(Address by Hon Philip J. Pierre, Political Leader of the Saint Lucia Labour Party, at the Open Session of the Conference of Delegates on Sunday, October 8, 2017 at Beanefield Comprehensive Secondary School, Vieux Fort).
My brothers and sisters, we meet here today in the constituency of Vieux Fort South, a stronghold of Labour. The people of the south have elected the Saint Lucia Labour Party in five consecutive elections. We thank you for your loyalty and display of confidence. In spite of all the machinations of the UWP, the South has remained Labour and will continue to be Labour.
Comrades, when your friends are in pain, you share that pain. Our comrades in Dominica are in deep intense pain and suffering. Many lives have been lost following the destruction of Dominica by a severe Category 5 Hurricane Maria.
To Prime Minister Skerrit and the people of Dominica, we say be strong. We know that under your inspired leadership and the known resilience of your people, Dominica will rise again. We urge everyone to assist in this time of urgent need. Our Party is mobilizing the widest support and will be dispatching much-needed supplies to Dominica very soon. Comrades, I implore you to contribute generously.
We wish the countries of Cuba, Mexico, Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, St. Kitts, British Virgin Islands, St. Croix, Turks & Caicos, St. Maarten, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Puerto Rico a rapid recovery from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma and Maria.
I call upon the UWP government to learn from the experiences of these unfortunate countries and take the necessary actions to mitigate against the risks of the damaging effects of natural disasters.
Let me acknowledge the presence of the diplomatic corps. We applaud the contribution of Cuba, Venezuela and Mexico to the development of our island and once more call for the removal of the cruel and unnecessary embargo on the people of Cuba.
We wish for a speedy return to normality in Venezuela and reiterate our position that the people of Venezuela must be allowed to solve their problems free from foreign intervention and in a peaceful and democratic manner.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party extends its best wishes to governments of Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Taiwan, the United States, United Kingdom, Morocco and all the friendly governments.
Our Country is in crisis
When we met last year in Vieux Fort North, I told you that the UWP was clueless and things were bad. But neither you nor I ever believed that things would be that bad.
Two thousand people lost their jobs when the UWP stopped NICE. They put many families in despair, unable to feed themselves and their families because, in their own words, 90% of the NICE workers were Saint Lucia Labour Party supporters. According to official UWP policy, these people must be made to cry, to suffer for being Labour. I ask: Are these people not Saint Lucians who have the right to work in the land of their birth? What kind of Prime Minister condones that behaviour?
Consistent with their approach of self before country, the UWP have shown utter disregard for the spirit of the Constitution. They appointed Sarah Flood as Deputy Speaker, then hours later she resigned only to take up the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs so that all the UWP Members of Parliament could become ministers, forming the largest Cabinet in the history of Saint Lucia.
They victimized the National Trust by denying it its normal annual subvention, wishing that the Trust would disappear and allow the UWP to continue its rape of the environment with their dolphin park project. The Saint Lucia Labour Party will free the dolphins and reopen the Derek Walcott House. We will ensure that Pigeon Point remains a national landmark for the enjoyment of all.
The UWP destroyed the Jazz Festival, turning away thousands of regular visitors to St. Lucia and in the process the livelihoods of hundreds of St Lucians. “Soliel” is no sunshine for those now left in the cold. The Saint Lucia Labour Party will bring back Saint Lucia Jazz.
Our country has suffered for the last 18 months of UWP rule; it has been blunder after blunder, lie after lie, men in power who put themselves first and the country last – selfish men interested only in a few, not the majority of Saint Lucians. For them, it’s party before country.
A government that puts foreigners before locals.
A government that sells our passports to the lowest bidder.
A government that plays politics with the health of the nation.
The UWP is an unmitigated disaster.
There are some who try to make excuses for the UWP under the guise that our Party is dividing the country – we are Saint Lucian patriots, we love Saint Lucia but we hate bad government. There can be no excuse for the bad governance of the UWP; it’s not about party colour, it’s about Saint Lucia.
Should we allow the UWP to sell our land for 99 cents per acre?
