event, it is the intention of the Hess Corporation to institutionalise a vocational training program for Saint Lucian nationals in an endeavour that they may qualify for jobs at the refinery. Hess would also make refined Petroleum Products available at ex-refinery prices to the Government of Saint Lucia, the St. Lucia Electricity Services Limited and other customers approved by Hess, thereby enabling Saint Lucians to benefit from cheaper petroleum product prices.
We have every expectation that the Hess Corporation will avail
itself of this timely opportunity, to establish a modern merchant oil refinery
in Saint Lucia, of such magnitude to transform the socio-economic standings of
our nation and its people, in the very near future.
But while we can look positively forward to the day when we can benefit from cheaper petroleum product prices, we must at this time contend with the reality of the current trends in World oil markets.
As you may be aware, since 2003, we have all had to face up to the harsh reality of escalating oil prices. At that time, the price of US$35 per barrel was considered high. As at July 18, 2007, world oil prices had surpassed US$75/barrel, the highest price in eleven months, due largely to growing geo-political tensions in the Middle East.
Given our dependence on imported petroleum products, this trend has major implications for our economic circumstances. Mindful of the inflationary forces that might be unleashed in the economy by increased prices for petroleum products, and the disproportionate burden of rising prices on the poor, Government has thus far continued the policy of subsidizing the cost of petroleum products.
Unfortunately, this fiscal stance is clearly unsustainable and we have been consistently reminded of this fact by both the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) and most recently by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The advice of these institutions has already been heeded by our fellow oil-dependent OECS territories, where the retail prices for fuel are significantly higher than obtains here in Saint Lucia. The current regional scenario reflects that while the price of unleaded gasoline in Saint Lucia is $9.50 per gallon, the price in other Eastern Caribbean countries ranges from EC$9.75 to EC$13.09. Similarly, while the price of diesel in Saint Lucia is $8.75 per gallon, the corresponding price in sister Eastern Caribbean territories ranges from EC$8.75 to EC$11.29.
The cost to Government of subsidizing fuel prices is substantial, and this situation is not a sustainable one. Consequently Government has been approached by the Petroleum Dealers Association for a price increase, and in response, consideration is being given to the basis upon which such increases in the price of petroleum fuel products may be introduced, and the consequential implications of such increases. In due course I will advise you as soon as a decision has been made. In the meantime, I urge you to be prudent in your fuel consumption habits.
Both during the recent election campaign, and in the Prime Minister’s Budget Address, the United Workers Party made a clear commitment to pursue the restoration of the quality of life in our cities, towns and villages, and to begin to reverse the trend of deterioration that has seen the decline of our rural communities and the transformation of some sections of our towns and capital city into havens of crime and incubators of persistent poverty.
Since assuming office, this Administration has pursued this agenda, with great vigour and has concentrated its efforts on formulating specific plans for the redevelopment of Castries and Vieux Fort and for creating economic and employment opportunities in all of the towns, villages and communities throughout the country.
Yesterday, I had the honour, in the name of Sir John Compton, to declare open the first International Development Conference ever convened by the Government of Saint Lucia.
This Conference, being held over three days, brings together international development agencies such as the World Bank, international financial organizations such as the Caribbean Development Bank and the European Investment Bank and major international private investors and developers that have expressed interest in providing the financing required to underwrite Saint Lucia’s development programme.
Already, there have been commitments of financial support for our programme to revitalize and transform Castries into a major administrative and commercial centre and duty-free dedicated cruise ship port. In addition, further interest have been expressed in our plan to build a major new cruise ship facility in Vieux-Fort and to create the infrastructure necessary to support the construction of seven to ten thousand new hotel rooms in the south of the country and to build information and communications technology parks near all of the major towns and villages to provide jobs for our young people.
By the time this Conference is over, we expect to identify sources of financial support for many of our development initiatives that would involve investment by private sector developers utilizing their own capital through partnerships with the Government and statutory corporations.
This approach will enable us to mobilize the large amounts of capital resources required to fund our development, without Government having to incur unnecessary debt, because this Administration inherited an unacceptably high burden of national debt from the former Labour Party Administration.
Recognizing the importance of encouraging investment that will lead to the creation of jobs throughout the length and breadth of this country, and especially in our rural communities, that for years, despite the growth boasted about by the former Administration, only sunk deeper and deeper into poverty … this Administration has engaged in negotiations with major resort developers.
These negotiations have been successful and will soon bear fruit in the form of major new resort developments that are earmarked for Fond d’Or Bay, ESCAP and Fond Estate, Troumassee and for River Doree. Together, these new resort developments are expected to create 1,500 construction jobs over the next three years and 2,000 permanent hotel and tourism jobs thereafter, in towns and communities throughout the Country.
