(PRESS RELEASE VIA SNO) – Thirty-nine years ago Sir John Compton raised his arms and proudly waved our Independence Declaration signaling Saint Lucia’s entry onto the world stage as an independent nation.
Through the years since then, we have slowly adjusted to what this independence actually means and as we celebrate our 39th anniversary, it is important to examine how far we have come, where we are, and where we need to go. We must ask ourselves whether we have attained our own vision of independence.
It is true that we seized the right to determine our own destiny but until we can stand on our own, can we say that we are truly independent?
Today, we remain constrained by other shackles: poverty, unemployment, inadequate and inaccessible health care, a stagnant education system and an over-dependence on foreign support.
We also have to grapple with the challenges of global warming, largely caused by first world nations, which continues to be of grave concern to us as we lack the economic and political might to effect changes to policy in those countries.
Yet we suffer the effects of their policies. The catastrophic effects of last year’s hurricane season on our small island neighbours, which are still reeling both socially and economically, are example enough. Whilst we cannot dictate policy in those countries, we can take steps to ensure that we build a more resilient infrastructure so that we are better equipped to deal with the effects of climate change.
As the world changes, so must we.
We must learn to be confident in our ability as a nation and as a people to chart a meaningful and sustainable way forward for future generations.
Critical issues face my Government but we are determined to tackle them head on. Since being elected into office, we have seen the rate of unemployment drop but it is still far too high. One unemployed Saint Lucian genuinely looking for work is one person too many.
Crime continues to increase, in particular gang-related and domestic violence. While we are aware there are many root causes, people cannot continue to feel excluded, powerless or hopeless. We must therefore ensure that the new Saint Lucia which we pledged to build fast becomes a reality, of which everyone is a part.
This is, and always was, our government’s pledge – to improve the lives of everyday Saint Lucians and to give everyone the opportunity to succeed.
A truly mature society comprises responsible citizens who accept that each has a role to play in the development of the nation and I urge all Saint Lucians to step up and step forward.
In days gone by, communities and families were deeply intertwined. We participated more in raising our children and supported each other. Our country is long overdue for a return to the thinking that “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Nowadays people are reluctant to get involved with other people’s problems and errant children all too often morph into juvenile delinquents and worse.
I urge you all, volunteer some of your time and energies to make a contribution to your community, to your country.
No contribution is too small. We must nurture and guide the children of today and instill in them the right values which are critical to a properly functioning and equitable society.
Discipline, hard work, faith in God and sound family values are the foundation on which we have built and must continue to build our nation. Therefore as a Government we encourage Religious Knowledge in our schools and prayer in our communities.
Fellow Saint Lucians, we have had no shortage of national heroes – who embody our greatness and ability to excel – Dame Sesenne Descartes, Theresa Hall, Sir Derek Walcott, Sir Dunstan St. Omer, Sir Arthur Lewis, just to name a few.
We continue to be a free and stable democracy, and we have much to be proud of in that regard. But my Government wants your participation to forge a path to real independence where we can stand on our own two feet and achieve greatness. We need not look too far to see that this is possible.
Despite insufficient resources and limited support, some of our national athletes stand shoulder to shoulder on the global stage with the best in the world – Levern Spencer, Kimani Melius, Daren Sammy, Johnson Charles, Julien Alfred, Albert Reynolds, our young cricketers and boxers – they all continue to make us proud. In the music arena, despite challenges, Teddyson John, Ricky T, the Dennery Segment; rising stars like Migos and Mata, Mighty and Subance and Moto, have been taking our local sound across borders. And there are many others hot on their heels.
The new plans unveiled at the National Sports Awards a few days ago show this Government’s commitment to the development of the youth. We will create world-class facilities to encourage our youth to pursue their dreams and to show them that we take their goals seriously – we support them not only in our words but also in our deeds.
The evidence is clear that youngsters who are engaged early in life are unlikely to be tempted by the lure of gangs and it is our responsibility as a government and as a nation to create organized, wide-ranging community based activities for our youth. This year we are committed to launching our after-school coaching and learning programmes as well as our specialized schools with a dedication to athletics and the Arts.
On assuming office, we knew there would be hard choices ahead. I want to reassure all Saint Lucians today that we are not afraid to make them. There were no mixed messages in the election results: you wanted change, you wanted an equal chance at prosperity for everyone. And we remain resolute in our commitment to create real opportunities for all Saint Lucians.