Should we allow them to deprive our children of computers?
Should we allow the UWP, through neglect, permit the George Odlum stadium to collapse? A situation that can likely cause injury to the patients, while they play politics with the St. Jude Hospital?
Should we trust the Allen Chastanet’s mathematics: 3 prisoners + 7 prisoners + 7 prisoners + 3 prisoners = 3 prisoners and imprison the minds of our children with bad mathematics?
Some selfish people say give the government a chance….a chance to do what? To further destroy our country?
Our country is too important to be left to chance. When the people voted, they were not gambling; they voted for what they were made to believe would make their lives better. It was never about just taking a chance with their future. How much more time does the government need to continue the ruin of our country and the future of our children?
When the UWP won the elections in June 2016, they found an economy that the Labour Party had rescued from the jaws of the IMF – a country where a deficit of nearly 9% of GDP in 2011 had been reduced to 3.4% of GDP by 2016. A country that was on the verge of economic growth and a return to investment and prosperity. It was the Labour Party in 2011 that rescued the economy from UWP mismanagement. We are ready and willing to rescue it again when you decide to return us to power.
Our economic policies will be people-centred since we believe that people should be the main focus of the country’s development. We will not embark on policies that fulfill short-term election promises like the UWP did when they reduced VAT by 2½ %, a reduction that the majority of people never benefited from but the country lost $52 million in revenue.
Recognizing the economic folly of the reduction, they soon after increased the tax on gas by 60% per gallon, a move that has negatively affected everyone, particularly the lower income people. Had they not increased the tax, gas and diesel would be cheaper for fishermen, taxi drivers and minibus drivers.
It is true some decisions we made while in government were tough. We had to implement VAT, we needed to increase licenses but these policies were better than an IMF structural adjustment programme; better than the imposition of a tax on gas that hurts everyone and still failing to have the desired effect on anticipated revenue.
Instead of building on the solid foundation inherited in 2016 from the Saint Lucia Labour Party, the UWP embarked on a reign of terror, abandoning major projects that would improve the country’s infrastructure, create jobs and begin to lay the foundation for a modern sustainable economy.
The North-South Highway
When we left office, the feasibility study for the construction of a highway linking the north to the south was near completion. We had identified possible sources of funding. This road would shorten the distance between Gros Islet and Vieux Fort and would open up acres of land for development. Our tourism industry would have benefited because the main airport would only be thirty minutes away. Imagine the economic activity and jobs that this development would have generated — but the UWP government abandoned the project. When we return to office, we will continue our plans for that highway.
The Hewanorra Airport Development
We all agree that our airport is in need of expansion and modernization so as to allow us to be more competitive in the tourism industry. The Saint Lucia Labour Party had completed all plans for the construction of a modern state-of-the-art Hewanorra Airport that would not cost you taxpayers one cent in debt and your children would not be burdened with an airport development debt.
We had arranged, through the World Bank, for an international firm to work with government through SLASPA to build a new airport terminal building through a public-private partnership, where the firm would use its own money to operate and build the airport and would lease the airport from SLASPA for thirty years. The airport would still be ours, we would still control customs, security and immigration and the country would have no airport loans. That is how all smart governments and Prime Ministers build their airports — but not in Saint Lucia. The UWP prefer to borrow half a billion dollars for the airport.
We must ask ourselves: Why? Is it because they want to control the contracts for construction? Remember what happened during the construction of the airport in a CARICOM country? I cannot believe that the UWP are so not smart that they would put your children in debt of nearly half a billion dollars when that burden could be avoided. There must be a reason and when we return to office, we will find the reason and disclose the circumstances surrounding that decision.
The Gros-Islet Highway
Everyone agrees that driving from Castries to Gros Islet is a nightmare, especially during peak working hours. It is frustrating and the country loses productive time in traffic. When we were in government from 1997-2006, we commenced reconstruction of the Castries-Gros Islet highway. The UWP stopped the work when they returned in 2006.