While we continue to see an influx of private capital from overseas, especially into the resort sector, the domestic private sector is also continuing to demonstrate its confidence in the economic prospects of this Country.
Supported by generous development incentives from Government, Hebah Limited; a St. Lucian owned investment group, is expected to break ground for the construction of the Baywalk Development at Rodney Bay within the next month.
This major commercial, tourism and residential development is expected to cost in excess of EC$80 million for both construction and outfitting. The Developer has indicated that 200 persons will be employed during the construction period and that 800 permanent jobs will be created thereafter.
Another major project that will commence in the next two months, involves the complete redevelopment of the Rodney Bay Marina, by its new owners. The estimated cost of this development is well in excess of US$180 million dollars and will encompass the addition of new yacht berthing facilities, as well as the construction of hotel rooms and residential units. Over 500 permanent jobs will be created while an estimated 300 persons will be employed during the construction period.
To further prepare our communities for development and to provide support for our hard-working farmers, an initiative that was given priority in the Budget Address, will soon materialize.
This programme involves the reconstruction and improvement of approximately 30 kilometres or 15 miles of feeder and agricultural roads, in over twelve communities across the island. This road project is to be implemented with funding from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.
Following extensive discussions with the Kuwait Fund, we are pleased to report that an agreement has also been reached, that will enable us to expedite the process of contracting suitable local firms to implement the works. It is now anticipated that the works, estimated to cost over EC$36 million dollars, should commence by October of this year.
Although a call for tenders for the construction of the new general hospital was made by the previous Administration, we discovered upon assuming office that the budget allocated under the Financing Agreement between the Government of Saint Lucia and the European Commission was grossly inadequate. As a consequence, an award of contract for construction of the new general hospital could not be made, unless additional funds to the extent of EC$50 million dollars were found.
Since assuming office, this Administration has re-engaged the European Commission in negotiations on financing for the Hospital project, and I am pleased to announce that these negotiations have finally borne fruit as funds, previously deemed by the European Commission to be inaccessible by Saint Lucia, have now been made available for the construction of the new hospital.
The availability of these additional funds now clears the way for the eventual award of a contract for the construction of this new health facility. It is anticipated, that arrangements with the European commission will be concluded within the next 3 months making it possible for actual construction work to commence by January 2008.
During the Budget Address, Sir John Compton announced plans for the re-establishment of a Saint Lucia Development Bank.
In times past, that institution did much to assist Saint Lucians in establishing or expanding their agricultural, commercial and other business enterprises. Sadly, the Development Bank was absorbed into the Bank of Saint Lucia and, in the process, the important function that it played, disappeared. No other institution has assumed the mandate and role of the Development Bank, but this is about to change, as plans are well under way to re-establish a successor institution by the first quarter of 2008.
The re-establishment of a Development bank is critical at this time, as it is a priority of Government to ensure that local entrepreneurs and business people, especially those involved in small and medium sized businesses are in a position to take advantage of the many opportunities for investment, that will be created as a result of the ambitious development programme that will be initiated by Government.
A specific responsibility of the Development bank will be to provide support to Saint Lucian business people who wish to participate in the development initiatives, being promoted by Government throughout the country. These opportunities cannot be allowed to go to foreign investors only, and therefore every effort will be made to ensure the full participation of Saint Lucians in the economic development of their country.
It is this same philosophy of economic empowerment of the people of Saint Lucia, that has dictated the approach of this United Workers Party Administration to the reformation of the water sector.
I am sure that we all will agree, that the service being provided by the Water and Sewerage Authority is not adequate and that steps must be taken to reform the water sector, so that a reliable and reasonably priced service is provided to all our communities.
This Administration, upon assuming office, was presented with a plan prepared by the previous Labour Party Administration to privatize the water sector by selling sixty percent (60%) of the shares of a privatized water company to overseas investors with the remaining forty percent (40%) of the shares being owned, twenty percent (20%) by Government and twenty percent (20%) by the National Insurance Corporation.
While this Administration accepts that privatization is necessary, if the amount of capital required to modernize the water sector, to provide a high quality service is to be secured, and if the high quality of management that is required is also to be attracted, we do not accept that this has to be done at the expense of the loss of national control of such a strategic asset.
As a consequence, this Administration will continue the process of privatization of the water sector, however, instead of sixty percent (60%) of the shares being sold to the overseas private sector as was proposed by the previous Labour Administration, only forty percent (40%) of these shares will now be made available for purchase by the overseas private sector, with twenty percent (20%) being reserved for the Saint Lucians and the Saint Lucian private sector.
This approach will ensure that national control over the water sector is preserved, through a re-allocation of the Company shares. In this regard, twenty percent (20%) of the shares will be owned by Saint Lucians and the Saint Lucia private sector, another twenty percent (20%) by Government and twenty percent (20%) by the National Insurance Corporation, making a total of sixty percent (60%) of the shares that will be under the control of Saint Lucians.
