Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre says despite the country’s financial struggles in deep debt and the deadly effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Saint Lucians still have a chance to make 2022 a better year by grabbing new opportunities and making renewed efforts to create a new agenda for national social and economic transformation.
In his first New year Address as Prime Minister under the theme ‘Our People and Nation Will Overcome’, Pierre said now that Saint Lucians have broken with the past with the election of a new government with a very sizeable mandate, the nation needs to work together to fulfill achievable objectives through seemingly perilous times.
Looking back, the Prime Minister said 2021 saw the COVID-19 virus mutate into several variants that “created an atmosphere of illness, fear, loneliness and social and economic despair brought on by the restrictions and protocols that hindered our natural tendencies to be social human beings.”
Describing 2021 as “very difficult and challenging” given the negative effects of the pandemic on the health and economic sectors of the country and the grief felt by families, following the tragic death of their loved ones, he urged the nation to brace for the economic reverberation of 20 months of COVID and its various variants.
He said the year has begun with “a sovereign debt burden of over $3.9Billion and over $500Million of other debt commitments”, plus the unfinished St. Jude Hospital and the Hewannorra International Airport Re-Development projects, both already experiencing rising costs “above and beyond what was originally planned.”
“Getting our public finances in order,” the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Development said, “will take a herculean task of policy coherence, strategic communications and consultations, efficient implementation, resource mobilization, elimination of corruption, transparency, and accountability, to achieve better economic outcomes for our nation and economy.”
Alluding to the significance of the sizeable mandate given to the new administration on July 26, 2021, PM Pierre said the last General Elections “heralded a break with the past…. that we do not wish to return to, in which special interests and families dictated public policy.”
He added, “The people of Saint Lucia voted, with a substantial mandate through the democratic process, a new slate of men and women to plot a different political, economic, social, and national agenda for our country.
He said in the new dispensation, “We must resolve to develop a country based on inclusiveness, meritocracy, equity, and justice.”
According to the PM, “The pandemic years, coupled with misguided policies, have made planning for the future difficult.”
However, he said the government “has hit the ground running” and has been able to deliver on a number of promises, including:
“Meeting the cost of facilities fees and CXC fees for Math and English, more laptops for students, housing assistance for the most-needy, a reprieve of rental arrears for the CDC tenants, reduced cost of telecoms bundles, additional resources in the fight against COVID and extended vehicle concessions to our hard-working front-line personnel.”
The Prime Minister reiterated that “2022 must be a year of national reassessment, rebirth and recalibration,” but also noted it is “pregnant with opportunities…” and “as a country, we must ensure that this opportunity given by the majority of the people creates an agenda of transformation…”
PM Pierre noted that the nation “will have to live with the pandemic while addressing the systemic shortfalls in education, healthcare, social justice, governance, and infrastructure,” but maintained that his administration had started turning the corner and it would require a joint national effort to take the country through what’s left of another pandemic year.