In our last term (2011 to 2016), we had finalized and received financing for the continuation of that highway and the bypass roads around Gros Islet. We had already agreed and signed all documents. The loan agreement No. 919 was signed on March 23, 2015 by the Saint Lucia Labour Party government with The Kuwait Fund and it was just a matter of completing the award of contracts.
Many small contractors, truckers, carpenters, masons and labourers would have been employed. The UWP lost that opportunity and cancelled the loan. Why? It is because they would not be able to have their way as far as contracts are concerned. Did they stop this progress because, according to the loan agreement, all contracts would have to be put on tender – no guy would be able to select the contractor under that arrangement? Once more, because of selfishness, the UWP is prepared to make Saint Lucians cry and the country’s development suffer.
Comrades, the foregoing are just a few of the projects stopped by the UWP. I can remind you of the numerous projects in Soufriere, Anse la Raye, Vieux Fort and the wind farm in Dennery, the new Choc Bridge. These projects would create employment. The two bridges being built in Dennery North and Canaries, the new school at Dennery South, the water project in Dennery North were negotiated by your Party – this is not the work of the UWP.
These projects and the many others planned by the Labour Government would transform our country, create new jobs and position our island to sustainable economic transformation while limiting the debt burden for our children.
What are UWP’s Plans for the Economy?
We ask ourselves what are the UWP government’s plans for the economy. The answer is simple — none. They are a government of risk and recklessness, not considering that the future of our children is in their hands. Their only plan is to sell your passports cheap to the lowest bidder, to give away your land at 99 cents per acre, to give away your taxes to foreigners, to give foreign firms huge incentives and even build buildings for them and then use your tax money to pay the staff of foreign firms.
That is the UWP’s plan to put Saint Lucians last, to frustrate small businesses, to depend only on foreigners to develop our country. To allow benefits only for a few of their friends while the majority of small businesses are closing down, unable to sustain their businesses.
Comrades, how can a government advertise our country as one where you can buy a passport at the lowest price in the world then take the proceeds from the sale of passports and lend it to foreigners at an interest rate of 2%? Which one of you in here can go to a bank or credit union and borrow money at 2%? But the UWP is doing just that with the proceeds from our passports sales. This is cruel, it is inappropriate and a Labour government will stop that madness.
Our Comrade Moses Jn. Baptiste, former Minister of Agriculture, made a significant contribution to take agriculture to the next level. Labour passed the first Agricultural Incentives Act. Sale of agricultural produce to hotels increased. We saved the banana industry from the dreaded Black Sigatoka disease and banana exports recommenced.
We injected $14 million into the fisheries sector. We constructed new jetties for our fishermen. We cleared the debt of the Fish Marketing Corporation and paid the fishermen for their produce. We were the government for the farmers and will be the government that will continue to strive
to improve the quality of life of farmers and ensure food security for our nation.
Bereft of ideas and stuck in their web of deceit, the UWP have contorted a grand scheme called DSH. What is DSH? It is a reckless plan to give 1000 acres of your land to foreigners, some of it at 99 cents an acre. Imagine the hundreds of people who want to buy land and have to pay $15 or more per square foot, but your best land — 1000 acres — is being given away. What will happen when your children want to purchase a piece of our island to build a home? It will be gone. Our island is a small island and we must preserve our land, and our beaches must be able to be accessed by the public.
DSH is an agreement signed without first being read. It’s an agreement that will sell your passports and put the money in an escrow account out of the island and out of your control.
DSH will create an Equine Disease Free Zone that will limit the farmers in the rearing of their animals.
DSH would put horses before people.
DSH would close many small businesses and put farmers out of their farms.
DSH means large Chinese firms would get contracts in Saint Lucia before Saint Lucians.
DSH means our environment would be affected negatively.
DSH is bad for the south, bad for Saint Lucia.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party says no DSH under the present agreement or conditions.
Are you ready to demonstrate again against DSH?
Our Plans for the Economy
As Leader of our great party, I pledge that our economic policy will encourage the growth of small and medium-sized businesses, hotels and guest houses by providing an enabling environment for their survival and expansion.
