By Philip Pierre, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia
On the 43rd Anniversary of our Independence and this, my first Independence Address to you as the ninth Prime Minister of our 238 sq. mile island that we affectionately call home.
Let me thank you for the honour and privilege bestowed upon me when you elected the party that I lead to administer the affairs of the country for the next five years. It is with a sense of humility and urgency that we embark upon our mission of putting people first and transforming our country to be one of the best places to live and work in the world.
When we reflect on Independence we must remember and honor the contributions of two great Saint Lucia leaders who led the way in the fight from colonial rule to Independence.
We must be thankful for Sir George F.L. Charles, a selfless humble and caring leader and first chief minister, who secured our right to vote seventy-one years ago this year, a milestone moment along the road to Independence.
We must be thankful for the outstanding leadership of our first prime minister, Sir John G.M. Compton, who carried the final baton across the Independence line in 1979.
We have just completed a peaceful democratic general election that demonstrated the strength of our democracy to the world. The voice of the majority spoke clearly.
Our government will not encourage strife and division within our Saint Lucian family. In such unnatural battles, there can be no winners. Only losers. We have to put aside our petty differences in favour of shared ambitions. Elections can be both good and bad. Good when the process is used in the common interest. But when elections are seen only as opportunities to benefit from selfish behavior, regardless of which side wins, we all lose.
A half-successful Saint Lucia is a totally unsuccessful Saint Lucia.
If we spend our time making war against one another, on the basis of party differences, we will ultimately destroy ourselves and consequently the future of our children. I will do my utmost to bring all Saint Lucians together as one family, wherever you may be – but especially at home.
We must heal the root causes of our pain, whatever they may be. We must render ourselves physically and mentally fit soldiers in our war against poverty, against discrimination, against poor education, unemployment and crime.
Let us invite our brothers and sisters everywhere, regardless of political affiliation, to enlist in our fight against our common enemies. Enemies that do not recognize party colors.
Today is the 43rd Anniversary of our Independence and if I may resurrect an old line “it is the first day of the rest of our lives”. Let us make every day a good day. Let us never go to sleep without asking ourselves: what did I do for my country today that will benefit us all tomorrow?
Small things matter: did you follow the protocols established to protect us from COVID-19? Did you ensure your family’s safety?
Did you stop littering and polluting our rivers and beaches? Did you do your work in the best interests of your family and the wider Saint Lucian Family? By that I mean, are you abiding by the established rules of the day?
If each of us would pledge right now, to be the best citizen we can be, regardless of political stripe, we would immediately see a positive change in the number of road accidents; less pollution; we would see a reduction in the negative impact of COVID.
We would in consequence place less stress on the public purse, on our healthcare facilities and those who work so hard to deliver the best possible service.
In short, what I am advocating is that we turn a new leaf and start doing more for our country by doing better for ourselves. Your government, freed of avoidable burdens, will be in a better position to do for you what you cannot do for yourselves.
Our Culture Heritage
As a people, we must celebrate our culture and heritage and achieve cultural independence by recognizing that our land is not to be pillaged. We are the Land, the People and the Light. Our island treasures must be protected within the development discussion. We want to ensure that we can continue to live where thousands come to vacation.
To paraphrase the sentiments of Kendel Hippolyte in this year’s Derek Walcott Lecture, beauty is demanding and our footprints on this beauty must be treated softly and in harmony with our landscapes.
As your prime minister, I promise that government will do its best to conduct the affairs of state in a transparent, accountable, equitable, inclusive, effective and efficient manner.
There is an urgent need to rebuild trust among the citizens that government is there to serve their best interest. As a government we can only do so by operating within the framework of good governance.
I call on civil society, trade unions, the churches to be active players in the development of the country by carrying out their respective roles, by embracing practices of good governance, remembering always that whatever their group’s purpose people must be at its center and not a means to any other end.
As individual citizens, we must recognize that our well-being is tied to the well-being of others. It is impossible to succeed as a nation if we are always seeking to put ourselves above others, regardless of their needs. We need each other; it is for this reason we come into this world with different talents, so that we can be of service to each other. We can’t succeed on our own.
Competition is important, yes, but so too is collaboration. As a small society, a collaborative, cooperative agenda will ensure that everyone gets a fair share, and a fair opportunity.
For years, we have said that our youth are our greatest asset. Yet, they are now at the greatest risk from crime, anti-social behavior and poverty.
