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45th INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY OF SAINT LUCIA GALA IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

My fellow St Lucians, Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to be here with you to celebrate the 45th anniversary of our independence from the United Kingdom, this country which you have chosen as your second home. Although it is three months since the actual anniversary date, it is not too late to observe it, as the attainment of independence itself was a long battle – a process we can argue that began with the struggles by our ancestors for freedom from slavery and which intensified post-Emancipation in 1838, for recognition of our rights to constitutional independence and freedoms.

It is a struggle that is in fact still continuing, as evidenced, first: by our adoption last year of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our final appellate court, thereby moving away from the UK Privy Council as our final court of appeal; and secondly, the establishment this year of a 12-member committee to review the Report of the Constitution Reform Commission led by the late Justice Suzy D’Auvergne and Parliament’s consideration of that Report in 2014. This Committee has already begun its work.

This effort, to firmly conclude the constitutional aspects of the independence struggle with the UK, does not however mean a downgrading of our relationship with Britain or that we are turning our backs on you, our fellow St Lucians, who reside here in Britain. We will continue to maintain close diplomatic and economic ties with the United Kingdom and will continue to engage our fellow St Lucian here in the UK in the development and the affairs of our country. That is in fact one of the reasons why I am here with you this evening.

The Importance of the Diaspora

I want to thank you for your warm welcome and patriotic embrace. I always welcome the opportunity to travel overseas to meet with my brothers and sisters, to speak with you, to listen to your life’s journey of struggles and successes in a foreign land, and to give you an honest and accurate account of the work of my government. As Saint Lucians at home and abroad we share a common and binding purpose- which is to attain individual success and contribute meaningfully to the development of our beloved Saint Lucia. Our 45th Independence Anniversary theme- “Douvan Ansanm: Building a Nation through Unity, Resilience and Creativity”, ably captures our quest and desire to move forward together in shaping our common destiny as a nation.

As we move ahead on that journey we want all hands on deck and, as such, the important role and contribution of the Diaspora cannot be overstated in the pursuit of sustainable national development.

I want to thank you for your meaningful contribution to the economy of Saint Lucia over many decades. Not only have you provided financial support to relatives and friends but you have been a source of inspiration to us back home. Many of you have done very well in your respective fields becoming ambassadors for Saint Lucia in your circles. Your achievements in business, sports, academia, art, and other endeavours continue to elevate the international standing of our country and bring honour to your families, friends, and our people.

I can assure you of my government’s commitment to implementing measures to bring the Diaspora even deeper into our national development process.

I want to thank all charitable organisations and individuals in the UK, for supporting Saint Lucia with monetary and in-kind contributions, especially during periods of crisis like the passage of adverse weather systems.

I want to specially recognise the contribution of the St Lucia Association of London in service to the community and country. In July of last year, I had the distinct honour of joining the Association in Saint Lucia in celebration of its 60th Anniversary. I was extremely delighted that the UK-based Association had found it fitting to travel to Saint Lucia to celebrate this significant milestone with our people back home. That simple but profound gesture exemplifies, the existence of the unbreakable bond of friendship and cooperation that we need to actively nurture for more meaningful integration of the UK Diaspora into our national development process for the benefit of all our citizens.

I want to thank the President, Mr David Clifford, the Executive Committee of the Association, and all the patriotic Saint Lucians for serving on this important national Association in various capacities, over many decades of service to our nationals in the UK and back home. I salute you for representing our country with great pride and a strong sense of patriotism, and for keeping in touch with the homeland throughout the years. To ensure continuity in this challenging environment, I want to urge the Association to find a way to engage the younger generation to embrace the virtues of leadership, community service, and nation-building in the years ahead.

Our Promises Delivered

I want to bring you up to date with the progress of our government, for in this age of rapid communications, of AI-driven technology, where misinformation is so easy to manufacture and disseminate, it is important that you hear the facts from authoritative sources- that is from us in the Government who are creating the policies and taking decisions that are putting the people of Saint Lucia first.

When we assumed the mantle of government on 26 July 2021, we made two solemn promises to the people of Saint Lucia. Firstly, we vowed to always Put the People First in our decision-making process in government. And secondly, we promised to govern on the principles of accountability, transparency, truth, and integrity, which are pillars of good governance and democratic institutions.

We inherited a floundering economy in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic with all economic indicators trending towards economic disaster. As a precondition for reshaping the country, we had to stabilize the finances of the country and place the public debt on a sustainable path.

We successfully implemented a series of policy measures to achieve these broad goals while protecting the most vulnerable amongst the population.

Recognising the leading role of tourism as the main driver of economic activity we re-energized and repositioned the tourism sector- by re-introducing the Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival, increased our airlift capacity, and vigorously promoted Community-based Tourism, which has resulted in tourist arrivals nearing pre-Covid-19 levels, with March 2024 being Saint Lucia’s best month on record.

