‘St. Lucian communities took great pride in hosting Jazz events and putting their unique community stamp on their shows. This truly brought back the authentic St. Lucian experience to the festival, as opposed to the regimented and ritualistic production which had emerged under Allen Chastanet...’
By Maryanna Williams
(Exclusive Crusader Correspondent)
Tourism Minister Lorne Theophilus and SLTB Director Louis Lewis have received a bag full of kudos from this weekly contributor for returning all that jazz to all those local communities beyond the main stage and restoring St. Lucian ownership of the festival.
The unloading of Allen Chastanet and his elitist tourism policies upon the people of St. Lucia from 2006 to 2011 spelt doom and gloom for the small man and woman in Tourism. As far as Chastanet was concerned, if it wasn’t hotels and Castries and Gros Islet (and later Soufriere when he decided to become the UWP Candidate), it was not worthy of tourism dollars.
So, with the biggest budget in Tourism history ($50 million), Allen Chastanet chose to squander the money on James Hepple, Boxing in Paradise, Caribbean Marketplace, FCCA Conference, Food & Rum Festival, foreign airline subsidies and countless “Minister’s missions” and trips which bore no fruit. At the same time, however, after screwing the southern taxi drivers into the ground, he cut support to Fond d’Or Jazz, Bocage Jazz, Mindoo Phillip Park Jazz, Soufriere Jazz, Labowi Jazz, Balembouche Jazz and other Jazz in the South shows.
Allen Chastanet (“Ti Chas”) is the direct contrast of his father Michael. Allen believes in classical economic theory, that the “big man” will fuel investment and growth so we should put the money in his hands and he will distribute it wisely. From what I can see and hear, “Big Chas” on the other hand, understands that money in the hands of the “little man” has a greater economic effect through the multiplier, as the little man will spend a greater portion, if not all of his money, in the local economy, thus creating direct economic activity.
The “big man”, on the other hand, will seek to save some of his gains, or even export it out of the country; or he may spend it overseas, thus accounting for a high amount of leakage from the local economy. But
Allen Chastanet does not understand this and that is why all his plans for tourism were unsustainable and ultimately failed.
Allen Chastanet was a disastrous financial manager whose free spending would not have been tolerated by the directors of Super J, but some beneficiaries of his largesse want us to believe that he was good for Tourism. If “Ti Chas” had been hired by Rick Wayne to manage Star Publishing or by his father Michael to manage Consolidated Foods and his answer to every problem was to spend more money, there is no way, even with Heaven’s most generous mercies, that he would last five years in his post. But St. Lucia had to stomach Allen Chastanet for five full years before we could finally get rid of him. And in those five years, Chastanet systematically stifled and strangled Community Jazz by withdrawing resources and by outright just canceling them. So he thought he could get at Philip J Pierre by canceling Mindoo Phillip Park Jazz and Bocage Jazz, but this hurt his colleague Guy Mayers even more, since “his Government” took bread out of small people’s mouths. He had no problem starving Jazz in the South, Fond D’or Jazz and even Soufriere Jazz, before he wanted to win that seat, and he saw now harm in his misguided policy as long as the bigger hotels in the North of the island were filled.
It did not concern Allen Chastanet when small hotels and guest houses experienced financial strain and the threat of closure. The cries of taxi drivers and vendors did not find empathy or sympathy with him. Village or Heritage Tourism was something fashionable which he uttered, but never supported. His big plans for Tourism never included the small St. Lucian man or woman until he became the UWP Candidate for Soufriere. And, all the while, to borrow a phrase from his friend Rick Wayne, Chastanet was spitting in Stephenson King’s eyes and calling it rain.
Understandably therefore, the rejection of the UWP and Allen Chastanet at the November 28, 2011 General Elections brought relief and a breath of fresh air to many St. Lucians. People were relieved that the reservation of our Tourism for only the rich and powerful would be slowed down and that there would be a rebalancing of policy to bring back some critical benefits to the St. Lucian populace.
