Address by Leader of the Opposition and Political Leader of the Saint Lucia Labour Party Hon Philip J. Pierre;to a Town Hall Meeting at Prospect Place New York, February 10th, 2018.
Good evening fellow Saint Lucians! Let me thank you for being here tonight. I want you to know that I am deeply appreciative of your presence here this evening. Sometimes we politicians believe that politics is the central business of people’s lives and that people are at our beck and call; I have come to learn from experience that the average man or woman is more preoccupied with the issues of family, work and achieving personal goals, than listening or attending to political matters. Therefore, I know that you had to choose between several other things and being here this evening, particularly in this weather. I thank you immensely for choosing to be here. I extend a warm welcome to all” Lucians in the hall” and all other friends who have joined them at this town hall meeting.
I intend to have a conversation with you on our country – its present state, its future and the aspirations and hope for the future under a government of the Saint Lucia Labour Party
Although the introduction Ms Louis was very cordial and gracious to me I wish to say that my name is Philip Joseph Pierre. I am a born and bred St. Lucian…mammaye lacaye… that is true to the extent that I still reside in the very place where I was born…on a strip of land skirted by Cedars Road above and Waterworks Road below. I inherited most of it from my parents: father, Auguste Pierre a policeman and my mother Evelyn Pierre a school teacher. Both of them served the people of Saint Lucia for over thirty years. I was not born into wealth but was brought up with the values of honesty, hard work and humility to serve the community and always seek to foster the upliftment and wellbeing of the less fortunate. These are some of the values that I always strive to engender in my service to the people of Saint Lucia
I was schooled in Saint Lucia and the University of the West Indies (UWI). My first degree is in Economics and the second a Masters in Business Administration. Before entering politics, I established, Philip J. Pierre Business Services, which has survived up to this day with the help of my business partner who has tolerated my long absences, while I attended to political representation of the people of Castries East and when in government, the business of the country as a Minister and member of Cabinet.
I am into my fifth consecutive term as Parliamentary Representative of Castries East, having first won that seat in 1979. My constituency includes the communities of Pavee, Maynard Hill, Tou Rouge, Black Mallet, Rock Hall, Marchand, Arundell Hill, Bishop’s Gap, Bagatelle, Entrepot, Waterworks Road, Ravine Chabot, Bocage. My gratitude is always to the people of my constituency who have seen merit in continuing to support me through those five elections. I feel a deep sense of commitment to the wellbeing of my people of Castries East, as indeed I feel for all the people of our country, at home and abroad.
I hope that this forum will provide the opportunity for us to get to know each other better; I will attempt to provide you with a frank outlook of what is happening at home in Saint Lucia. I will offer you an explanation of the key decisions and approaches of the Saint Lucia Labour Party in the current Political situation.
I became Political Leader of the Labour Party in 2016, following the defeat of our Party in the general elections of June 6, of that same year.
I was elected to replace our former Leader and Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny D Anthony, intellectual and thinker, who led our party and has served for twenty years as Parliamentary Representative for Vieux Fort South and Prime Minister for fifteen years. I thank him for allowing me to serve in his cabinet for fifteen years and as Deputy Prime Minister for four years. I look forward to putting that experience to work at the head of the government of our country for the benefit of all.
Dr Anthony’s legacy was also built on the platform of our Founding Fathers: on the motto of Bread Justice and Freedom. He exerted tremendous effort in education, human and social development, guiding our country successfully through economic transition to modernization and ensuring that justice and the rule of law prevailed.
But my Political nurturing and thinking precedes the political period of 1997 -2016.
This nurturing and thinking to which I refer, demands that I believe in and commit to upholding and promoting a set of social and economic principles which is embodied in the philosophy of that same Bread Justice and Freedom – for all Saint Lucians. Moreover, it means to be an active agent ofa Party and government which seeks to advance national development by creating economic opportunities for all …uplifting the working class, protecting the most vulnerable in our country, while creating an enabling environment for private sector enterprises to grow and develop.
The SLP believes that we must jealously protect our patrimony – our people and our land – from exploitation for short term gain and political expediency.
I pay tribute to many Saint Lucians, not only at home but here in the diaspora: in the United States, in England, in other parts of Europe, in the Virgin Islands, in Canada, in all the places where our sons and daughters have roamed. Those who have worked without rest to help build our country. I salute you who have settled here in New York but have maintained your close links with your homeland and your family, and more so who continue to make significant contributions to your relatives in St Lucia. Our country owes you a debt of gratitude.
