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(CMC) – Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has called for unity among all St. Lucians as he predicted a predicted a year of significant socio-economic development for the island.
“As we begin the new year and on the eve of what I confident will be a defining moment in the economic and social development of St. Lucia, I urge that we all come together and begin to build the new St. Lucia that has become the battle cry for our government,” Chastanet said in a 25-minute radio and television address on Sunday night.
“We cannot solve the problems of our country in isolation. It’s a holistic adjustment that we must make in how we approach the business of our country. If we make these needed adjustments, it will amount to a significant change in the overall result.”
He told St. Lucians that during 2019, millions of dollars will be spent updating and rebuilding existing infrastructure that will also allow for the development of young people in the areas of education and sports, as well as providing employment in the tourism and other sectors of the economy.
He said for example, there are plans to re-develop the capital more than 70 years after it had been destroyed by the “great fire” and which at present, still facilitates “temporary” structures that had been erected.
“We also need to ensure that more of the over 600,000 cruise ship visitors we receive annually, actually come off the ships, visit our city and spend with our vendors,” he said, noting that while the expansion work at Point Seraphine has allowed for large cruise vessels being accommodated “new and bigger ships with the capacity for carry 600,000 passengers are coming into the sector”.
“We must be ready to receive them,” Chastanet said, adding that the facility is now proving to be inadequate and “we have to re-invest in Point Seraphine and expand our investment to also include the products, services and recreational opportunities in the Castries area”.
Chastanet said that the southern section of the island would continue to be the center of investment opportunities for St. Lucia and that the Hong Kong-based Desert Star Holdings Ltd (DSH) project, which the government has termed “Pearl of the Caribbean” project and “one of the most adventurous and ambitious projects in the Caribbean” has started.
He said the race horse sector of the US$2.6 billion initiative has started ”and we are getting set to upgrade Hewanora International Airport to the tune of US$170 million”.
“The existing terminal will be transformed into a charter terminal. We will also build a fixed based operation for private jets. We have reached an agreement in principle with Carnival Cruise Lines for the construction of a cruise ship port in Vieux Fort (south of here).”
Chastanet told citizens “with this in place, people will be able to get off their chartered flights and go straight on to the cruise ships within minutes. This will give our island a strategic advantage in the region,” he said, adding that this year, the south will also observe a surge in job creation with a number of projects coming on stream.
In his address, Chastanet said that the economy has shown signs of improvement with the tourism sector “recording in 2017, the highest number of arrivals ever” with more than one million visitors being recorded”.
“This surge in tourism has resulted in St. Lucia regaining its position as a leading tourism destination in the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States),” he said, adding that banana exports “are at their highest in several years.
“There’s a strong rebound in construction, and the manufacturing sector is picking up again. All contributing to the lowest level of unemployment recorded since 2007. We anticipate that unemployment levels will continue to fall as investment plans continue to be implemented in 2019,’ Chastanet said.
But he acknowledged that there are constraints to growth and his administration is doing its part to tackle those issues and be accountable.
“We have engaged the private and public sectors in an in-depth exercise of developing a medium term strategy, which encourages accountability.
“If we are to think of the economy doubling and tripling in size, we have to look at the stark reality of what would prevent that from happening and address it,” Chastanet said.