The Kenny Anthony Administration and new Tourism Minister Lorne Theophilus must be commended for restoring St. Lucian ownership to the Jazz Festival. Laborie, Vieux Fort, Soufriere, Fond D’or, Mindoo Phillip Park and Bocage were back in business for Jazz 2012, and even Babonneau got a piece of the action this year. St. Lucian communities took great pride in hosting Jazz events and putting their unique community stamp on their shows. This truly brought back the authentic St. Lucian experience to the festival as opposed to the regimented and ritualistic production which had emerged under Allen Chastanet’s misguided leadership.
The Mindoo Phillip Park festival opener revived the grassroots mass appeal of St. Lucia Jazz and injected some vital monies into the Marchand vending sector. The other community shows had a similar effect in mobilizing youth and general citizen support for the activities. The vendors in those communities were also able to earn some income from the hosting of these activities.
The mainstage events maintained their traditional high standard. Despite the disappointment of having Lionel Richie cancel his appearance, Toni Braxton and Diana Ross more than compensated for Lionel’s absence. Diana Ross in particular, far exceeded my expectations, with her excellent song selections and exciting stage performances. She really had the crowd going and provided a fitting curtain closing to St. Lucia Jazz 2012.
Full Kudos must therefore go out to Tourism Minister Lorne Theophilus and Tourism Director Louis Lewis and their teams for effectively bringing St. Lucia Jazz back onto a sustainable path. Their commitment and dedication was indeed very admirable and has secured the goodwill of the St. Lucian people. Things can only get better, and with cautious optimism, I look forward to Carnival, the Flower Festivals, Jounen Kweyol and National Day. Kenny, Lorne and Labour, please keep your focus and ensure that you serve all the people, not just the rich and powerful, but most importantly those who are disadvantaged and need your support the most.
The Minister of Finance, Dr Kenny D. Anthony, has noted with surprise and dismay the recent Press Release issued by the Leader of the Opposition on the matter of the erroneous growth figures which he announced in the budget address of 2011.
When the former Prime Minister announced the figure on April 14, 2011, he was warned by the then Opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party as well members of the public, that the figures were wrong. The former Prime Minister therefore, had every opportunity between his announcement and the General Elections to take heed and correct the figure. He chose not to do so. Instead, he continued to cite the figure to support his claim that the economy had done well under his watch.
The Leader of the Opposition is correct that”Saint Lucia’s image and reputation is at stake”. He acted recklessly in citing those figures because he was warned by the Director of Statistics that the growth figure may not be accurate. This is what the Director of Statistics wrote in a Memorandum dated April 02, 2011:
“While we bear some responsibility for ensuring the integrity of these data sources, we do not, however, directly control or supervise their creation. In addition, we do have some concerns about the quality of the data on imports and we will continue to work on ensuring that these matters are addressed. In the event that there are any issues with our data sources or if we receive updated data or data we believe to be more accurate, we reserve the right to revise the estimates of the GDP which we make accordingly.”
Any sensible, prudent, responsible Minister of Finance would have been cautioned by these words of the Director of Statistics.
In view of the fact that the Leader of the opposition has gone beyond the boundaries of Parliament and has made a public issue of this matter , the Minister of Finance calls on him to publicly apologize to Mr. St Catherine for impugning his integrity ,character and professional competence.
Hon. Harold Dalson, Minister for Social Transformation, Local Government and Community Empowerment, and member for Soufriere/Fond St. Jacques
“Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour and privilege to stand before this Honourable House to make a contribution as a gesture of unwavering support for the Appropriation Bill 2012/2013. The circumstances, global, regional and local surrounding the climate under which we are presenting this Bill is very clear to us all. However, as a Government, we cannot continue to pine and opine about these prevailing conditions, hoping things will just fall in place. As a government we have harnessed our collective wisdom to present a set of policies which we believe if implemented and executed as planned, will resound to the “better days” which this administration promised the country. It must be noted though that these policies will instantly remedy the myriad of problems now confronting us.”
QUALITY LEADERSHIP IS KEY
Critically important is the need to have the quality of leadership that will steer the ship of state through this period. The Leadership that this country now benefits from will help us achieve:
1. Social Stability
2. Strong, stable and sustainable economic growth
3. Good governance
4. Clear lines of financing
5. The management of public debt
6. Management of the frightening deficit period
7. Job creation
8. Infrastructural Rehabilitation
9. Fiscal Consolidation through the implementation of the much talked about “VAT”
These issues cannot be left in the hands of an apprentice who is clueless about the best possible way to navigate these many obstacles that now exist and those that will emerge in the future.
