The meeting, which captured a mixed audience of Saint Lucian citizens and individuals seeking to establish cooperative ties with Saint Lucia, began with opening remarks by the prime minister and ended with a question and answer session.
The prime minister highlighted the grave situation that confronts Saint Lucia, reiterating that by the end of March 2013, the debt will increase to 78 percent of our GDP.
Dr. Anthony further stated that for the first time in our fiscal history since independence in 1979, the Caribbean Development Bank has included Saint Lucia among a list of seven countries in the Caribbean with a high and unsustainable debt.
Dr. Anthony expressed optimism that if the approach is one of collective responsibility, rather than casting blame, then Saint Lucia can rise out of this economic abyss and into a prosperous nation. Despite Saint Lucia’s current challenges, he noted that our economy remains the strongest in the Eastern Caribbean and that the focus should be to prevent further damage by tapping into all avenues for cooperation and growth, which includes the diaspora.
During the second segment of the meeting, citizens and well-wishers quizzed the prime minister on the way forward for Saint Lucia. As stated before in other forums, Dr. Anthony lamented that tough decisions will have to be made.
The prime minister referenced the ongoing wage negotiations, noting that it has been a difficult period but he is hopeful that good sense will prevail and that all involved will make a decision based on what is best for the country.
On the matter of sluggishness in the process of verification and processing of birth certificates, the prime minister announced that he would be exploring the possibility of setting up a special desk in the Registry to attend specifically to the diaspora.
He sympathized with the view that the delays are unacceptable and costs citizens living abroad exorbitant sums to change flight arrangements, and in some cases, their jobs. He also explained that these delays are usually as a result of manual records of the past, but is hopeful that with the establishment of a Registry of Civil Status in Vieux-Fort in the near future, this problem will be corrected.
As expected, the requirement to obtain visas to travel to Canada was raised. The prime minister explained that this is a decision made by the Canadian authorities after expressing concerns about the security of Saint Lucian passports.
He further stated that Canadian authorities cited many cases where individuals who were deported from Canada were able to gain re-entry under different names. In order to ensure that this issue was addressed, a decision was taken to place the former names of individuals who changed their names via deed polls on new passports.
The prime minister explained that this was not in any way aimed at appeasing Canadian officials but to strengthen security measures and address anxieties that other states may have about Saint Lucian passports. He reminded citizens that the Consulate was at their disposal to assist with any difficulties that may arise, but that the government of Saint Lucia has a responsibility to implement measures to protect the reputation of our country.
Other issues such as priority areas for the government of Saint Lucia and the role of the diaspora in the development of Saint Lucia were discussed.
Many individuals expressed an interest in providing assistance to the government of Saint Lucia in areas of health care and youth development. Consul General Michael Willus will continue dialogue with representatives of these companies, with the possibility of exploring cooperation agreements between the government of Saint Lucia and these agencies.
The prime minister has expressed his thanks to the staff of the Consulate of Saint Lucia in Canada, executive and members of the Saint Lucia Toronto Association, and all others who worked tirelessly towards the success of this activity.
The prime minister is expected to have a number of private meetings with potential investors during his stay in Toronto.
Dr. Anthony, who is accompanied by his press secretary, returns to Saint Lucia on Tuesday, March 12, 2013.