Good evening, Saint Lucia. As we usher in a new year, I take this opportunity to wish every Saint Lucian, both here, and in the diaspora, all God’s blessings.
As this government begins its third year in office, we must reflect and ask, “Am I satisfied with the direction in which my country is heading? Do I feel safer today than I did two and a half years ago? Am I satisfied with the government’s efforts to protect us from the increasing cost of living? Am I confident about the quality of education and the health care systems?
We must also ask ourselves, “Is it easier to get a job now than before? And am I satisfied with the Government’s management of the state assets and in particular, our roads?”
If your answer like mine is a resounding “No”, then it is clear that our sweet St Lucia is heading in the wrong direction.
In 2016, the United Workers Party under my leadership, pledged to build a new Saint Lucia. We promised you, the people of this country, that with your support, we would make Saint Lucia, the best place to live, work, invest and visit. We knew it would not be easy, but we were committed to this ideal.
We recognized that to fulfill this vision and to become the nation that we are destined to be, we could no longer continue doing things the same way and expect meaningful progress. That is why we developed a ten-year plan to provide affordable quality health care, a globally competitive education system, a safe environment and economic opportunity for all.
Over the last two and a half years, we have witnessed the opposite – in fact, we now have an oppressive and autocratic government that has betrayed the trust of the people and is bent on dictatorship and victimization. We have witnessed the complete mismanagement of the economy, nepotism, deceit, hypocrisy, dishonesty, blatant corruption at an unprecedented level, and the flagrant abuse of our civil rights, all in the name of “Protecting the victory”.
We have witnessed anyone daring to stand up to this Government being brutally attacked. We see it every day on social media and on shows hosted by SLP loyalists.
In the public service, many experienced and professionals have been marginalized and replaced by party supporters, and we also see the repeated attempts to silence the Opposition in Parliament.
Despite this, the members of the United Workers Party remain committed to being the voice of those who cannot defend themselves and will continue to fight for freedom, our civil rights and the rule of law.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is evident that our country is currently going through one of the toughest economic times in its history. However, it is clear this current crisis has been self-inflicted by a government that has no plan and no vision for our Country. They have been clueless in how to respond to the impact of inflation, and the global conflicts that have created a threat to our economy.
Instead of protecting vulnerable households and the “poorest of the poor”, the Government’s incompetence has worsened the situation, by deliberately allowing the price of fuel, cooking gas, bus fares and bread to increase, in some cases permanently.
Contrast this with 2020, when we faced Covid-19, the most severe pandemic the world had ever experienced, resulting in a global economic catastrophe. During this difficult time, our top priority was to ensure that our senior citizens and the most vulnerable had access to food, and that our displaced workers had the necessary funds to take care of their families and daily expenses.
We knew that families had to grapple with the fear and turmoil caused by Covid 19, and at the same time worry about how they would survive financially. We took the hard, but necessary decision, to forego a focus on government revenue, in favor of prioritizing measures to safeguard our citizens.
Unlike what is happening today, our focus then was on saving lives and livelihoods and guiding the country through difficult global challenges. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what it actually means to put your people first.
It is heartbreaking to see that today, more Saint Lucians than ever, are unable to afford even the most basic necessities, such as food, medication and utilities. Working-class families and civil servants alike are struggling to provide for their loved ones and to put a decent meal on the table. With a government that only provides excuses and no solutions, there is no end in sight to this struggle.
Last year, I had the privilege of speaking to a young lady who was in tears. She said to me that both she and her husband are hardworking public servants and yet, they are struggling to pay their monthly commitments and to provide for their two children.
Sadly, ladies and gentlemen, their situation has become the reality for too many Saint Lucians, but not for those in the inner circles of this government.
What sacrifices are they making? Have they reduced their salaries at all? Have they cut back on fruitless expensive trips? Have they cut back on pricey and unnecessary consultants? No, but every other month we hear of new appointments and of trips to Dubai and Rwanda to name a few.
Why would any government subject its citizens deliberately to such hardship?
We see millions of dollars being squandered by the maladministration of projects, the sale of state assets and ill-advised decisions.
And why should we, hardworking taxpayers of this country, continue to accept this situation?
A government that feels entitled and is devoid of ideas to stimulate an economy will always resort to increasing taxes. This has always been the SLP way. Once again, they have decided to impose an additional tax of 2.5% on an already struggling population. Meanwhile they continue to ignore the advice of civil society groups, such as the Chamber, who warned against the negative impact of this burdensome tax. The consequences of this action are that the poor continue to get poorer, further expanding the poverty margin, while a selected few within the inner circle of the Saint Lucia Labor Party continue to enrich themselves.
It has been painful for us to witness the destruction of the gains we had made in laying a solid foundation to rebuild our country for petty political reasons.