A BUDGET OF HOPE AND OPTIMISM VS A PERIOD OF FAILURE
This fiscal package represents hope and optimism. Only the skeptics will want to grandstand and pretend that this budget is over ambitious. The SLP government has a track record of delivering on its promises. We did it in 1996-2001 and 2001-2006.
“I ask all the negative voices to show their slate on their achievement during 2006-2011.”
• Fiscal deficit $240m (7.6% GDP)
• Public debt $2273.2m (68.5 of GDP above prudential limit of 60%)
• Public debt increased by 40% over 2006
• In addition, they received recovery support in excess of $150m, plus the Taiwanese money
What is there to show? Where is the signature project – is it the DAHER Building?
STRATEGY FOR RECOVERY
This Budget has a new focus. We campaigned of jobs, jobs, jobs and indeed we have presented policies, initiatives and programmes that focus on job creation. These programmes will boost the economy and at the same time create employment.
The lead drivers focus on apprenticeship and infrastructural development.
“I have heard a lot of criticism coming from the other side. Here’s the challenge: If you do not appreciate these programmes and you believe it is bad for your constituents, tell them when we offer them employment under NICE, do not take it. If it is so bad, then discourage them from participating.”
NEW POLICY DIRECTIONS
1. NICE - $35 MILLION
2. YOUTH EMPOWERMENT PROGRAMME (YEP) $500,000.
3. SINGLE MOTHERS IN LIFE SKILLS (SMILES) $1.2 MILLION-This programme will equip women with skills for self-sufficiency whether on the job or through their own micro enterprise.
4. JOBS-Joint Opportunities for Building Saint Lucia (4500 jobs).
5. Constituency Development Programme $10MILLION.
6. Infrastructure Programme. This is a labour intensive rehabilitation programme. Footpaths will be built.
7. Small Business targeted assistance. New and existing businesses will benefit. This will focus on capacity building.
We will ensure that VAT is not imposed on the goods and services that the poor spend most of their incomes on. This is why provisions have been made for exempt and zero rated goods. Moreover, VAT will not be implemented on Electricity and Water on September 01, 2012.
POLICY ARTICULATIONS FOR THE MINSTRY OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION
“Going forward, the MOST will move more purposefully toward the adoption of evidence based programming and policy formulation in the fight against poverty. The demographic and geographic distribution of anti-poverty programming will be the focus. “
1. Local Government
(a) Advancement of Local Government Reform
(b) Transfer of the care takers programme to the MOST
2. Regularization of Cemeteries- We will encourage Private Sector Investment
3. Community After School Programme ($3million)
(a) This will be expanded to include more communities in the south of the island
(b) MOST is not the sole implementer. There will be collaboration with the Ministry of Education
(c) This will work towards transforming lives and empowering communities.
(d) The following academies are proposed:
(ii) Music-support for the Youth Orchestra Programme which was funded by the OAS
(iii) Swimming – to change programme with assistance from Hotels
(iv) Music project, Arts, Information Technology
(v) After school programme at the Boys Training Centre
4. Koudmen Ste Lucie. The major components are:
(a) Housing assistance
(b) Educational Assistance
(c) Conditional Cash transfer
(d) Vouchers (food)
The social welfare programme which is now being managed by the MOST will supplement Koudmen Ste Lucia. Distribution will be evidenced base through a means TEST.
5. STEP-UP. The original clean-up and beautification programme still holds, however, there will be a paradigm change to include a capacity building component viz soft skills. There will be focus on
(a) Conflict Resolutin
(c) Self Esteem
(d) Available Social Services
(e) Importance of saving and opening bank accounts
(f) Assistance in obtaining National ID Cards, birth certificates, NIC numbers, opening bank accounts
(a) Small business support will continue through the Belfund.
(b) We will create opportunities for vulnerable youths through the Caribbean Youth Empowerment Programme
(c) Training in life skills, Information technology, and entrepreneurship.
