Prime Minister's 2001 New Years' Message
Prime Minister’s 2001 New Years’ Message
My fellow St. Lucians, brothers and sisters,
This has not been the best new year for us and for our country. We closed the year 2000 on a sad note, one of the saddest chapters in our the history of our people. The events of the past week will continue to haunt most of us. Be that as it may, we as a nation, as a people, have to collect ourselves, brace ourselves and move on. Life must go on. There is work to be done, even while we nurse psychological scars, even while we counsel each other, even while we think and feel the pain and anguish of that horror.
As we start this new year, it is fitting that we pause, and look back on the distance that we walked in the year 2000, and to fix our gaze on the road we are yet to travel for 2001 and beyond.
Just as it is important for individuals to take stock of themselves, to focus on failures and successes and to re-assess personal goals, so it is essential that we make a collective assessment of how far we have come together as a government and people, to re-affirm our ideals and to prepare ourselves for the work ahead.
Nothing can be more compelling of our need for deep thought and reflection than the events at the cathedral on the morning of the last day of last year. Our country is still trying to come to terms with the events of that fateful morning. But please allow me to sound a note of caution. Despite our collective grief, our incalculable pain, our unbearable trauma, our justifiable outrage, we must be careful not to allow ourselves to be inspired by motives of revenge. We must be unflinching in our commitment to fairness, to observing and respecting the guarantees of our Constitution, particularly those provisions that extend fundamental rights to our citizens.
Whilst we continue to ponder the motives of the perpetrators, the incident has taught us some strong lessons, like that from a stern teacher. Among the lessons is the need for us to create a more tolerant and inclusive society, a society less prone to violence and hatred, a society in which we care more deeply for our fellow human beings, a society in which we respect our differences: our differences in religious beliefs, cultural orientations and lifestyles.
The lesson sent to us on the last day of the old Millennium was that we need to create a world, which, according to His Grace Archbishop Kelvin Felix, which is less concerned with material acquisition and individual greed and selfishness.
And finally, the lesson sent to us on the morning of December 31st was that we need to do more to reach out to the impoverished and marginalized youth in our society. In particular, we have, over the last few years, allowed our young males to languish idly by the roadsides, growing ever more resentful of the structures of order and authority and our many other cherished institutions.
As a Government, we have articulated a National Youth Policy after widespread consultation. To tap the obvious energies of our youth, we are providing more modern sporting facilities including a new National Stadium, and a new National Cricket Ground. We also continue to improve upon existing facilities such as providing new pavilions for the Vieux Fort playing field. There has also been a resurgence of schools sports with competitions at primary, under 15 and under 19 levels. We are working too at rejuvenating the club structures on the island to provide avenues for young persons, particularly those outside the formal school systems, to engage in constructive activities.
Later this month, a Skills Training Centre to retrain our young people and to impart new skills specifically suited to the age of information and technology, will finally be opened. This is very timely. However, these initiatives, though important, are by themselves, not enough.
We need to do much more in this new year. For example, we need to engage our youth in dialogue and to devise structures to bring them back to the bosom of our cherished beliefs and values. We need to challenge them and meet their challenges. Most importantly, we need to find a way to re-establish in our youth, the need for non-violent and more positive responses to their social grievances. This simple has to be done. The task of tapping and positively channelling the energies and talents of our youth is one in which every major institution has a role to play: the family, the schools, the church and community organisations. This task calls for a common united approach and I ask all well-meaning St. Lucians to commit themselves to assisting the government in this effort in the year 2001. I repeat, it simply has to be done, lest we want to continue sitting on a powder bag with a short fuse.
THE SCOURGE OF CRIME
Equally we must never allow crime and anti-social behaviour to overwhelm us. Crime and social order cannot co-exist, particularly in an economy like ours that is heavily dependent on tourism. We have to provide an environment of tranquility for Saint Lucians and visitors. Successive governments in this country have laboured mightily to build a tourist industry which, within the last five years, has shown spectacular growth in both product as in the number of visitors and other, people who enjoy our safe, healthy and beautiful environment.
We cannot, therefore, allow the miasma of crime to establish itself in our peaceful country. At all levels, wherever it manifests itself, crime must be rooted out.