We must achieve inter-generational exchange and rebalancing so that our youth are not left frustrated, marginalized and depressed.
Our Youth Economy agenda is aimed at creating opportunities for young people to become financially independent and create new wealth. They will be given an opportunity to create new and sustainable livelihoods.
By transforming hobbies into entrepreneurship and skills into businesses. Our youth will be allowed to dream, imagine, create, innovate, invest, take risks forming the core of economic growth and development.
Our youth are already creating and doing amazing things, and with some more help, not even the sky is the limit.
We will be seeding, mentoring and catalyzing that drive for hundreds of youth, especially the at risk and rural youth.
We have already launched, with the help of our Taiwanese friends, the first phase of our Youth Economy rollout targeted at Vocational Skills, Entrepreneurial Skills and Business Coaching.
I want to express my appreciation to all the members of civil society, all front line workers who contributed to relief for our citizens during the Covid pandemic. Only last week Lucelec responded to government’s request to assist with a Social Assistance Programme. We call on other corporate citizens to contribute to that cause.
Our major focus in transforming our country must be the development of our human capital. We can only do so by having a relevant and empowering education system, an affordable and adequate health system, adequate housing and a relatively safe and secure environment.
Recently, we have witnessed an unacceptable increase in criminal activity, mainly gun-related homicides, causing unnecessary pain and suffering to many. We must end that menace. We must build respect and care for each other. To do so we must have a sense of self and sense of identity.
Celebrating each human life, acknowledging the worth of every human being calls for stronger public education, more equity in the distribution of wealth.
However, there must be observance of the laws of the land and the police will be expected to do their duty in causing a reduction in crime. We will prioritize spending on law and order. Law enforcement agencies like the police will be resourced with modern tools for crime detection.
This year, we celebrate our nation’s birthday under the theme Douvan Ansanm – Forward Together: Celebrating Our People.
And there are so many great Saint Lucians worthy of celebrating.
These people are more than just busts in squares or statues in parks. It is their life stories that must inspire us.
It is in these stories that we can celebrate our common story that has often been forgotten.
Many Saint Lucians go out to serve and make sterling contributions in other countries and indeed we are often blessed when they return to give back to their homeland. This is indeed the story of the newly appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Castries the Most Reverend Gabriel Malzaire who will soon return to steward the Catholic faithful in Saint Lucia.
This will be the first time since 1979 the departure of Archbishop Patrick Webster that a Saint Lucian will hold this position. I welcome Bishop Malzaire and anxiously await his stewardship.
Let’s trust our institutions
We have also demonstrated that as a people, in spite of the size of our population, we can manage successful businesses and state enterprises. An institution that stands out as a beacon of hope, that has withstood all obstacles and was able to bring income support during the Covid pandemic to many is the National Insurance Corporation.
Created in 2000, its predecessors were the National Provident Fund and National Insurance Scheme, it is now a $2.4 billion institution and the largest financial institution outside the local banking sector, having started with an initial fund of a little over $20,000 in 1970.
Today the National Insurance Corporation (NIC) provides long-term benefits to 10,000 citizens, 7,000 of which are pensioners, and another 18,000 citizens with short-term benefits, mainly sickness benefits. I urge employers and employees to continue to make their contributions to the NIC.
It is this belief in our local and regional institutions that has led us to engage the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to begin the process of accession to the Court’s appellate jurisdiction to replace the Privy Council thus making justice more affordable and accessible to our people.
Fellow Saint Lucians, as we celebrate our 43 Anniversary of Independence lets us seek to transform – to an economy built on the empowerment of our people through knowledge and technology. An economy that is driven by education, skills, research and development.
An economy that promotes equitable opportunities for participation and ownership of businesses, property and wealth for youth, women and persons in rural communities. An economy that allows appropriate incentives for local, regional and international investment.
As we celebrate, let us recognize that smallness is not an impediment to greatness.
Our stories and experiences as a Saint Lucian people matter and need to be celebrated. As we move forward, it may seem to some that our problems are insurmountable.
What I say today is that we can solve them if we learn from our past by avoiding the same mistakes. We can solve them if each one helps one for greatness to exist in our country.
We can solve our problems if we revive that Koudmen Spirit of collaboration in our daily lives. We can solve them if we move forward together as a unified and disciplined nation.
Let us move forward together confidently, collaboratively calmly and purposefully.
Let me end with a quote from the First Black president of the United States, Barack Obama.
“Where we are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can”.
Happy Independence to you, whenever you may roam!