(a) Licensing of Vendors
(b) Formation of craft vendors association
(c) Training for craftsmen
(d) Access to funds for product development and marketing
8. Other Programmes of the MOST
(a) Faith Based Initiatives
(b) Establishment of a Research Unit
Hon. Lorne D. C. Theophilus, Minister for Tourism, Heritage and the Creative Industries and Member for Choiseul/Saltibus
“Mr. Speaker, I have often wondered whether the now Leader of the Opposition, when he sat as Prime Minister of this country, knew or even understood what he was doing, or what he would confidently read to the people of this country. The reason why I ask this question is because if he did not know, then it means he was duped by someone, or some group of persons, and if that is true then he is under a duty to disclose who these imposters posing as advisors to the Prime Minister are. But then, if of the other hand, the member for Castries North was neither duped nor misled, then it presents this nation with a picture of something more sinister for their consideration.”
FALSE PRONOUNCEMENTS BY THE FORMER ADMINISTRATION
1. GROWTH RATE
“I recall listening to that very budget presentation [2011/2012] and heard the public declaration of 4.4% economic growth. I was so shocked by this revelation which I could only assume to be factual, because this is an Honourable House, that I could only conclude that Saint Lucia was blessed and under the protection of the Almighty…but to my absolute horror, this declaration, just like a few others made by the same honourable member, was a flagrant breach of the ninth commandment of our Lord and Saviour.”
“Mr. Speaker there ought to be some form of legal sanction applicable to this abhorrent behavior and overt act of deception.”
“Another glaring example of the deception that is practiced by the less honest amongst us in this House, is the hue and cry of the now opposition on the topic of VAT…I am almost tempted to ask you to give a Lucas Direction prior to the presentations on some members of this House.
“A worthwhile piece of advice is, if you don’t know what you are talking about, shhhh. If you doubt the accuracy of what your speech writers, or those you are too afraid to challenge, because maybe its “your job you protecting” tell you to say, shhhhh. Or better yet if you wish to save yourself from the public embarrassment and ridicule that public records can put you through, then for God’s sake, shhhh.”
EXAMPLES OF WASTAGE UNDER THE PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION
1. The pages of time as adequately reflected in the minutes of the Saint Lucia Tourist Board, show that contrary to the advice of the board, the minister entered into a revenue guarantee with American Airlines, which in less than one year of its existence, plummeted this nation into a debt of $7,259,747.00
2. The services of MR. Hepple cost this nation over $900,000.00 in salary alone, in two years.
3. Boxing in Paradise came at a price tag of $3,470,013.00
4. Food and Rum Festival cost $672,715.00
5. Caribbean Marketplace cost tax payers $7,510,409.00
6. FCCA, another conference cost $3,564,127.00
7. The highest cost of hosting the Jazz Festival was under the former Minister for Tourism’s watch-$7,969,454.00.
8. The decision to rebrand Saint Lucia and mover away from the tag line: Simply Beautiful to Live the Legend cost us $300,000.00USD.
“Fasten your seatbelts, because all in all, a partial tabulation of the moneys squandered by my predecessor between the years 2008 to 2011 is $51,477,617.00”
2011 PEFORMANCE OF THE TOURISM SECTOR
• Total visitor arrivals declined by 3.9%
• Stay over arrivals declined by 0.4%
• Cruise arrivals dropped by 6%
• Total visitor expenditure declined by 7.4%
BUILDING AIRLIFT CAPACITY
During this financial year, efforts will be placed on expanding airlift from existing gateways as well as exploring new and emerging ones such as Panama and Brazil among others.
CANADIAN MARKET: has displayed steady growth over the past three years. Canada has seemingly weathered the global financial and economic crisis better than most other developed countries; therefore a new approach is being taken with respect to this market.
FRENCH MARKET: while small for the time being in total number, this market has also shown growth. By ensuring that Saint Lucia has a dedicated presence in this market and by facilitating airlift to Saint Lucia via Martinique, Saint Lucia has begun to reap the benefits of this strategy, which is reflected in the increase in arrivals by over 20% last year and 14% so far this year.