Saint Lucia will not become a country in which we are at war against everyone and life is solitary, nasty, brutish and short. Nor will this government permit criminals to undo our upward path of economic development, which has made Saint Lucia one of the most pleasant and comfortable societies in which to live.
Let me warn those who have responsibility to maintain law and order that they too must be above suspicion, because if we cannot place confidence in the gatekeepers of our society as well as the guardians of law and order, who then can we trust?
Our fight against crime will not succeed unless there is an amicable working relationship between the police and civilian communities.
Law enforcement and the civilian community have become too remote from each other. Law enforcement officers cannot solve crimes unless they receive useful information and useful information will only be provided if the providers of such information respect and trust our law enforcement officers.
This year, Government will establish a National Anti Crime Commission to assist in fashioning solutions to the problems of crime. Dr Ramesh Deosaran, Director of the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine Campus, has agreed to work with the Government on the establishment of such a Commission.
We shall solicit the views of the entire country and try to mobilise every citizen of our country to protect our country’s development, as well as those precious Constitutional freedoms which many people have shed their blood to win and to maintain.
In addition to this the Criminal Code is being reviewed and police service to be reformed, I now propose to establish, immediately, a new Rapid Response Unit attached to the Gros Islet police station, dedicated exclusively to prevent and reduce crime in the tourism sector and to respond to reports of criminal activity.
The Unit will comprise three new vehicles to be purchased by Government and ten personnel clothed and armed with the appropriate police powers and authority.
I wish to emphasise, however, that even while government continues to work with the tourism sector on security matters, the hotels also have a duty to protect their guests on their properties and must ensure that their own security arrangements are adequate.
Brothers and Sisters, as I said earlier, whilst we ponder the events of the last two weeks, we should not allow these to dwarf the major strides which we have made together as a people over the past year. At the beginning of the year 2000, we were firm in our conviction that we were coming to the end of a long process of adjustment. If the years 1997 to 1999 were the years of planting the seeds of change, then the year 2000 was the year when we saw the first small shoots of that change beginning to sprout. The year 2001 promises to provide us with a bountiful harvest as a reward for our toil and sweat over the years.
Over the last few years, our society and economy have undergone a quiet transition designed to meet the new demands of the world economy. We have not been alone in this task. All the governments of the Caribbean have been pre-occupied with re-adjusting our societies to the demands of global change. Whilst countries such as Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados began this process of adjustment much earlier, we in St. Lucia and the Windward Islands were given a breathing space because our banana industry continued to enjoy favourable terms of trade on the global market.
However, global economic realities eventually caught up with us. Whilst in the past there was always an awareness of the need for adjustment, it was only in the last three and a half years that concrete steps were taken to place St. Lucia in a position to respond to the new challenges of the global economy.
My fellow St. Lucians, we should really be proud of the way we have managed our transition. Whilst a similar process of transition resulted in widespread social unrest in Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, and Jamaica in the 1980s and in Barbados in the early 1990s, the last three and a half years have seen comparative political peace and industrial tranquility in St. Lucia.
The attainment of industrial peace and social stability is no small feat. In particular, I thank our trade unions and other civic groups for the maturity with which they have responded to the need for adjustment. This, I repeat, is no small or insignificant achievement.
FREE SPEECH AND RESPONSIBILITY
I also wish to commend all St. Lucians for taking advantage of the existing atmosphere of dialogue and free expression as a means of communicating their needs to the government. This has helped all of us to cope with the pressures of adjustment and is reflective of our growing maturity as a people.
The government has benefited tremendously from your comments and opinions over the electronic media over the past year. We have been listening and we have given thought to many of your suggestions simple as they may sound, they can in fact go a long way and are important. For example, we heard a suggestion that our pedestrian crossings should be painted luminously in order to make them more visible to motorists. We heard another suggestion that we need to speed up public sector reform to make the Civil Service more responsive to the needs of the public. We heard a call for the establishment of a permanent negotiating machinery in order to bring quick and efficient resolution to industrial disputes involving the public service and the problems confronting our society. And we have followed closely the public debate about the state of our police service.