The commitment of this Administration, to the empowerment of Saint Lucians, is reflected in all dimensions of the economic and social life of the nation.
We have recently come out of the Carnival Season, during which time we were treated to an impressive display of talent and imagination, from the colourful costumes of the Carnival bands to the wit and “picong” of the calypsos.
The fact that this Administration has significantly increased the level of funding allocated to Carnival, bears testimony to the confidence that we place in the talent and ability of our people, in the area of the Arts and Culture. We are heartened by the immediate improvement in the quality of Carnival, as a result of the increase in funding and in this regard, it is our intention to continue to increase the level of resources allocated to this sector, so as to do everything possible to promote the arts and entertainment, as an industry in its own right.
While this Administration will do its utmost to promote the development agenda that was defined in the Budget Address by Sir John Compton, we must; of necessity, view all of our efforts in the context of the international and regional relationships that, to a large extent, define the economic space within which we can operate.
As you may be aware, I participated in a U.S./CARICOM “Conference on the Caribbean” which was held in Washington from June 19 to June 21.
This conference provided an excellent forum for discussion among the various leaders of the region on issues common to our development, such as the promotion and acceleration of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the deepening of trade and functional cooperation with our North American and Latin American counterparts.
A major opportunity provided by the conference, was for regional leaders, to meet with the US Secretary of State, Ms. Condoleezza Rice and President George Bush to discuss US-Caribbean cooperation on a number of issues including trade, the threat of terrorism and drug trafficking via the Caribbean route to the US mainland, education and issues of migration.
These discussions were extremely fruitful and I expect that the unified commitment expressed by all parties to tackling these common threats, will help to ensure a more secure society for us all.
During my visit to Washington, I also took the opportunity as Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, to attend a specially-convened ceremony for the signing of a Credit Agreement between the Government of Saint Lucia and the World Bank, for the implementation of a Skills Enhancement Project. This project, involves the implementation of a structured training, certification and accreditation programme that will embrace at least 1,600 young persons in the hospitality, information technology, agricultural and construction sectors of our economy.
This “Skills for Inclusive Growth” project will improve the knowledge and skills of beneficiaries, to encourage the transition of young people into the labour market. The project will be structured to ensure that the needs of the private sector dictate the nature and quality of the training to be delivered.
With the theme of the conference being “Functional Co-operation: A community for all”, I made an appeal to the Heads of Government to become more engaged in informing and educating the populace about the workings of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), and about the benefits that were likely to be derived from its implementation.
Furthermore, in light of public concern over the potential negative impact associated with the implementation of the CSME, I expressed the hope that the Development Fund, as well as the provisions of the Special Regime for Less Developed Countries under Article 158 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, will be made operational within the shortest possible timeframe, to cushion any negative impacts that might arise.
The Heads of Government meeting also provided the opportunity for further discussion on the future of LIAT.
For our people, the ability to travel freely, and at a reasonable cost within the region, is an important issue. Caribbean people feel, and rightly so, that they have the right of easy access to territories within our region, as we are so intimately related; not only by virtue of geography, but also by virtue of history and culture.
This is the basic principle upon which this Administration has approached the issue of regional travel, and it explains our position in being extremely circumspect in our support for the merger of LIAT and Caribbean Star Airlines that occurred under the watch of the previous Labour administration.
This merger has resulted, for all intents and purposes, into a monopoly situation, as a result of which our citizens are being asked to pay much higher prices, for a much reduced and less convenient service.
As a consequence, this Administration has invited American Eagle to provide a service between Saint Lucia and some of our sister territories and notably Barbados and Trinidad. This facilitates interconnection with international flights and makes it possible for business people and other citizens to make one-day trips to these countries, travelling in the morning and returning in the evening - a convenience to which they had become accustomed, but which has been lost as a result of the LIAT/Caribbean Star merger.
We have also been exploring the possibility of alternative means of travel between the islands utilizing fast ferry services, and we propose to lend every support to an initiative in this regard being spearheaded by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
To date, I have been very encouraged by the receptiveness to our ideas being demonstrated by the international community. Contrary to what is being suggested in some quarters, the level of interest in investing in our country is extraordinarily high and I have been extremely encouraged, by the type and quality of initiatives that are under consideration, and I am confident that these will expand and broaden our economic base at quite a phenomenal rate.
Indeed, our challenge as a Government will be to ensure that we co-ordinate all of these initiatives, in a manner that will provide the maximum development impact for our country and bring about the greatest possible improvement in the living standards of all of our people.
I am fully aware, that despite the progress made to date, there is public concern about the ability of this Administration to continue to focus on its development agenda, in light of the health condition of Sir John Compton, our Prime Minister, and other recent political developments.