UNITED STATES MARKET: Arrivals will be greatly enhanced by daily flights out of JFK this year and the increases in airlift that we are currently pursuing out of the north eastern corridor of the United States. Whilst pursuing all of this we remain steadfat in our support of airlines and initiatives, aimed at reducing the cost of regional travel, as the Caribbean is our island’s third major source market.
ENHANCING OUR PRODUCT
• Suspension of ADT pending review of the project
• Commissioning of consultancy associated with the development of the road network which is aimed at narrowing the time window between Castries and Vieux-Fort, to the pleasure and benefit of all tourist arrivals and our people as a whole.
• Focus will be placed on the fact that our destination is unique in history, culture, creative talent and natural beauty.
• Strengthening the linkage between tourism and the rest of the economy, to areas where the direct impact of tourism may have been neither felt no experience. An initiative called VILLAGE TOURISM will widen the expanse of tourism benefits to the rural communities.
• Modernize the legislative framework which governs the sector so as to strengthen its regulatory elements, whilst simultaneously ensuring that the licensing regimes develop. This will police the adherence of participants in the sector to provide the services that they are license and approved to perform.
• Development of a yacht registry which should very soon yield the first registration of a yacht in Saint Lucia.
BENEFITS TO PARTNERS AND STAKEHOLDERS
• Amendments to the Tourism Incentives Act will enable incentives to begin anew. This will bring tremendous ease to hoteliers.
• Amnesty on penalties and interest on outstanding HAT owed to the Government of Saint Lucia
• Reduced implementation figure for VAT of 8% for the Sector
• A new department will be established commencing with an initial staff complement of two-director and creative officer, to guide and coordinate the development of this sector.
• During this financial year, it is expected that a full work programme for the sector will be developed, after consultation with stakeholders.
• Provide a framework for the granting of the fiscal and other incentives which will stimulate this sector. This would include legislative as well as regulatory statements.
This regular columnist is satisfied that there’s just no match for the SLP Leader and the ideas from his party’s Manifesto that are now shaping a better future for all St. Lucians.
by Yolanda O’Brien
The Prime Minister’s Budget policy statement this week inspired me to take a break from my break from writing. It was bold, innovative and transformative for a truly deteriorating economy. Prime Minister Kenny Anthony continues to prove to me, and many others too, why he stands two head and four shoulders above any other leader in St Lucia. In his speech “Building Opportunities for Our Common Future” Dr Anthony provided for much stimulus in various areas of the economy, including the construction sector, while also simultaneously giving low income earners an opportunity to own their homes.
Furthermore, it was heartening to hear that our banking sector has demonstrated its full confidence in Dr. Kenny Anthony’s leadership with commitment to support the government’s stimulus package. That speaks volumes indeed.
To the thousands upon thousands of unemployed St Lucians, PM Anthony has offered jobs, jobs, jobs through NICE, STEP, SMILES, YEP and the Creative Industries. To the poor and vulnerable, the PM continued assistance to UWP-initiated social programmes like HOPE, Koudemain Ste Lucie and YEP while simultaneously creating new safety nets for the poor. And even with VAT’s implementation, the Prime Minister ensured that the poor and vulnerable were protected by the exemption and zero rating of some basic goods. Even WASCO, Victoria Hospital, St Jude hospital and our hotel sector got some debt relief. The Prime Minster ensured that all major sectors got the required injection to revive their lifeless bodies.
Prime Minister Anthony honored many of the commitments made in the Labour Party’s manifesto, including ending the UWP airport tax, investigating and taking action on two of the infamous UWP projects, namely the Daher Mall and the Hewannora Airport redevelopment. Bravo PM Anthony, you’ve again proven the integrity and legitimacy of your stewardship!
But sadly, we can’t speak of this Budget without acknowledging the level our country’s debt, which has skyrocketed under the stewardship of Stephenson King. According to the PM’s delivery “Last year, 2011, real GDP is estimated to have expanded by 1.0% and not 4.5% as predicted by the then Minister for Finance. Central government expenditure on construction projects totaled $240.1 million in 2011, representing a 74.9% increase over the previous year. On all accounts, this was unprecedented, a record, I believe. Over $45 million of this total was directly attributable to Hurricane Tomas rehabilitation and reconstruction. The balance, $195.1 million was expended elsewhere. Wages and salaries are projected at 13% of GDP or 48% of recurrent revenues. Translated, this means that for every dollar the Government raised from taxes, 48 cents has to go towards paying salaries and wages. Over the past five years, the former administration borrowed a total of EC$949 million dollars. The result is that we have inherited a fiscal deficit of 7.6% of GDP, or around EC$254.4 million.”