During our previous stay in Government we introduced statutory regulations to assist returning citizens who had lived away for ten years or more. Those concessions allowed for duty free importation of a personal vehicle, personal effects and tools of trade. Labour also introduced special concessions on barrels to ease the cost of sending certain items to family and friends at home. A future Labour Party government will create more incentives to encourage you to further invest in Saint Lucia and eventually to return or retire at home
On June 6th the people of Saint Lucia voted the United Workers Party into government and immediately we respected the will of the people. I congratulated the incoming Prime Minister; wished him well and offered to work with him for the benefit of our country. The Saint Lucia Labour Party is a democratic party and we believe in free and fair elections. We accepted our defeat and immediately began work to re-organize our party and prepared to allow the Government to do the work of governing the country.
Let me make it clear that the Saint Lucia Labour Party has a vested interest in the successful development of Saint Lucia. As the official opposition it has a responsibility to remain vigilant and to fulfil its role as watch-dog over the business of the people. As Political Leader and Leader of the Opposition, I would hate to see our country fail or our people live in hardship. It is not just a role of the Labour Party; it is the role of any worthy opposition party and that also of the citizens of the country, residing both at home and abroad.
No matter who occupies the seat of government, as a people we must not be quiet and allow any style of governance which is based on exclusion, avoidance of public accountability and victimization.
When we were elected in 2011, we were honest with the people and informed them that for a number of reasons, including the world economic situation and the high levels of recurrent expenditure and debt, that we had to take some tough measures to improve the economy and place it on a path of sustainability.
We inherited a sluggish economy with a deficit of over 8% on current account; high levels of unemployment particularly among the youth; a tepid investment climate; infrastructure still battered by Hurricane Tomas and an unfinished St Jude Hospital.
When we were voted out in 2016 the deficit on current account was less than 4%. Investment was returning as evidenced by the construction of the 500 room Royalton Hotel and Harbour Club Hotel. Unemployment was decreasing although it remained at an unacceptable high level particularly among the youth. We rebuilt and repaired the infrastructure, including 23bridges and reconstruction of the Barre d’Isle .We repaired many kilometres of roads and continued construction on the St Jude Hospital.
In order to achieve that improvement and growth the SLP government had to make some tough economic decisions. We may have paid for those decisions at the polls in 2016 but do not regret what was achieved by them.
We introduced VAT based on a commitment which had been agreed to by regional governments and to which the signature of the Government of Saint Lucia had being placed by Prime Minister King during the UWP tenure of 2006 to 2011.
VAT is a tax on consumption [something which is not new to you who reside in the US], but in implementing it, the Labour Party was sensitive to its impact on the lower income earners. In this regard, Saint Lucia, although it was the last country to implement VAT in the OECS ensured that most basic food items were either VAT-exempt or Zero-rated. VAT was set at 15% based on studies and the objectives of government to reduce the Debt to GDP ratio to 60% by the year 2030.
It was largely because of the imposition of VAT that we were able to achieve the remarkable achievement of reducing the deficit on current account to less than 4% when we left in 2016.
We introduced the NICE program. NICE is a direct intervention in the labour market which created direct employment for over close to 2000 people in various fields of endeavour: it included a home care programme for the elderly, principal assistants at primary schools, farm assistants to help farmers, hospital and health aides. That policy at the time contributed to a reduction in unemployment.
We increased vehicular licences while still maintaining rates that were the lowest in the region – at less than one dollar per day for motor vehicles. This revenue was to assist in road repair and reconstruction.
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.
Instead of building on the platform presented the UWP embarked on a path of dismantling and stopping a number of projects and programs – a path that seemed devoid of logic or sound economic reasoning
We expect when a new government comes to power it will pursue its own set of policies and programs, however when those programmes border on recklessness and seem to place the country at risk, we must show concern. I want you to consider for a moment the projects stopped by the new UWP government and determine for yourself the wisdom or lack thereof in these decisions:
NICE Programme – Stopped
NICE programme stopped; putting close to 2000 people out of work accompanied by a dismissive statement from the Minister responsible that no harm is done because 90% of the people employed were Labour supporters.
Southern Administrative Complex – Stopped
Stopping the construction of an Administrative Complex in Vieux Fort, and in the process wasting over $10million dollars which had already been spent in the project.
Soufriere Square Redevelopment – Stopped:
Stopping the redevelopment of the Soufriere square with only months to go before its completion and with money available to complete.
Gros Islet Highway Project – Stopped:
Stopping the implementation of the final phase of expansion of the Castries-Gros Islet highway. Financing for the continuation of that highway and the bypass roads around Gros-Islet was already in place. Our Government had already agreed and signed all documents. The loan agreement was signed on 23rd March 2015 by the Saint Lucia Labour Party government with The Kuwaiti Fund– it was just a matter of completing the award of contracts.
Hewanorra Redevelopment: From PPP to Half Billion Loan:
We all agree that our international 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 tax payers one cent in additional debt. We had arranged through the World Bank for an international firm to work with government through the Air and Seaports Authority (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. In today’s environment, that is how all smart governments and Prime Ministers build their airports – but not in Saint Lucia.