To generate employment for the Youth; we established the Youth Economy Agency to provide funding for over 3,000 young Saint Lucians to help them turn their hobbies into entrepreneurship and skills into viable business ventures. We also establish the semi-professional football league to support youth employment, and youth personal development and to contribute to crime prevention in at-risk communities.

We consider education to be a right and not a privilege, and to expand educational opportunities for all, we provided significant increases in scholarships for students, in keeping with our One University Per Household Policy, and provided a laptop to every secondary student under our One Laptop Per Child Policy and paid facilities fees.  We provided direct educational support to students, teachers, and parents as well.

The Covid-19 pandemic negatively impacted all businesses, especially the small business sector. To support business recovery, we provided grants and soft loans to hundreds of micro, small, and medium-sized business enterprises, and specifically targeted women in some business support programs.

We provided support to farmers, fishers, and pensioners to help cushion the impact of the pandemic on the country.

To improve the investment climate and to stimulate business activity in the economy, we improved the ease of doing business; implemented tax reforms and tax amnesty to citizens and businesses, and improved the tax refund process for citizens.

We strongly believe that the health of every citizen is important to the productivity and well-being of the nation. And so, we expanded healthcare access for the elderly, pregnant mothers, diabetic and high blood pressure patients with the launch of the first stage of the Universal Health Care (UHC) program. We intend to, as far as practicable, make healthcare more affordable and accessible to all our citizens. 

We re-instated the yearly subvention of $700,000.00 for the Saint Lucia National Trust, which had been withdrawn by the previous administration, to ensure the protection of our national patrimony and the environment. We also reinstated the Distress Fund to provide relief for fire victims of uninsurable dwellings, which had also been discontinued.

We continue to equip law enforcement with the appropriate training and operational equipment to combat crime. However, the issue of violent crime, particularly among our youth involved in gangs, still remains one of our major challenges, and it is no comfort that it is a serious challenge faced by all Caribbean countries. We are committed to fulfilling the primary responsibility of any government which is to ensure citizen security. Therefore, in addition to the operational support, equipment, training, and improvements in infrastructure being given to the Police, earlier this year, I appointed a Minister with responsibility for Crime Prevention to work with all social partners, including political parties, and law enforcement, to develop national crime reduction strategies to address the growing citizen security concerns.

Over the past three years, the economy of Saint Lucia has been growing steadily. The growth has been across many sectors, in particular, tourism, construction, and manufacturing. Business confidence in the economy is up for both local and foreign investors, as unemployment was at the lowest level in sixteen years at year-end 2023.

Our Ongoing Plans

In my 2024/25 Budget Policy address delivered in April, I introduced a number of interventions to stimulate the economy and provide further social and economic relief to the population.

Early Childhood Education

A one-off payment of $2500 will be made to each of the ninety-three (93) privately registered Early Childhood Centres to assist with the purchase of educational supplies. This payment will be made from August 1st, 2024.

 

Housing Relief for Public Servants

Public servants will be entitled to 100% residential mortgages under the US$ 20 million new credit line facility being managed by the Saint Lucia Development Bank. In addition, the government will assist every successful applicant with a $1000 payment towards their legal cost.

 

Increase in Pensions

There are government pensioners and other pensioners who currently earn $300.00 monthly. Effective August 1, 2024 the minimum pension payable to government pensioners will be increased to $725.00.  Government pension payments in the future will be linked to union-agreed negotiated salary increases for civil servants but not beyond the covered period of those negotiated settlements.

At a request from the government, the NIC in consultation with their actuaries has also decided to increase its minimum pension to $500 per month. About 2400 pensioners will benefit from this increase effective from 1st August 2024.

This means that from 1st August, 2024, no government or NIC pensioner in Saint Lucia, will receive less than $500 per month.

 

Waiver of Stamp Duty on House Mortgages

As part of the government's policy to encourage the construction and renovation of new residential homes and renovations to existing homes, stamp duty on mortgages up to $400,000 taken for any of the two purposes will be waived.

 

Minimum and Livable Wage

Putting People First underscores our desire to keep improving the wages and conditions of workers. It has been a long time since the last Minimum Wage Order went into effect in Saint Lucia. And so, two years ago we appointed the Minimum and Equal Wage Commission to prepare the way for a new order.

We are nearing the completion of all the required legal steps in that process, and we expect Saint Lucian workers to have a new Minimum and Livable Wage by 1st August, 2024. The draft minimum wage order was published last week as per the laws of Saint Lucia.

 

These social intervention programs follow from the last two years of solid achievements to stimulate the economy, protect the needy, and provide educational and health care support to our citizens.

This financial year our emphasis will be on building Infrastructure. We will focus not only on roads, bridges, drains, and physical assets but will include building Digital, Housing, Health, Education, Economic, Agricultural, and Social Infrastructure.