What all of this is effectively saying, St Lucia, is that Stephenson’s King’s 14% salary increases to public servants wasn’t sustainable by government coffers; that Stephenson King’s purchase of Daher Mall and his Hewannora airport reconstruction project, and other questionable UWP government contracts, have plummeted our economy down the slippery slope. It also makes us wonder where all the money has gone, because after five years the UWP administration had nothing tangible to show us for the $949 million borrowed.
All of these above are indications of a weak, incompetent leader whose legacy is that of maladministration. Fortunately, St Lucia, unlike Stephenson King, Dr Kenny Anthony knows that “…… the business of Government cannot be a raucous and frivolous affair like that experienced at roadside “watering holes.” The business of Government cannot be based on decisions taken as a gamble. The business of Government cannot be about self-service. On the contrary, the business of Government, Mr. Speaker, must be measured and it must be grounded in purposeful, prudent and well informed decision making. It must be inclusive and considerate.” Well said Prime Minister.
But I must also admit that King’s proven disastrous tenure has forced me to tackle Earl Bousquet’s question last week in the VOICE: Should former political leaders stand trial for mismanagement? My answer: Yes Mr. Bousquet, leaders like Stephenson King should be held accountable without any doubt…
I personally have championed that call and will continue until my last breath. But Mr. Bousquet is also right too about the advisers, I believe all of Prime Minister King’s advisers in the Ministry of Finance, et al, (some of whom were all too eager to disrobe from the Public Service cloak to show off yellow candidate T-shirts) should be held liable for the state of the government’s coffers now.
The fact that St Lucia now has to borrow even more money to address the current deficit is in my mind very clearly the fault of Stephenson King and all is advisors. And they all should be made to account for this indictment.
Nevertheless, today is not about failed leaders. Today is about recognizing the bold progressive leadership of Dr Kenny Anthony, who has sought to breathe life into a dry and dying economy.
Well done Prime Minister!
The Government of Saint Lucia has announced an eighteen month construction stimulus package to take effect three (months) from May 08, 2012. Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony made the announcement during his 2012/2013 Budget Address aptly titled “Building Opportunities for Our Common Future”.
The aim of this package is to create much needed jobs in the construction sector, thereby stimulating the economy in the short term, while given low income earners an opportunity to own their homes.
Prime Minister Anthony unraveled the package by first making the announcement that all duties and taxes on selected items related to the construction of homes and commercial buildings will be removed. These items are sand, cement used for construction, lumber including plywood, steel bars, rods and paints.
Noteworthy is the removal of Stamp duty of 0.25% on loans for residential and commercial mortgages and the provision of service lots through the National Housing Corporation, with financing to be made available through the Saint Lucia Development Bank.
The banking sector and legal fraternity are expected to support this initiative by lowering the costs of their services related to construction activity.
Please see the attached file for the full contents of the Prime Minister, Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony's budget presentation.
Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony is scheduled to outline the SLP Administration’s 2012/2013 policy statement which compliments the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure debated and passed in the House of Assembly two weeks ago.
Dr. Anthony is expected to announce major incentives to create jobs and inject new life into Saint Lucia’s weak economy. Saint Lucians can look forward to the fulfillment of some of the promises made in the Blue Print for Growth as well as the announcement of major incentive packages for various sectors of the economy. As promised, more information will be given on the Value Added Tax and the ongoing Tax Amnesty.
The Budget Address will be delivered at 5:00pm on Tuesday May 08, 2012 and will be aired live on the National Television Network (NTN)/ http://www.stlucia.gov.lc/gis/ntnstream.htm . The public is advised that this session of the House is open to the public. Persons wishing to attend should call the Office of Parliament at 468-3912 for more information on how to obtain a pass.