It remains puzzling that a government with access to a budget of 200 million dollars, cannot see the urgency of completing a new modern hospital that they claim is already over 50% complete. Instead, they are wasting valuable time and resources, by rebuilding an outdated 80-year-old structure, just to score cheap political points.
It is my hope that the nurses, doctors and the people of the South who have suffered the indignity of being housed in the stadium for the past 14 years will rise up against such a backward and senseless decision. Now that the Government has admitted to using part of the “Box”, we must demand that St Judes Hospital be moved immediately to the ground floor of the new building, which is already 75% complete and will only take six months to finish. They deserve better. We all deserve better.
We know that a healthy nation is a wealthy nation. And a National health Insurance plan would ensure immediate funds of up to 75 thousand dollars for every Saint Lucian to access prescriptions, surgery, health checks, dental and dialysis among other services.
Why would a government deny you that, and, in its place, create a policy that only provides free healthcare to pregnant mothers and senior citizens over 80 years?
What about the rest of the population who cannot access basic medical care, nor basic medications at our health care facilities? Do they not need access to quality and affordable healthcare as well?
It is evident that Saint Lucia continues to pay the highest prices for fuel and cooking gas in the region. During my tenure, when the international oil prices skyrocketed to $75 USD per barrel, my government refused to allow the price of fuel to go past EC $13.75. This meant that we only collected $3 in excise tax and decided to forgo the $4 in order to ease the burden on the most vulnerable sections of society. However, at present, the price of oil is at the same $75 USD a barrel, yet the current government continues to keep the price of fuel at EC $16.50, collecting an average of $5 per gallon. Cooking gas is at almost EC $40- the highest ever in the history of Saint Lucia. This raises the question of how much excise tax the government has been collecting over the last 365 days to fund the lavish lifestyles of the members of the Saint Lucia Labor Party, at the expense of the poor.
The increase in crime across the nation in 2023 is unprecedented, causing widespread fear and panic. The Prime Minister pathetically tried to justify a second year of 75 murders by claiming the rate of murders declined in the second half of the year due to his initiatives. We can all see the fallacy of his argument, as we have started the first month of this year with 8 murders – an average of two per week! If this pattern continues, we can only imagine what the death toll of our young men will be by the end of the year. Instead of putting hard hitting measures in place, the Prime Minister Philip Pierre continues to give silly excuses such as I don’t Know, I am not a Policeman, and hopes that things will get better.
Additionally, Pierre has failed to understand the importance of ensuring that his cabinet is free from acts of corruption or criminal activities. This trend is also apparent in many appointments of persons within the echelons of government who have shady pasts and, in some cases, criminal convictions.
The police and the populace live in a constant state of fear of a junior government minister who will bully and take to task anyone who chooses to speak out against his unethical acts and corrupt deeds. Instead of condemning this behavior, the Prime Minister cowers in silence and says nothing. His failure to set an example has weakened his government’s moral authority on crime.
Nonetheless, the United Workers Party strongly reiterates its unwavering commitment to working with the government to combat crime. We understand the devastating impact that crime has on people, communities and the economy. Therefore, we urge all Saint Lucians to unite and stand together as one people in the fight against crime and violence in our country.
It is difficult to witness the destruction of the gains we had made in laying a solid foundation to rebuild our country and the loss of a clear direction, and even harder to believe, this is all for petty politics.
As citizens, we all have the power to shape the progress of our nation. It is up to each one of us, acting together, to decide how we want this country governed.
We can no longer afford to stand idly by and say and do nothing. I am reminded of a quote attributed to one of the greatest freedom fighters Dr. Martin Luther King, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” I therefore call on all good men and women of this country to act now to safeguard our democracy and freedom, as the future of the next generation is at risk. We must all participate to protect our country. If not, all will be lost.
The Constitution is a contract to empower the government to make decisions and implement programs on our behalf. However, this can only be achieved by carefully selecting the right people to lead and by holding them accountable. Any acts of dishonesty, abuse of power and attempts to silence our voices must be opposed.
We need leaders who will foster and cultivate new ideals and values. Leaders who will provide the people of Saint Lucia with better access to services, who will safeguard the country’s assets and raise the standard of living across this country.
We should all aspire to set a higher standard for ourselves and adopt a fresh and progressive approach to our politics and developing our country.
As we move forward, we need to lay aside our political biases and think about the future of our nation. I am asking all of you to become part of the solution. I encourage everyone to work with me and the United Workers Party, to hold this government accountable for their policies, decisions, and actions that affect us all.
As you may know, this month we are celebrating 45 years of independence, during that time, we have accomplished some great achievements and equally some disappointments.
My fellow Saint Lucians, we all want the best for Saint Lucia. It is not only my hope but also the aspiration of the United Workers Party family, a Family with a proud history of progress, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, that we urge you to play your part and participate in one of the many consultations, public meetings, town hall engagements and focus group sessions that we will be hosting throughout the length and breadth of Saint Lucia or become a member and join the executive branch from your Constituency.