Statement to the Press by Leader of the Opposition, Philip J. Pierre (October 24, 2017)

OPPOSITION Leader, Phillip J. Pierre

PRESS RELEASE – LADIES and gentlemen of the press, let me welcome you and thank you for your coverage of our events.

Image of Phillip J Pierre
Phillip J Pierre

Allow me to thank the hundreds who attended our annual conference this year and express my gratitude to the delegates of the Saint Lucia Labour Party for their overwhelming vote of confidence in my leadership of the Party. I promise to do my best.

Desperate for some good news on the sorry state of the economy, the government hastily latched onto a statement from the Chamber of Commerce indicating that some businesses were reporting an increase in sales for the first half of this year. As expected, the government shamelessly proclaimed that it was as a result of their policies that there is confidence in the economy. The Saint Lucia Labour Party asks the government: What project have they initiated that would have led to improvement in the economy?

It must be noted that the survey spoke to an increase in sales not profits – an increase in sales can be caused by an increase in prices or, possibly, by the reduction in VAT not being passed on to the consumers. This may be the reason why consumers have not felt the benefits of any VAT reduction.

The Saint Lucia Labour Party asks whether the vendor, small business-person, taxi driver, minibus driver, or unemployed youth can relate to any improvement in the economy.

The working people are not feeling any improvement in their pockets: they still have to deal with increased gas prices, increased prices of cooking gas, increase in the prices of medication. If there is an improvement in the economy, it is enjoyed only by friends and family of the government who receive large contracts by direct award and enjoy generous tax benefits at the expense of the ordinary Saint Lucian.

We hear that there was an increase in visitor arrivals of 9.2% at the end of August 2017. A more in-depth examination of the figures will show that the growth is largely due to the contribution of the Royalton Hotel to the stock of hotel rooms in the island. Arrivals for the year averaged 33,000 while the average monthly arrivals for the Royalton Hotel is around 2,900 monthly, which accounts for the growth. There was a 3% increase in stayover arrivals from January to March, before the full operations of the Royalton. That increase was as a result of improved performance of two hotels. Most other properties have been and continue to realize a reduction in business on a monthly basis for this year even with heavily discounted rates.

Therefore, it only stands to reason that the growth being boasted by the government has all to do with the 500 new rooms brought on by the Royalton and negotiated by the Saint Lucia Labour Party government. The UWP administration has not implemented any new initiative or innovative strategies to promote Saint Lucia. The country continues to benefit from the marketing policies of the previous administration and the UWP cannot lay claim to any success since in office.

Small hotels and guest houses are not feeling any increase in arrivals nor are the vendors, taxi drivers and other ancillary service providers .The benefits of any increase in arrivals are not being realized by the majority of people involved in the tourism industry.

Constituency Development Programme (CDP)
At a press conference held on October 19, 2017, the Prime Minister received a check for US$5 million from the government of Taiwan for the Constituency Development Programme. The Saint Lucia Labour Party calls on the Prime Minister to undertake the following actions in the national interest:
• Ensure and demand fairness and equity in the CDP by involving and consulting Opposition Members of Parliament on projects in their constituencies.
• Ensure that the contractors who are still owed monies for work completed are fully-paid urgently.
• Account for funds received for the construction of the Soufriere Square. Tell Saint Lucians the future of the Soufriere Square and Walcott Place Project.

St. Jude Hospital
Since its return to power in June 2016, the government of the UWP has demonstrated bad faith in dealing with the issue of St. Jude Hospital. Saint Lucians have been forced to witness what must be described as an elaborate witch hunt by the UWP.

The UWP government has not denied the existence of a St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project Handover Report prepared and submitted for the period August 14, 2016 by the Project Manager. The public needs an explanation as to why this report was kept a secret while the discussion on St. Jude Hospital was alive in the country.

Even with that report in their possession, they sought and received police assistance to raid some local business premises to recover what the Minister of Economic Development called “government property”. At the time of the raid, Mr. Guy Joseph, who was present during the raid, must have known since it was clearly stated in the handover report that there was equipment and materials in storage and these were the “responsibility of the relevant contractor”. One can only surmise that the raid was to cast aspersions on the integrity of the suppliers and in some way cause embarrassment to the Saint Lucia Labour Party government.

Minister Guy Joseph, on several occasions, said to the public that there were no plans for the hospital. The truth is detailed plans, including fire and health reports, were lodged or submitted on March 2, 2016 with the DCA and were cancelled in August 2017 when the new project manager refused to answer questions on issues relating to the lodged plans. It is clear that in these two instances, Minister Guy Joseph deliberately misled the country and behaved in a manner that is unbecoming of a government minister.

If the government genuinely wanted answers on the status and situation at St. Jude, they would have sought to get direct answers from the Project Manager and Consultant before dismissing them.

Members of the press will recall that Minister Joseph has, on several occasions accused, threatened and even spoke of criminal proceedings that could be proffered against people involved in the St. Jude project. This secured the intended effect of silencing persons and key players avoiding the risk of making statements that may be construed as incriminating.

The Saint Lucia Labour Party will do all that is legally possible to stop the demolition of structures at St. Jude that have already cost the country millions of dollars.

The UWP government needs to be sensitive to the deteriorating conditions at the George Odlum Stadium where St. Jude patients are currently housed and move speedily to recommence construction of the hospital to remove patients from the potential life-threatening hazards to which they are now exposed.

The Saint Lucia Labour Party is calling on the government to stop playing games and petty politics with the reconstruction of the St. Jude Hospital and move forward with urgency with the project to achieve completion at the earliest possible time. The government has access to about $34 million to complete St. Jude Hospital. This is made up of $7 million from the first drawn down on the Taiwanese loan and $27 million from the other half of that loan. The plans for completion need to be made clear to remove confusion and anxieties which now surround the reconstruction project.

The Saint Lucia Labour Party, while in office, always worked to improve the quality of health care on the island. We built new health centres and upgraded and retrofitted several more. We initiated construction of the Owen King-EU Hospital and plans were in progress for construction of new hospitals in Dennery and Soufriere. On our return to office, we will continue to give priority to health and never engage in petty politics with the health of the nation.

Bon JounenKweyol!

I thank you.

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