However, as I have always maintained, whilst we take advantage of the new atmosphere of free expression, we also have to be conscious of the responsibilities that go with these freedoms. Increased rights inevitably invite greater responsibilities. Our freedom of speech should not become a license for scandal-mongering. It should not be used as an excuse to try to destroy peoples’ lives. Our media should avoid making statements that are not supported by facts. We all need to be more aware of the tremendous social responsibility which we shoulder as leaders of public opinion and as the framers of social consciousness. We all need to demonstrate a greater degree of maturity in the way we handle the democratic structures placed at our disposal. And we must adhere at all times to the rules of civilised behaviour and common decency, even when we share political differences.
THE BURDEN OF THE FARMERS
My brothers and sisters, as we turn the corner to face the continuing new economic challenges, I want to recognise the heavy responsibility which our banana farmers have carried on their shoulders during the last few years of adjustment. The collapse of our protected market in Europe has meant that our farmers continue to see their incomes dwindle and a number of them have opted out of the banana industry. The plight of our farmers was compounded by the devaluation of the pound sterling throughout much of 2000.
Government did its best at the international and regional levels to support efforts for a better deal for farmers on the European market. We also took several measures at home to bring relief to the banana farmers as they responded to global market changes. In addition to meeting the $46 million dollars debt incurred by the former St Lucia Banana Growers’ Association (SLBGA), Government has removed all duties and taxes on inputs for the Industry, facilitated at a cost of $3 million dollars a reduction in the price of banana boxes, met the cost of spraying bananas for the past few months and constructed three modern multi-purpose Inland Reception and Distribution Centres. These IRDCs, as they are called, cost in excess of $12 million to construct, and will result in a 3% improvement in fruit quality, a $3.7 million reduction in transportation costs to farmers, and a reduction in the average time between the harvesting and the cooling of bananas from 22 hours to 8 hours.
Between 1998 and 2000, over $22 million were disbursed to Saint Lucian banana farmers for certification, purchase of inputs, construction of mini wet pack shed and other on-farm activities. As of this year, another $24 million will be made by Government available to the Banana Industry Trust, for irrigation and drainage works.
The measures already taken have already begun to bear borne fruit and there are some encouraging signs of hope for our farmers. The earliest successes of our diversification efforts are beginning to manifest themselves and we continue to search for new markets for our non-banana agricultural produce. This has been reflected in significant reductions in our food import bill.
We are also encouraged by the dramatic increases in fish produce. The further development of our fisheries industry will be enhanced with the construction of two additional fisheries complexes in Choiseul and Soufriere this year, to complement the region’s largest and most modern fisheries complex in Vieux Fort, which will come fully on stream in this new year.
Further, because we are aware that it takes time for our farmers to make the transition to new crops, the year 2001 will see a continuation of our short-term employment strategies. These strategies are designed to cushion our farmers from the shocks of change. Although some persons have disagreed with our actions, it is interesting that the European Union has pledged $2 million towards such employment strategies. The EU, like our government, recognises that something needs to be done to help cushion the transition. It is also important to mention that our STEP programme is also intended to serve as a safety-valve against youth apathy and social delinquency, such as was witnessed so graphically at the Cathedral on the morning of December 31st.
Moreover, we are also encouraged that the attrition rate in the banana industry is stabilising and that a core group of efficient producers can now be identified. More farmers are moving into the non-banana sector and establishing links as suppliers of ground provisions, fruits and vegetables to the hotel and retail sectors.
We must, however, come to terms with the realities that face us. The banana industry will survive, but it is no longer "King". We need to build-up other sectors and that’s why tourism and services are being promoted. Here too, we are beginning to see early returns. We have had a head start and we are seeing benefits and learning from the mistakes or weaknesses of others. Clearly, we are forging and fortifying the new pillars of our economy.
PRIVATE SECTOR MUST BE MORE RESPONSIBLE
, I want here to make special mention of our plans for the management of the St. Lucia Marketing Board. Government has agreed to consider the transfer the management of the Saint Lucia Marketing Board to the Saint Lucia Chamber of Commerce. I am now awaiting proposals from the Chamber and this initiative may well be the start of more direct involvement by the Chamber in the management of our economy.