We will nurture and develop the entrepreneurial spirit in our people ensuring that they use their creative energies to create employment for themselves and families.
We will encourage the co-operative principles and values as a model of business organization to alleviate poverty and generate employment.
We will facilitate foreign direct investment but not at the expense of local investment. Our incentive regime will be competitive but we will not sell Saint Lucia to the lowest bidder.
Saint Lucia will be once more marketed as a high-end destination attractive only to the reputable and discerning investor.
We will develop a green economy with emphasis on solar and wind energy.
We will bring back sanity to the Citizenship by Investment Programme in keeping with our reputation as a pristine high-end selective and respectable country.
Our tourism policy will seek to maximize the benefits of tourism for all.
ST. JUDE HOSPITAL
Let me make it abundantly clear: the St. Jude Hospital will not be demolished. That cannot happen. We will not allow it to happen.
The fiasco at St. Jude’s is a living example of the uncaring, callous and disdain that the UWP have for the sick people of the south and Saint Lucia, in general. The state of St. Jude is their responsibility and they must solve it now — they are collectively responsible. They have lied about St. Jude, their motives were insincere, and now caught in their usual web of deceit, they and their surrogates are looking for excuses. Let me warn them that we are going to have protest rallies beginning near St. Jude to demand that they continue construction and eventually commission the hospital at the earliest.
As in most things, the UWP government is clueless; they have no idea how to handle the health of the nation — whether it is at St. Jude or the Owen King-EU Hospital or Universal Health Care, they are lost.
They are lost and are, as usual, making excuses and lying. Health care is a basic right of every citizen as well as an important pillar of our national agenda and is now facing an impending crisis. This makes it imperative that we resolve the matter of health care urgently and responsibly. Public anxiety and erosion of trust is growing. The state of our national health facilities leaves much to be desired with no clear and decisive direction on the way forward. This is unacceptable.
The Labour Party will initiate a national dialogue with all stakeholders and the public in a non-partisan way on the issues of:
1. Efficient and effective utilization and allocation of both human and financial resources to allow for optimal functioning of all health facilities both at the primary and tertiary levels.
2. A national health programme focused on preventive medicine and reducing the health burden of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs).
3. Affordable health care for all citizens
4. Strengthening of the legal and regulatory framework necessary to manage the health sector.
I want to recognize the women in our party who have done much of the work in keeping our party alive in good times and bad times. Women have been the activists in our struggle. Let me assure you that your role has not gone unnoticed.
Our Labour Party under my leadership will work to increase the representation of women in the Parliament of Saint Lucia. Identifying suitable female candidates will, therefore, be one of my priorities in the coming months. The Labour Party gives the undertaking to aggressively pursue women in our society who share the philosophies of our founding fathers – Bread, Freedom & Justice.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party has, since its inception, held the view that the young people of Saint Lucia represent this country’s best opportunity for social transformation and economic prosperity and it is vitally important that we nurture and embrace them as strategic partners in development.
Comrades, it is for this very reason that at each critical stage of its development, the Saint Lucia Labour Party in government has positioned young people at the core of Saint Lucia’s development strategy.
The struggles of young Saint Lucians for economic empowerment, social justice and human dignity finds common purpose with the Saint Lucia Labour Party’s philosophy of “Bread, Freedom and Justice.”
Comrades, the Saint Lucia Labour Party remains convinced that young people are strategic partners in development and are a powerful force for democracy, rule of law, social cohesion, community empowerment, social transformation, and economic growth. This fact is borne out by the substantial investments made by successive Saint Lucia Labour Party governments in education, human resource development and social advancement.
Too often, our youth are unfairly accused of being destructive, unproductive and disengaged. No! This is not the time to cast aspersions on the integrity, sincerity and capacity of Saint Lucian young people. They are an essential force for economic growth, social progress, peace and prosperity.
Yes! It is the time for us to affirm our young people and to work collaboratively with them and see them as essential partners in the growth and development of our country.