Some of the Housing and Road Construction Projects will be implemented under the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) so that for the first time we will be utilising the CIP programme to bring more direct benefits to the people of Saint Lucia. Again recently, there has been much misinformation, spewed by the Opposition Party about this program. Let me reassure you that our CIP is in no danger nor is our Visa-free access to the EU in jeopardy. Saint Lucia’s due diligence of its CIP programme is not being questioned by the British government or any other government for that matter. Saint Lucia did not sign a recent MOU among OECS countries with regard, to among other things, the minimum individual investments in the CIP program because we need to complete contractual arrangements with some investors before we agree to any price changes to our CIP programmes.

Some of our major infrastructural projects are the completion of the St Jude Hospital and the Northern Divisional Police Headquarters in Gros Islet. The commencement of work on a new Hospital in Soufriere, the Castries Port and Soufriere Port Redevelopment project, and a new Halls of Justice in Castries on the site of the old High Court Building and the adjacent disused Ministry of Education building.

Global Ports Holdings (GPH)

In August 2023 the government through the Saint Lucia Air and Seaports Authority (SLASPA) secured a landmark development agreement with Global Ports Holdings (GPH) to develop the cruise infrastructure of Port Castries and Port Soufriere on a 30-year concessionary lease agreement. Contrary to what is being propagated by the Opposition, I want to assure you that Port Castries and Port Soufriere have not been sold and remain public assets under the management of the respective port management agencies.

The year-round Cargo operations of Port Castries generate about 90% of SLASPA’s revenue which remains under the full control of SLASPA. The seasonal, 6-months of year, Cruise operations at the Port generated about 10% of Port Castries revenue. It is this Cruise operations revenue that has been handed over to GPH under the Concessionary Agreement, in exchange for major investments in cruise infrastructure along with the take-over of a $20 million loan from SLASPA.

Halls of Justice

The Halls of Justice, which measure 127,000 square feet, will be constructed under a 12-year BOLT agreement between NH Inc. and the Government of Saint Lucia.  After 12 years of leasing a fully furnished and equipped building, the government will pay $1 to get full ownership of the building and its contents, but the cost of constructing the building will not add to the country’s debt profile at any time. Again rest assured that under this financing model, the Halls of Justice comes at no extra debt to the government of Saint Lucia.

In addition to these public sector programmes there are several private-sector hotel projects that are currently under construction or whose construction will commence this year. These include the Courtyard Marriott at Pointe Seraphine, a 330 rooms Hotel at Canelles in Micoud, one at Cas En Bas, Gros Islet, the expansion of Sandals La Toc, Secrets Resorts and Spa Saint Lucia at Choc, a resort at Mount Pimard in Gros Islet, and the redevelopment of two large hotels at Reduit beach in Gros Islet.

 Saint Lucia’s economy is recovering and streaming away from the financial disasters that threatened it in 2021. The signs of heightened economic activity could not have been more amply demonstrated than in the recent very successful Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival which began on 30th April and ended on Mother’s Day 12th May. Attendance at the festival’s Main Stage events at Pigeon Point broke last year’s records with the Friday night Caribbean Fusion reaching over 9800 patrons according to preliminary figures. The data also shows that online ticket sales for the festival came from 50 different countries. There were benefits to a wide cross-section of the population, from vendors to hairdressers to taxi operators and local artists. What was even more pleasing was that the international artists proudly spoke of their experience in Saint Lucia on their social media pages.

There is local confidence in our economy and there is international investor confidence in Saint Lucia. You here, in Britain, should therefore not be hesitant to participate in the economic opportunities in Saint Lucia or be afraid to return to our island home.

I want to thank you for the contributions you have already been making to our country through the remittances you have been sending to your relatives and friends in Saint Lucia. Permit me to make special mention of those of you from Canaries whose long relationship with your brothers and sisters there, through your own Associations, has been noteworthy.

My government recognises the importance of St. Lucia’s Diaspora to our country, and so this year we will roll out the program to grant St Lucian citizenship to children of second-generation St. Lucians who are not born in St Lucia. This means that third-generation St Lucians can now become St Lucian citizens. In addition, this year the Parliament will enact the Diaspora Investment Bill to provide incentives for St Lucians living in the Diaspora to invest in Saint Lucia. Saint Lucia is your home; it is our home; we are one people.

The vast ocean that separates you from Saint Lucia, the economic opportunities that pulled you to Britain and away from your relatives and friends, must not and cannot be allowed to prevent you here and us at home from developing our nation together. That is the essence of the theme for this year’s Independence anniversary: “Douvan Ansanm – building a nation through unity, resilience and creativity”.

Let us embrace it!

 Let us be inspired by it!

 Let us fulfill it!

I thank you.

 

 

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