ADDRESS BY HON. DR. KENNY D. ANTHONY
OECS CHAIRMAN AT MEETING OF LEADERS
OF PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION IN
PREPARATION FOR FIRST MEETING OF OECS ASSEMBLY
SAINT LUCIA, MAY 4, 2012
Let me, like our Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Stephenson King, welcome all of you to St Lucia, and invite you, without conditions, to enjoy the warmth and natural beauty for which this country is so well renowned. For those of you who are visiting our shores for the first time, you have my assurance that the St Lucian experience is one which will forever evoke rich and pleasant memories. Those for whom this is not the first visit will certainly not require my encouragement, and so I say to them simply, “welcome back”!
AN ESSENTIAL ENCOUNTER
I also want to thank all of you wholeheartedly for accepting my invitation to attend this encounter which I consider to be essential in our efforts to fashion and build an appropriate institutional architecture for the OECS Economic Union. Indeed, I am of the view that it is only by placing a premium on the involvement of stakeholders such as the Parliamentary Opposition that an enterprise of such significance as the OECS Economic Union can be assured of the popular and political support necessary for achieving sustainability and success well into the future.
AN EARLIER TIME
This meeting of Leaders and members of the Parliamentary Opposition in the OECS causes me to recall certain events of an earlier time in the history of our region which speak to the enduring nature of our quest for unity and good governance.
The first event speaks to the formation in the mid-1980’s of an entity called SCOPE, the acronym for Standing Committee of Popular Democratic Parties in the Eastern Caribbean. This entity served as an instrument for networking and mobilization among political parties of broadly similar political or ideological persuasion which had found themselves in the position of Parliamentary Opposition in their respective national Legislatures. SCOPE soon became a vehicle through which the opposition parties were to engage OECS governments on issues including plans for moving the territories toward political union.
WORKING TOWARDS INCLUSION
The second event occurred in 2005, and speaks to the dramatic shift that had taken place in the intervening period in the approach to questions of governance. In July of that year, I had the privilege and good fortune to chair the historic first (and only) Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government and Leaders of Parliamentary Opposition in St Lucia in the capacities of Lead Head with Responsibility for Justice and Governance, and incoming Chairman of the Caribbean Community. This meeting was convened specifically to build consensus around the CSME and to explore modalities for its advancement.
All of this suggested that we had finally come to the realisation that good governance is about working toward inclusion, and that it has little to do with governments assuming solely unto themselves the keys to the solution of our region’s problems. Indeed, it suggested the acceptance of a notion which portrays the Westminster system at its finest - that Government includes “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”.
AN ENVIABLE RECORD OF GOOD GOVERNANCE
The people of the OECS (as well as the wider region) have had an enviable record of good governance. I believe that there is much that we could offer to the world by way of example and best practice. There is among our people a certain sophistication which manifests itself in a constant thirst and striving for improvement in the arrangements through which they are governed, and a desire for the ultimate in transparency and accountability. They have come to expect from their leaders the maturity which would cause the people’s interest to be placed above all else, requiring all of their representatives to work together to promote that interest. I am myself convinced more than ever of the value of engagement and inclusion, and believe these to represent the surest route to sustainability and long term success.
A NEW THINKING
Colleagues, this meeting serves to confirm that there is in fact a new thinking underlying the governance of our region, and this is why it bears such significance. This meeting is an absolute necessity in the process of advancing the implementation of the OECS Economic Union – in building the consensus required to ensure “buy-in”, sustainability and eventual success. It will also send the requisite signals to the people of our respective countries, the wider region and indeed the world, that the leadership of the countries which constitute the OECS possess the maturity required by the times, are serious about advancing the interests of the people whom they represent, and are prepared to invoke the requisite political will to do that which is necessary to secure the advancement of those interests.
A PROCESS OF ENGAGEMENT
Colleagues, this meeting has been convened in order to brief representatives of the Parliamentary Opposition within OECS Member States about developments in respect of the OECS Economic Union, and in general, to keep alive and to further the process of consultation and engagement which has attended the Economic Union enterprise to date. The objective is to augment the stock of knowledge which you already possess, thereby placing you in a position to contribute even more meaningfully to the development of the Economic Union, either through discussion and debate, or through more direct action. It will also address in particular, issues relating to the inauguration of the OECS Assembly, one of the principal Organs through which the functions and business of the OECS will be realized.
