S.L.P. SAYS: ‘MUCH TO CELEBRATE’
THIS year’s open session of the Saint Lucia Labour Party’s Conference of Delegates will be held in Vieux Fort tomorrow. The event will take on greater meaning, however, as the party celebrates its 65th anniversary.
The theme chosen is “The Passion, The Pain, and The Power: A New Journey Begins” and the party’s General Secretary, Leo Clarke, told The VOICE yesterday that the theme encapsulates the party’s life over the past 65 years.
“It is the passion of George Charles and his comrades of that time that made them want to come forward to fight for the downtrodden and the working class in the country at the break of the 1950s,” Clarke explained. “That passion has gone from generation to generation of Labour Party leaders up to this current crop of leaders.”
The pain, Clarke said, resulted from the party’s bouts of being out of office between the periods 1964-1979, 1982-1997, 2006-2011 and the party infighting of 1979-1982. Nevertheless, Clarke said, the party has managed to regain power and retain its commitment to changing the lives of Saint Lucians for the better.
“We think we can celebrate that,” Clarke said. “We think we can celebrate what has happened for the country over the last four years that has now brought us to a (projected) 1.6% GDP growth. There’s a lot to celebrate and this is what we plan to do.”
Prime Minister and Political Leader, Dr. Kenny Anthony, will address the delegates at the Phillip Marcellin Ground where the formal programme will begin from 3:00 p.m. Earlier in the day, a church service will be held at the Our Lady of the Assumption Church. The Conference’s closed session will be held in early January.
Former Barbadian Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, will be the guest speaker at Phillip Marcellin Ground. Clarke said Arthur was chosen because he presided over a successful period in Barbados’ economic growth, citing the rewards that country was able to benefit from its Value Added Tax (VAT) regime.
Clarke said that following tomorrow’s conference, the party will be ramping up its political campaigning ahead of the next general elections due within a year’s time.
“We’re hoping to come out refreshed and ready to take on the political fight that will be emerging in the coming months,” Clarke said.
During an SLP public meeting held at the Castries Market steps last week Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced that some of the SLP candidates for the next general elections would be made public at this Sunday’s open session.
However, Clarke said yesterday that while candidates for Micoud South, Micoud North, Dennery South and Castries South-East have been chosen, it’s now left to Dr. Anthony’s judgment as to whether to make the names public at this time.
“There might be certain sensitivities relative to those people terminating their current employment in order to jump openly into the political fray,” Clarke stated. “We have regard for that sort of thing. We wouldn’t want people to flout the rules of their employment.”
When asked to comment on the recent IMF report that projected a 1.6% GDP growth for Saint Lucia this year, Clarke said full appreciation of such news must take into context the state of the economy when the SLP took office four years ago. He said his party had underestimated the full picture of the economy’s state but was nevertheless able to embark on a “serious all-round building process”.
“This projected 1.6% growth in GDP is definitely very welcome for our country,” Clarke said. “It is good news for our party and it is good reward for the hard work that has been put into restoring the economy of this country over the last four years.”
In the SLP’s four years in office, it has drawn criticism, especially from the business sector and the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) for recording negative growth in three consecutive years. That impact has been felt by many businesses and the unemployed.
Clarke said that while his party has received criticism about the nation’s high unemployment rate – nearly 24% — the government has done much to stabilize the increasing unemployment figures recorded during the past UWP administration. He said that under the last UWP administration, unemployment grew by close to an average of an average of 2% per year. The government, he said, is doing its best to reduce unemployment.
“We would have liked to turn the course of things around and be able to reduce the unemployment rate,” Clarke said. “But what we have done so far is to reduce the rate at which unemployment has been increasing. So there has been about a one-point-something increase in the unemployment rate in the four years that we’ve been in government.”
When asked how he rated the government’s overall performance in the past four years, Clarke said the government had done “a tremendous job.” He said Saint Lucia is now at the point where people have regained confidence in the island.
The tourism sector was cited as one of the main contributors to the projected 1.6% GDP growth for 2015 indicated by the IMF in its report released last month. Clarke said the performance of that sector had been “tremendous”, citing the record figures over the past few years. The public sector, too, he said, was responsible for that development.
“We cannot forget the work that was done in the public sector’s infrastructure to modernize it and restore it following damage caused by Hurricane Tomas,” Clarke noted. “There would have been some level of employment created in that field, so public service expenditure would also have contributed to that recovery process.”
Clarke said possible ventures via the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) set to come on stream next month include “about two or three hotel projects that are pretty much sealed in relation to the commitment made by those investors.” He said the only formality left to do is signing them up in January. The ill-fated Le Paradis project at Praslin, Clarke said, is among projects that have attracted interest from investors. Projects are also earmarked for Choiseul, he said.
“We have great expectations and optimism about the benefits that will be derived when the Citizenship by Investment Programme begins. From the reports which have been shared with me, there are many reputable investors who are lined up to come to our shores and begin putting money into this country,” Clarke explained.