We must stop paying lip service to youth development. A government of the Saint Lucia Labour Party will put more resources in all aspects of youth development.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party recognizes that our youth are eager and willing to mould their own future and will nurture their entrepreneurial spirit.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party will work with youth organizations to strengthen their structure and improve their capacity to deliver on their objectives.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party will ensure that sports, leisure, health and the social well-being of the youth are suitably resourced.
Our party will remain committed to the youth of our country.
When in opposition, the UWP played dirty politics with crime. They and their surrogates unfairly blamed the Labour Party – for every murder, rape, suicide or violent act of criminals. They promised to make Saint Lucia safer – they refused to deal responsibly with Operation Restore Confidence, but instead promised to make IMPACS disappear. They made impossible promises to the members of the police force.
Now in government, they are clueless and as usual try to make excuses and continue to be petty and political while crime escalates. We are concerned about the 41 murders so far and call on the government to encourage a frank dialogue on this frightening situation.
However, the government’s priority appears not to tackle the crime issues seriously but to be engaged in pettiness, like admonishing and, some believe, punishing members of the executive of the Police Welfare Association for having a dialogue with the constitutionally-elected Leader of the Opposition. How can the government pretend to seek cooperation and unity in the fight against crime and behave in such a petty and vindictive manner?
The Labour Party once more reiterates its position that crime is not political and will lend its support to any meaningful effort to reduce the unacceptable level of crime in our country.
We are a Different Party to the UWP
Our Party must demonstrate to the people of Saint Lucia that we are indeed different. We must be disciplined in our approach to tasks that we agree to perform.
Our Party must have a high regard for the workers of our country as workers are the ones who contribute to our quality of life. We must respect our teachers, police and fire officers, civil servants, correctional officers and health workers by ensuring that we take all necessary steps to improve their working conditions.
We must ensure that the spirit of entrepreneurship is encouraged to allow business and commerce to flourish.
We are a people’s party that is our history, a party rich in tradition, our founder George F. L. Charles instilled by his life and example that we must govern with humility for the many.
Our party is a great party — a democratic party; we are not and must not be like the UWP. We must be genuine and honest in our approach to politics and governance. We must never condone corruption or victimization and we must be truthful with the people of our country. This is our way — the Labour way…….the way of Bread, Freedom and Justice.
Our Party must always reflect the positive wishes and aspirations of the majority and our party structure must encourage the grassroots — the youth and women — to be deeply and meaningfully involved in the formation of policies of the Party. In that way, there should be a clear understanding as to the direction of the Party and no disconnect, real or imagined, between the leadership and aspirations of the people.
This is the Party I intend to lead, a Party of inclusion, a Party that is not afraid to do the right thing – and the type of government I intend to lead.
THE WAY FORWARD
Comrades, our Party has had an eventful year. After our defeat on June 6, 2016, many thought we would die, but we are strong, we are resilient, we know struggle and now we are back and ready to get this clueless government out of office.
I want to put on record my appreciation to my deputies Hon. Alva Baptiste and Hon. Shawn Edward, the parliamentary group, executive, national council, constituency groups, Chairman and the General Secretary, in particular, for their effort, hard work and daily sacrifices. I want to thank you the people of Labour for your support. I shall never forget you. I know some of you believe the Party is not doing enough in the face of the disastrous performance of the UWP government. I understand that impatience but remember what the majority of Saint Lucians did on June 6, 2016, they can undo when they are ready. Until such time, we will continue to expose and oppose those hurtful economic and social UWP policies but, more importantly, we must develop and strengthen our party’s structure and organization to win the next general election and form the next government. And when that time comes, which I know it will, it will be for a very long time.
In my first convention speech as Leader, I said that our Party must signal to the world that we are different, that we are a party of values. I am pleased to inform that we have commenced the process so our Party can agree on a set of values. We must return truth, honesty and accountability to the governance of our country.
We have set about the re-organization of our Party – every constituency has held its Annual General Meeting, we have held monthly central executive meetings according to the constitution of the party and the Parliamentary Group is alive and meeting to discuss the parliamentary agenda.