As you have been advised by Lady Janice Compton, Sir John is on the road to recovery and we owe him every opportunity to recuperate fully. We are all however mindful of Sir John’s age, and I wish to give you the assurance, that when the time comes for transition to new leadership, the United Workers Party, as a mature political organisation, will make this transition in accordance with democratic party procedures and with the best interests of the country at heart.
Some elements have attempted to create mountains out of political mole-hills for their own purposes, but I am certain that the account of the stewardship of this Administration, that I have provided this evening, has reassured you that this Administration has continued to work, and to work effectively, despite the obviously unexpected absence from office of our Prime Minister, Sir John Compton.
Sir John’s absence has made it necessary to reallocate a number of ministerial portfolios and this reallocation has been underpinned by the philosophy that, while Cabinet and the political directorate provides policy guidance and oversight, the responsibility for driving and implementing the development agenda rests with the Public Service.
This is precisely why we have spent our first few months in office putting in place a programme to re-fashion the Public Service, in a manner which will ensure greater levels of productivity and efficiency. At this stage in the process, this Administration is satisfied with the technical capacity of the Public Service team that has been assembled.
It is precisely because of the support of an experienced team of public officers, that I can give the assurance that though challenging, the portfolios that I hold as Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, International Financial Services, External Affairs, Home Affairs and National Security are being effectively managed.
I am aware that the Home Affairs and National Security portfolio is under particular scrutiny for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the preservation of Law and Order is one of the primary responsibilities of any Government.
With respect to Law and Order, this Administration has moved decisively.
Upon assumption of office this administration inherited a Police Force, in which eight British senior police officers had been engaged; not as advisors, but as operational officers. Their engagement represented the acceptance by the former Labour Party Administration that there was a lack of management capacity in the upper echelons of the Police Force.
We also inherited a situation in which most of the senior management team of Saint Lucian Officers had accumulated significant amounts of vacation leave, which, in the context of Public Service regulations, is unacceptable.
In these circumstances, the decision was taken to re-deploy the Senior British Officers into operational positions, while putting in place measures to ensure that the leave balances of senior Saint Lucian officers were reduced to acceptable levels.
Let me emphasize however, that this decision will not undermine the primary objective of ensuring that we build local capacity at all levels of the Police Service, particularly at the senior management level.
All the British Officers are being understudied by Saint Lucian Officers, and the capacity of the force is being built up through a process that includes skills upgrading, mentoring and promotions. Recently, long awaited promotions were announced for the Gazetted ranks of the Police Force and in the coming weeks promotions for the other ranks of the Force will be addressed.
We are confident that the men and women who serve as the guardians of Law and Order, will continue to rise to the challenge and record increasing levels of success, in our battle to rid ourselves of the terrible scourge of crime and lawlessness.
Recently, the entire nation was shocked by the tragic killing of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Physical Development, Mrs. Marcia Philbert-Jules. Mrs. Philbert-Jules was a dedicated and long-serving Public Servant, who will be greatly missed. On behalf of the Government of Saint Lucia, I once again extend sincerest condolences to her family, her friends and colleagues.
Despite the tragic nature of her passing, it was of some small consolation that the Police were able to make such rapid progress in solving this brutal crime. We should all be seriously concerned about the fact that those arrested and charged, are so young.
The message from this is clear. The maintenance of law and order is a shared responsibility, and we; the Saint Lucian public, must play our part in both preventing, and solving crimes. Your Government will do all that is possible, to ensure that persons wishing to provide information to the Police, will be able to do so without fear of reprisals.
With respect to the matter of juvenile offenders, this Administration intends to engage all relevant stakeholders in dialogue in order to identify workable solutions to this problem. We cannot allow the youth of this country to descend en masse into crime, as this would spell the death-knell for our society.
On the subject of law and order I must also emphasize the policy of this Administration, that all must be equal before the law regardless of the office that they hold or of their position in society and that there must be justice for all. There is no doubt that this United Workers Party has demonstrated its adherence to this policy, despite the cost or the political embarrassment.
My fellow St Lucians, I have attempted to address some important national issues regarding the development and governance of this country. It is the intention of this Administration, in the future, to update you on our progress.
As Sir John Compton reminded us in his Budget Address, these are challenging times, but these are also exciting times, because there are real opportunities for us to take this country forward.
No matter how well-intentioned, no political administration can realize the kind of transformation that we seek for this country all on its own. We must work together, the Government of the day, hand in hand with you, the people, who have given us the opportunity to serve.
I ask you for your continued support, so that our ambitions for this country can be realized. I also ask for God’s blessings upon us all and upon our beautiful Saint Lucia.
Thank You , Good Night and may the Lord richly bless us all.
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