As we continue to show good faith and confidence in the private sector, I ask that our business people seek as mush as possible, at all times, to give a fair and honest appraisal of our economy. Whilst the private sector has a right to safeguard the interests of its individual members, it also has a responsibility to be sincere in acknowledging our successes in managing the larger economy.
The private sector and its organisations should not turn a blind eye to the industrial peace and calm which now exists in St. Lucia. It should acknowledge that St. Lucia continues to out-perform a number of other Caribbean territories in terms of key macro-economic indicators. It should also acknowledge the serious commitment which government has undertaken to ensure dialogue and understanding between the business sector and the political directorate. It should acknowledge the significant incentives this government continues to offer to the business community in so many areas.
We ask the private sector to work with the government in devising structures to ease the burden of our farmers. For example, special discounts and credit facilities can be a positive way of both thanking the farmers for the services which they have rendered to St. Lucia as well as a way of assisting farmers to ride the rough waves of this difficult period All that being said, however,we pledge to continue to keep the dialogue with our business people open and we look forward to an atmosphere of trust, sincerity and confidence in 2001.
We have an established Office of Private Sector Relations – the only one of its kind in Caricom – to facilitate the private sector. In the year ahead, we will fashion even more ways and means to continue to draw and encourage the private sector into the national development effort.
A PIONEERING EFFORT
There is one development in the private sector that I want to single out for special mention. One local entrepreneur, Mr Linford Fevrier, has announced the establishment of a call centre in Saint Lucia – Helen IT Systems. This centre will, by March this year, employ 700 Saint Lucians. Already 450 Saint Lucians have been recruited for training commencing today, January 08. By March, this company will be the largest single private sector employer in our country. Helen IT Systems has broken new ground. This investment is only now possible with the new liberalised telecommunications environment and a government prepared to provide the necessary support, encouragement and concessions.
The addition of 700 new jobs will make a significant dent on our unemployment situation. Helen IT Systems is a pioneer! I encourage more local entrepreneurs to follow suit and break new ground, to find new niches for themselves as the new economy takes shape.
INVESTMENT IN FINANCIAL SERVICES
As I said earlier, the investment in the Financial Services Sector has begun to bear its finest fruits. I am also happy to report that, to date, more than 100 International Business Companies, two (2) International Insurance Companies, and one (1) Class A Bank have registered their companies in St. Lucia. This too is a testimony to our vision and our preparedness to be pioneers in the search for innovative and additional pillars and platforms for new economic development.
ECONOMY IN TRANSITION
Some with their own selfish, personal or political motives and modes of analysis have poured scorn on our insistence that the St. Lucian economy is in transition from Agriculture to Tourism and Services. Our assessment, however, is based on existing objective realities. The retail sector is also undergoing a significant shift as new advances in communications and transport technology allow new players to enter the sector. The internet and cheaper travel have meant that our traditional retailers are now by-passed by local consumers, who now avail themselves of less costly alternatives overseas.
We therefore urge our business sector, not to fall into the trap of following those who struggle against the forces of change. We cannot stop the world and get off. What we have to do is readjust to participate meaningfully and effectively in the new economy.
A PROSPEROUS 2001
Fellow St. Lucians, the year 2001 promises to be an exciting one in terms of the physical development of our country and the social development of our people. Many of the projects articulated in the last budget for this fiscal year are coming on stream. Here is a mere sampling of what’s in store for the year 2001 There will be major improvements to the road network throughout St. Lucia. We can all look forward to major resurfacing work on the Castries to Dennery section of the East Coast Road. The Soufriere – Vieux-Fort Highway will also be resurfaced and modernised and prequalification bids are already being invited for the first 28 kilometers from Soufriere to Choiseul and from Choiseul to Black Bay in Vieux Fort. In fact, more than $125 million will be spent on roads alone in the new year as we move to improve our national road system..
In this new year we can also look forward to the construction of jetties in three major villages in St. Lucia – Anse La Raye, Canaries and Laborie - , as we seek to strengthen our fisheries industry, and to provide jobs for the unemployed. Tenders are also already being invited for these jetties. The construction of new fisheries complexes in Choiseul and Soufriere will mark the start of a sustained campaign to develop and modernise the infrastructre of our towns and villages.