We are strengthening our links to friendly parties worldwide. Only last week I attended the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, England and held a fruitful town hall meeting with Saint Lucians living in England. Supporters of our party in England have decided to re-organize our party support group in that country.
For the first time, your Party tabled a negative motion in Parliament that exposed the dangerous changes to the CIP. Hon. Ernest Hilaire, Parliamentary Representative for Castries South, led the debate where the irresponsible changes to the CIP were exposed.
That debate in Parliament was a significant step as it gave the world an opportunity to once more hear our position on the CIP and to signal that we intend to re-examine the programme on our return to office.
Comrades, our Party has held several press conferences, well-attended public and town hall meetings. We published an online newsletter, “The Red Flag”. The most impactful action was the massive protest on May 18 when thousands of Saint Lucians demonstrated in Castries to signal to the government that enough was enough. This was the largest demonstration in the history of Saint Lucia and I thank you for participating. At the appropriate time, there will be more demonstrations to protest against the misdeeds of the UWP.
Comrades, the UWP is not working: it’s bad for Saint Lucia, they cannot be trusted, their policies are not for the benefit of the many, they are only interested in their friends, family and selected foreigners, they are callous and vindictive, they are prepared to do and say anything to remain in power. In short, they are a dangerous uncaring bunch that must be stopped. We must be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to return our country to good governance at the earliest.
Our Party is a people’s Party, a Party that cares about everyone not a privileged few. We need resources to mobilize our troops. I urge you to contribute to the organization of our Party. We can start by becoming paid-up members of the Party, make the transition from being a supporter to a financially paid-up member and join a constituency group.
In these times of great frustration and anger, some want quick solutions. We are anxious for change. I, too, am frustrated. I, too, want change but we have to work for that change. We must persevere, we must be strategic, we must plan, and we must organize. Let us not expect the UWP to implode always remember they are united in their lust for power.
This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and it’s a task that will involve hard work, struggle and sweat. Change will not come easily – our system of government and recent history in our country and the region has shown how governments are changed. We can do it we can bring back good governance to our country by organization, by convincing individuals who may have voted against us that it is time to return to Labour because we are the better party.
Transform your impatience to advocacy and preparation for government. We have lived in that UWP nightmare for sixteen months. The UWP has produced nothing; now they ask for three years to deliver.
Can we endure three more years of suffering, of untruths, of vindictiveness, of punishment of our teachers and civil servants of economic stagnation? I implore you to keep focused, keep your eye on the prize because our country needs a better government.
I am ready, the Leadership is ready, all the members of Parliament are ready, the Executive is ready, the National Council is ready, and the Women’s and Youth organizations are ready. Are you ready?
Then let us leave here with a new resolve to do the right thing for our country. Today in Vieux Fort South, I call on all patriotic Saint Lucians to take a stand against this callous government. Take a stand against victimization.
Take a stand against the cheap sale of your land and passports.
Take a stand against corruption.
We must take that journey together – it is about our country it’s about our children – think about Saint Lucia before it’s too late.
Our Party is willing to join you in that movement to save Saint Lucia from an uncaring and selfish government.
This is a call for action for our country and for our children.
Today, I want to invite you to make this journey for change with me.
I was not born into wealth. I was born into honesty, truth, commitment, hard work and love for country. My mother was a teacher for over forty years, my father a police officer for all his adult life. They worked hard for this country. They taught me the virtues of hard work; I understand the struggles of the ordinary Saint Lucian, the police officer, the teacher and civil servant. I know we can do better – Saint Lucia does not deserve what passes for government today. Saint Lucia needs truth, justice, prosperity, reconciliation, honesty, sincerity; these are the values that I want our country to embrace.
Our country must be inclusive, it must offer opportunity to all, our resources must benefit the majority not the privileged few. Our people need commitment, not crocodile tears. We need a government of honesty, integrity and truth. We all agree that the UWP experiment is not working. I invite you to join me and the Saint Lucia Labour Party on that journey to transform our country for the benefit of all its citizens.
Long live Saint Lucia.
Long live the Saint Lucia Labour Party.
I thank you.