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2000 New Year's Day Message

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My dear brothers and sisters

Mamai Sent Lisi

We have just spent a peaceful and relatively crime-free Christmas and New Year, and it is appropriate as we enter the year 2000 to give thanks to God and to all of our hard-working keepers of the peace who worked tirelessly to make it so. Our Police reported that the crime rate dropped significantly this year and we expect, as Government and communities give more support to our Police Force, that this trend can be maintained.


So much has already been said about this year 2000 that it has become a tired cliché. It is enough to recognize that a year that featured for so long in people’s imagination has finally come. And it has brought with it very different challenges than any other period in history. Even before the year 2000, we have felt the effects of the future. Our banana industry has been rocked by the challenges of globalization; our manufacturing industries have to become regionally and internationally competitive with the removal of protectionist barriers; our education system is undergoing significant reform to create globally competitive minds; our tourism industry has had to adapt to maintain its competitive edge.

But we are laying the basis for a secure but diversified economic future. A whole new area of economic activity will commence with the launching of international financial services. All treaties and agreements have now been signed to enable St. Lucia to enter this market. The Free Zone in Vieux Fort that is being constructed with the generous assistance of the People’s Republic of China will be handed over to the government and people of St. Lucia in March 2000 – thus laying the basis for yet another new area of economic activity and opportunity. Later this month ground breaking work on the construction of the National Stadium in the South, and in February the National Cricket Ground in the North will commence. These two projects will lay the basis for new platforms of performance and achievement by our sports men and sportswomen.

Every precaution has been taken by government to address the dangers in the Y2K bug and we are confident that all major public sector computer systems have been safeguarded.

So we enter this new age with much that has already changed and with much effort already put into making our society itself Y2K compliant. We can expect that this new era will be marked, above all, by rapid and accelerated change. In every area of our lives, we will be forced to make changes to accommodate to this fast changing reality – and it is important that all of us, within our personal lives, within our business lives, within our politics, within our world view rise to that challenge. To fail to do this would condemn us from our present condition of dependence to a condition of irrelevance.


This government has not flinched from making the difficult decisions that are needed to ensure that we are prepared and capable of surviving in this new challenging environment. Some of the decisions we have taken have not been easy or necessarily popular but they have been necessary. The debate surrounding the introduction of controlled gaming is one example. The previous government was committed to introducing it; the Labour party in opposition opposed it. The current realities in tourism trends worldwide make it impossible for any significant expansion of the industry to be achieved without this form of entertainment. There is nothing contradictory about that – what one opposed then may not be what one should oppose now. Too much is changing and too fast for us to remain locked in frozen postures of the past. And this is as much a lesson for us in government as it is for those who are now in opposition. The challenges of the new age for governance and for politics is to rise to new heights of statesmanship; to recognize what is in the national interest and to have the unmitigated courage to embrace it as good for the country.

Hard and difficult decisions have been made with respect to the provision of water in this country. Water is essential to the future, but the needs of the future cannot be provided without significant investment. It did not help either that the water sector was saddled with millions of dollars of debt. The stark reality is that the Caribbean Development Bank, the World Bank, and other international funding agencies, all told us that they would not lend any additional funds to WASCO until its financial viability is assured. It is either we clean it up or allow it to die. And so we have done what we had to do to assure that future and we have done it with due consideration to its effect on the disadvantaged. That is why we are writing off millions of dollars owed by ordinary consumers, providing free connections for the first six months of the New Year, giving concessions to persons who settle their commitments on time as well as allowing a grace period for those unable to do so promptly. There are no international donors for water – it is our responsibility to provide this for ourselves and we must do so on the strength of our own resourcefulness. A good and clean water supply cannot be a "freeness" supply.

Let us have no illusions about the policy of this government and let me restate it unambiguously for all: We are unequivocally committed to providing a better life for all St. Lucians and we will do so by removing exploitation where it exists and by inculcating responsibility where it is needed. Those who don’t get it refer to it as the Kenny and Tony Syndrome but to us it is an expression of the balance of compassion, firmness and fiscal responsibility that we strive to achieve.


The stand of the government on the exploitation of consumers in the communications industry was clearly articulated and we have consistently followed through on our obligations to the electorate on this score. International rates have been reduced dramatically and now, later this month, the newly agreed domestic telephone rates that will bring much relief to ordinary St. Lucians will be announced. And there is more to come – the Internet is the pavement of the information superhighway and the rates there are also being renegotiated to enable more St. Lucians to travel in cyberspace.


Government has also finalized a team that will undertake a review of the operations of Lucelec. The team will be headed by Professor Ken Julien, a retired Professor of Electrical Engineering of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago. It will include the famous consumer and public utility expert Mr. Wendell McClean of UWI, Cave Hill, Barbados. He will be the Government’s representative on the Review Team. The third member of the team is Mr Joel Huggins, Managing Director of the Saint Vincent Electricity Company Limited. He will be representing Lucelec. It is expected that the Team will commence work early in the New Year and, in keeping with government’s commitment to openness, public hearings will be held at the appropriate time. We expect this exercise to lead to further improvement in the company’s efficiency to deliver a cost effective service and more equitable electricity rates for ordinary consumers.


We are fortunate as a nation that all of our country’s former leaders are still alive and with us. I have, on certain occasions in the past, stated this government’s intention to review the status and standing of former Heads of Government who have retired from active politics. I intend to propose to Cabinet that Government appoints a three-person committee comprising one representative of the SLP, one representative of the UWP, and an independent citizen to undertake this exercise and make recommendations on the extension of appropriate privileges and recognition to them.


As a government we are learning that one cannot be all things to all men. There have been moments when we have faltered in trying to do the right things for the right reasons but did not necessarily use the best of approaches. Our fundamental commitment to the people of Saint Lucia to provide good government, to engage the public more in matters of the public interest, to ensure greater accountability, remains unchanged. Both government and opposition must learn to cope with the immense challenges that this new era is posing for small developing countries and both sides must summon the courage to speak and do what is in the national interest. As a government we will continue to reach out to all in an effort to build national consensus on major issues.

As individuals, the year 2000 brings equally great challenges for us all. Much will change in our ways of working, our habits of doing, our lifestyles and our traditions of thinking. Education is becoming the most fundamental imperative of the times – each of us must make a commitment to himself or herself to seek to improve our level of learning, to broaden our knowledge and to raise our skills level. We must also pledge to develop new levels of tolerance and understanding – the United Nations has declared year 2000 as the Year for a Culture of Peace and Understanding. Tolerance and understanding begins with each of us in our daily interaction with each other and is sorely needed in every dimension of our lives: on our roads, in our workplaces, in our places of entertainment, in our schools and in our homes. There are far too many cases of intolerance in a society as small as ours: political intolerance, religious intolerance, domestic intolerance, and geographic intolerance.

It only leaves me at this stage to wish every St. Lucian both at home and abroad, all of our visitors and friends a Happy and Prosperous New Year. Let us enter the new age with optimism of will and determination of purpose so that we can successfully navigate the challenges and the change.



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