The south of the island has been neglected for far too long. Too many have had to move to the north, too many families have been torn apart in search of opportunity whilst others have given up entirely.
Let me say to you, the people in the south: YOUR TIME HAS COME. The Desert Star Holdings project, the new cruise ship terminal, the new airport terminal, the new Fairmont Hotel in Choiseul, the new resort development at Honeymoon Beach will create jobs and opportunity the likes of which have never been seen before.
There will be exciting opportunities for restauranteurs, taxi drivers, souvenir and merchandise shop owners, farmers and fisherfolk, port workers, equine workers, tour operators and the list goes on. The horseracing track, a part of DSH, will attract enormous interest from equine enthusiasts from all over the world and Saint Lucia will benefit greatly from the increased attention.
We cannot continue to ignore the problems plaguing the south, particularly its youth, and these projects will immediately provide them with opportunities for gainful and sustained employment. They have too much unfulfilled potential and deserve to have some hope and an opportunity to realize their dreams – for they too dream of being truly independent. I am confident the development of the south will give them that opportunity to chart their own destiny.
Why should the South not have its own Rodney Bay? Its own port? Its own bustling town? An airport we can all be proud of?
If Sir John had listened to his detractors we would have no Pigeon Island Causeway, no Roseau dam, no Millennium Highway, no Rodney Bay marina and many other projects. Naysayers are so called because they never believe and consequently they never achieve. But as I have often stated, change does not usually come easily or without resistance. Left to the opposition, we would still be a colony. Imagine they even opposed Independence, Our Independence!
As your Prime Minister, I am prepared to lead in making the necessary changes for the benefit of all Saint Lucians, where ever they may roam.
Our government has taken the steps to create a more viable agricultural industry to reduce our dependence on foreign suppliers. Creating and maintaining an adequate food supply for our citizens is also a major factor in our strategic development plan. Food security will not only make us more resilient but also provide much needed support to our local farmers, fisher-folk, and producers, allowing more of our financial resources to remain at home and contribute to our local economy.
As previously stated, the youth are a major focus of this administration and at the forefront of every strategy. We owe it to them to provide a dynamic and progressive education system which is relevant and up to the times. We must keep our people engaged and equip our work force with the requisite skills and direction to compete locally, regionally and globally.
The global marketplace demands a more savvy and technologically-familiar workforce to fulfill the job market requirements, and our education system must adapt and encourage creative thinking.
Feedback from the recently opened OJO LABS in Vieux Fort on the first round of hires is tremendously encouraging and confirms that our young people are more than up to the task. One of their new employees, Moonty Francis who is only a high school graduate took the initiative to write a script doubling the efficiency of their A.I. program.
This artificial intelligence centre is the first in the Caribbean region and is training our young people in new technologies and equipping them with skills they can use anywhere in the world making them globally competitive citizens.
This is the kind of innovative thinking we want from our people. With projects such as OJO labs and the several hotel projects we have coming on stream we anticipate a continuous decline in unemployment.
We have seen phenomenal improvement in tourism arrivals. Stay-over figures increased by over 10.5 percent and cruise arrivals by over 16 percent. Port Castries has welcomed our first Quantum class vessel thanks to our newly extended berth at Pointe Seraphine. The decrease in the VAT rate has also meant more spending power in the hands of Saint Lucians which has contributed to an increase in sales and a general increase in optimism in the business sector.
Bel Sent Lisi, at 39 years of age, is seeing signs of hope and change.
I take this opportunity to call on Saint Lucians who reside beyond our shores to become more involved, Saint Lucia needs you – and to those who can, return home and get involved in the development of your nation. You are part of us and we are part of you. We welcome the skills, education and experience you have received abroad and we would value your contribution.
To all Saint Lucians, I pledge to you that my government and I will not rest until we deliver upon the promises we made. I didn’t seek office to maintain the status quo or to simply boast, many years from now, that I once held the position of Prime Minister. We all ran for office because we believed and still believe in the potential of our country.
And we will only rest when we deliver on the mandate that you gave to our government – for we believe that it is only through the execution of our vision and plans which underpin this mandate, that our Fair Helen can achieve its full potential, can achieve economic prosperity and social justice and ultimately, can achieve true independence for all.
To all Saint Lucians, at home and abroad, Happy 39th Anniversary.
May God bless you all, and may God bless Saint Lucia.