In this new year, the dream of a new general hospital, which has been shared by St. Lucians for over a decade, will come closer to reality.
In this new year our freezone complex should also be in full operation and with new parking arrangements soon to come into effect, the new car park facility will become fully operational.
Construction of three new educational institutions will commence -the ultra modern primary school at Union, the extension of the Vieux Fort Primary School, and the Technical Vocational School at Ciceron.
This year too, construction will commence on the new police stations in Micoud, Richfond, Vieux Fort and Anse la Raye. Renovations to police stations at Marigot and Canaries will also be completed this year , while work will begin shortly on the refurbishment of the police stations at Laborie and Choiseul. We shall also see the long awaited commencement of fire stations and Dennery, Micoud, Vieux Fort and Gros Islet.
In this new year, the Proud programme will get off the ground with the fulfilment of our pledge to create some 500 new homes for low and middle-income earners.
Our new cricket ground will also be completed in 2002, and our cricketers can now be exposed to the game at the highest level.
On that note, I would like to compliment the members of our local under-15 cricket team, as well as their families, for the strong account which the team gave of itself at the recent Windward Islands tournament in Trinidad and Tobago.
That’s not all. There is even more planned for this year, but this is not the time to highlight all of our development plans for 2001, so I will leave this for a more appropriate occasion, not too long from now.
RESPECT EACH OTHER
Fellow St. Lucians, as we enter the new year, let me urge all our people to show greater respect and love for each other. The last few months have seen a few isolated but very troubling episodes of crime and violence in our society. These incidents contradict the innate St. Lucian spirit of respect for the dignity of the person and sanctity of human life. We must resolve to resist even stronger the urges of greed, materialism, individualism and selfishness. We must also resolve to improve our understanding of and respect for the rights of each other. Notwithstanding the aberration of those who see and speak of human rights in political terms, we need to do more to understand what our rights are and how the law can and should be respected and protected. The legal fraternity must not appear to only champion the rights of criminals. They need to do more by way of a sustained and real genuine effort to teach and defend the people regarding their other fundamental rights as citizens of a democracy. Failing this, it will be difficult to convince people that only one set of people have rights to respect and defend while the rest of us don’t have any. This crucial, and must be addressed if we are to move.
HEIGHTENED POLITICAL ACTIVITY IN 2001
I want to end this address by wishing all Saint Lucians a peaceful 2001. I stress the word "peaceful" because I expect the year 2001 to be one of heightened political activity. As the Government’s present term of office draws closer to the time for renewal of our mandate, our people will naturally enter another cycle of political debate and discussion. I urge that level heads prevail at all times as I look forward to mature, honest and intelligent debates in the new year. I also look forward with eager anticipation to the day when I approach the St. Lucian people for a fresh mandate.
VIEUX FORT FIRE AND CATHEDRAL EPISODE
Before I close, let me offer my sympathies and support to those families from Vieux-Fort whose houses were destroyed by fire about two weeks ago. I want to commend the St. Lucia Fire Service for its valiant effort at containing the fire. I also want to commend the St. Lucia Red Cross and the Vieux-Fort Community for their instinctive response of support to the families who have suffered loss. In the midst of adversity, your outpouring of love reminded all of us of what it means to be Saint. Lucian. You have also revealed to us a spirit which we should all seek to emulate in the new year.
Let me also once again express my heartfelt sympathies to the families, friends, and fellow-believers of those who passed away and suffered injury during the attack on the worshipers at the Cathedral. We continue to pray for a speedy healing of the invisible psychological scars and the visible physical wounds of the entire body politic.
As we begin a new leg of our journey together, I wish all St. Lucians a prosperous and progressive 2001 and implore that we all continue to live in peace and harmony with each other as we all put our shoulders to the wheel in one huge effort at national development, notwithstanding our recent trials and tribulations. We have what it takes to pick up ourselves and move on. Let’s do so with all the strength of purpose that we can summon to continue to build our young nation for today and for tomorrow, for ourselves and for those to come.
Thank you, and Happy New Year!
© 2012 Government Information Service. All rights reserved.
Read our privacy guidelines.