The UWP Government has instead decided to borrow half a billion dollars for the airport redevelopment project. We ask ourselves – Why? Some of the possible reasons are quite disturbing. I invite you to exercise your own judgment on this matter.
St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project – Stopped:
I would be the first to admit that the St Jude’s Reconstruction project has been a challenge. Both the UWP Government and the Labour Government struggled to bring this project to completion. Throughout the difficulties encountered the Labour Government continued work on the project and all indications are that a few more months of work will bring it to completion. The project has been stopped since August 2016 with no legitimate reason coming from government. Not even a $1million audit has provided justification for discontinuing work on the project. In the meantime, the risk of maintaining the operations of the hospital at the George Odlum Stadium, grows with each passing month and the safety of patients and staff are in jeopardy as the roof deteriorates along with other structural defects.
St. Lucia Arts and Jazz Festival [among top 5 in the world] – Stopped
Our successful and world-renowned Arts and Jazz Festival has been replaced by a series of events called Soleil. The earliest indications are not encouraging but we hold our breath.
National Trust Subvention – Stopped
The circumstances surrounding the decision of government to deny the National Trust of its normal subvention can clearly be seen as victimization of the Trust due to its resistance to the construction of a dolphin park at the Pigeon Island National Landmark.
I am sure that many of you present here today would be anxious to hear the opposition’s position on the much discussed DSH project and why we are expressing grave concerns on a development that purports to be worth over two billion US dollars. Let me start by putting things in perspective.
DSH involves the leasing or selling of over one thousand acres of land to one foreign developer in the South of the island.
DSH means the displacement of lives and livelihoods of hundreds of people.
DSH means the decommissioning of the twenty-one million-dollar (EC$21million) meat processing plant and removal of the Beausejour Agricultural Station in Vieux Fort
DSH means the setting up of an Equine Disease Free Zone which excludes farming or animal husbandry within three kilometers of the sight. [An Equine Disease Free Zone (EDFZ) is a zone which is free of multiple specified equine (means: relating to horses) diseases]
DSH means the possible loss of access to public beaches in Vieux Fort
DSH means the selling of our passports by a developer to finance his own development and retain the proceeds in foreign bank accounts out of the control of the Government
In return all we have been assured of is a horse racing track that is to be financed by sale of our passports, and which is expected not to profit.
Let me be clear that the SLP is not against direct foreign investment. The SLP’s first response to the announcement of the project when it was first publicly announced by the UWP government was, and I quote:
“The Labour Party believes that the project, if it materializes, has the potential to contribute significantly to the development of the southern part of the island, diversify the island’s investment portfolio and in particular, help to reduce unemployment in the island. For the promised benefits to materialise, the project will have to be designed and implemented with considerable sensitivity as it could cause major disruption and dislocation in the lives of citizens in the south of the island.” Unquote.
By that statement we made it clear our intention to support any project which held benefits for our people, but at the same time we must measure the level of risk, especially a project like the DSH which requires us to commit close to some 1000 acres of the prime lands in Vieux Fort.
Our position is clear, the DSH project is too extensive; the agreements are too far reaching and there has not been adequate public consultations with the public or interested partners like the environmentalists.
The SLP believes that there should be no DSH project unless the Agreements are renegotiated. The new approach must include disclosure and full transparency on the commitments to the developer.
There are some critical aspects which we believe exposes the country to great risk and therefore should be renegotiated in the Framework Agreement signed on July 26th, 2016 and the Supplementary Agreement on November 10th, 2016:
- The DSH Master Plan, while presented for a holistic view of its planning, must be negotiated one phase at a time. This is very important as given the expanse of physical space the Project demands it commits all of the productive and investment lands in Vieux Fort in the hands of one developer for 20-25 years. This deters other developers. Should DSH change its plans or fails, too many opportunities may have been missed. Such long-term commitment of all lands will serve only to stifle indigenous business development.
- The lands where the George Odlum Stadium is located must not be included in the project. The Stadium must always remain the property of the Government and People of Saint Lucia
- Government must review the process and timelines for the termination of use and decommissioning of the Landfill.
- In the agreement exclusive rights are given to DSH for the operation of a casino, horse racing facility, and betting facility; and further, it is for an unlimited time. Government must consider a limited exclusion space.
Further, in light of the exclusivity, GOSL should request a revenue sharing arrangement for gaming rights.
- No lands should be leased at US$1 per acre for 99 years (Clause 2.10) while locals are never allowed such an opportunity.
- Under no circumstances should Sandy Beach and its adjourning lands be acquired for DSH. Sandy Beach is one of the few beaches in Saint Lucia left for the enjoyment of the people of Saint Lucia
- All lands should be purchased and paid for before parcel development can commence.