The OECS Assembly probably evokes memories of the (now dormant) Assembly of Caribbean Community Parliamentarians (ACCP) which was established similarly, to allow for more widespread discussion of issues of regional import among the people through their representatives in Parliament. While the ACCP was established as an institution of the Caribbean Community, the OECS Assembly has been established as a principal organ, one of five such entities through which the Organisation pursues its purposes and functions under the Revised Treaty. Accordingly, the OECS Assembly is an entity enjoying high standing and visibility, whose existence and functioning are guaranteed under the Treaty.
A HEAVY AND SACRED RESPONSIBILITY
Colleagues, as members of the Opposition in the Parliaments and Legislatures of your respective countries, you or your chosen representatives are identified under the Revised Treaty of Basseterre (Establishing the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Economic Union) as principal actors within the OECS Assembly. The members of the government side in the Parliaments and Legislatures of your respective countries have also been similarly identified. This Assembly is expected to symbolize and also to concretize the involvement of the citizenry of the OECS region in the further development and consolidation of the Economic Union. Membership of the Assembly will therefore carry with it a heavy and sacred responsibility, since it is through the participation of the membership that the voice (the views and concerns) of the people of the region will find expression. It is to be expected therefore, that the OECS citizenry will be paying close attention to the deliberations of the Assembly to ensure that their hopes and aspirations for the region are being promoted and championed.
While the OECS Assembly will be a deliberative body which will not have the capacity to make laws, it will nevertheless have the capacity to influence regional policy and legislation. Further, and in keeping with the new thinking that is becoming increasingly a feature of our governance arrangements, government and opposition Parliamentarians will be constituted as national delegations to the Assembly. The challenge for Assembly members would be to function not as Government and Opposition, or as adversaries arrayed against each other in pre-arranged blocs as is the custom, but as delegations from sovereign Parliaments working together to promote the regional interest even while representing and protecting the national interest. An additional challenge would be for members to resist the temptation to use the Assembly as a platform for playing out or resolving matters that are in the order of national partisan politics. It is hardly likely however, that such a situation will find favour with a sophisticated OECS citizenry. I have every confidence in our ability to rise to the challenges that will most certainly present themselves, and look forward with great anticipation to the Assembly’s deliberations.
IN UNCHARTERED TERRITORY
Colleagues, ours is a truly unique and trail-blazing enterprise. We are in uncharted territory, travelling a road, and moving in a direction that no other grouping of Small Island Developing States has travelled before. Mindful of our peculiar circumstances, we have sought to build our own home-grown institutions and systems to address the myriad problems which our countries face as a direct consequence of small size and associated issues. We have recorded significant successes over the years, and in recent times have managed to attain major milestones in spite of resource and other constraints. These achievements, including the signing of the Revised Treaty of Basseterre, the operationalisation of the Economic Union, and the implementation of the Free Movement provisions of the Revised Treaty, all within agreed time-lines, have won for our Organisation the admiration of many in the international community.
I have every confidence that the pace of achievement will continue. Your presence here today is testimony to your commitment to advance the process of implementation of the OECS Economic Union toward the attainment of the next milestone. I look forward to our engagement today, but moreover, to your continued contribution to the development of the OECS region. Economic Union does not belong to ruling parties, but to all of us, citizens and politicians alike.
Hon. Alva Baptiste is currently in Suriname on government business. The Minister for External Affairs is participating in the fifteenth meeting of the Caribbean Community’s Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) on May 03 and 04, 2012.
The caucus is expected to deliberate on matters for policy formulation and decision such as modalities for more effective coordination of foreign policy and relations with select third countries in the context of the Community’s strategic priorities. Other agenda items include issues related to multilateral and hemispheric relations and Climate Change.
COFCOR will be updated on the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), and the Community’s assistance to Haiti among others.
Hon. Baptiste is accompanied by Ms. Shannica Plummer, Foreign Service Officer in the Ministry of External Affairs.