- Government must not agree to Clause 2.8 in the Supplemental Agreement which requires the Government to offset the cost of land acquisition where it falls above US$90,000 per acre. This transfers the risk of private land sales and speculation to the Government as against to the private developer.
- Government cannot agree to guarantee that CIP applications for Desert Star will be accelerated and granted within five (5) weeks. No particular investor should be ‘pre-approved’ or receive preferential treatment as this undermines the integrity of the CIP and places our national security in peril.
- The Agreements should not state any Gross Development Value (GDV) (Clause 4.1). This should form part of the negotiations with CIP in accordance with its procedures.
- The buy-back option granted to DSH (Clause 10) must be removed.
- Government must renegotiate Clauses 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3 to ensure more favourable arrangements for our local workers.
- Government must require that employees and affiliates of DSH pay income tax and VAT whilst working in Saint Lucia, contrary to the agreement
- Clause 7.1 which provides for the Escrow Account [account holding proceeds from passport sales] to be established outside of Saint Lucia should be rejected.
- Government must review the uses of the monies held in Escrow. (Clause 7.2). .
- Considering the scope of incentives and benefits given to DSH there should not be any commitment to provide a commission of $15,000 to the developer for sale of our passports out of Government fees as required under Clause 8.2.
- Government must reject the Security of Investment provision (Clause 18.1).
- Government must ensure that the Agreement provides conditions under which the obligations of the Government of Saint Lucia can be rescinded or revoked.
In response to these concerns, the Prime Minister argued then that the Agreements were just a framework and that he had every intention of making them public. He promised to negotiate the Agreement phase by phase and inform Saint Lucians of the details. To date, we have not heard from the Prime Minister.
However last week, a new set of drawings and photos were presented for Site C without the information requested from the government. Pictures cannot compensate for engaging and providing information to the people of Saint Lucia in general and the South in particular on all the outstanding issues.
With these new drawings, rather than answering questions, there are more questions to be asked.
The Prime Minister announced that the Hewanorra International Airport is now part of the DSH ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’ Development.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party is asking the following:
- Is the developer involved in the design and construction of the new Hewanorra International Airport?
- Will monies collected from the airport tax be used to pay Mr. Ah-King if he is involved in the design and construction?
- Will Mr. Teo Ah-King be involved in the management of the airport as part of his DSH project
In the recent statement it was disclosed that Mr King will be providing the money to build the Race Track up front and that Saint Lucia will repay him through the sale of our passports. The race track would initially have temporary facilities to allow a horse race in February 2019
The public were not told the terms or conditions of that loan. However, it was also disclosed that the race track would be returned to the Government of Saint Lucia after construction and a management agreement will be entered into with Mr. Ah-King to manage and operate the race track even if it is not a profit-making entity but instead it will be a catalyst for further developments in which the government would have no interest
The future of the incomplete St Jude Hospital is of grave concern to us particularly since there has been talk of demolishing and in light of the recent disclosure that the meat processing plant will be removed.
The People of Saint Lucia and especially the South have expressed concerns and the Labour Party continues to ask questions that up to this moment remain ignored by the government.
The St Lucia Labour Party if in government would have handled the DSH issue in a completely different manner. This is the reason why we did not announce it as an election project, simply to try to get votes. This is too serious a matter to be made a political football.
As Prime Minister I would never affix my signature to any such document.
I mentioned earlier that the St Lucia Labour Party is motivated by a philosophy that seeks to enhance the development of the individual materially and spiritually .Our motto of Bread Justice and Freedom is clear in the policies that we embark on when in Government, whether it is education or health evidenced by introduction of universal secondary primary education or the construction of new hospitals and health centers or the enactment of a CIP programme supported by legislation that ensures protection of the dignity of our passports – we put the integrity and dignity of the person first.
While we prepare to return to government whenever the people so decide we will develop a set of Values and Principles that will determine how we govern our country. These values and principles will ensure a zero tolerance to corruption and vindictiveness in government; a country that is managed with civility and respect and adherence to the rule of law where all citizens will be allowed a fair opportunity to contribute to the development of the country.
We will protect our patrimony and rich heritage and ensure that as far as possible our lands are available for citizens to enjoy and our beaches remain public property.
Our economic policy will encourage the development of entrepreneurship particularly among our youth. We believe that there is a role for Foreign Direct Investment but all encouragement must be given to local ownership by nurturing and growing small and medium size enterprises through incentives and different forms of business organization. Cooperatives will be supported and encouraged.
My brothers and sisters, under my leadership we are ready to usher a new way for our country. We urge you to listen carefully to the arguments on all sides. Continue to pay a keen interest in the affairs of your country and join us in that new and exciting journey
I thank you.