Saturday 5 December, 2020

PM Chastanet gives 41st Anniversary of Independence Address

I wish all Saint Lucians everywhere a Happy Independence Day and trust that as many as possible will join in the celebrations.

Last year’s anniversary activities were truly amazing and I once again say a big thank you to all who were involved in the execution of the programme for the 40th and of course for this, our 41st anniversary.

We have now completed our first four decades as an independent country. It has been another milestone along the journey but it is also a fitting point to see how far we have come.

The collapse of the West Indies Federation in 1962 spurred the movement towards independence in the Caribbean, and former British colonies began their respective quests for self-determination.

Like several other countries before and after, Saint Lucia felt that the time had come when it had to take full control of its destiny and with Sir John Compton, a champion of Saint Lucian nationalism at the helm, we took the giant step in February of 1979. From then on the responsibility to build our country fell on our shoulders. If we faltered, we would have no one to blame but ourselves.

At the time, with 12 years under our belt as a self-governing Associated State, the feeling was that we had successfully laid the basis for this final step.

In the 41 years since we have built a democracy. It has not always been perfect, just as no nation and no system is perfect but it provided the foundation on which to build a dynamic country.

No longer is our economy tied to or dependent on an agricultural mono-crop. We have diversified into tourism, manufacturing and financial services. We can never lose sight of the contribution that the banana industry made to Saint Lucia, especially in the 1970s and 1980s when alone, it created the greatest social and economic revolution in our history.

No longer are essential services - water, electricity, telephones - confined to the major towns, leaving thousands of our people behind in the race for social progress.

We have built roads and bridges to join one community to the other and opened up vast areas of idle land for development, with housing projects, luxurious hotels, industrial estates, health and community centres, sports facilities and recreational parks.

We have expanded air and sea ports and institutions of learning and generally laid down all the necessary infrastructure on which to build a small and prosperous country.

We have braved many a disaster, natural or man-made, economic or political, short-term or long-term but we have survived and came back stronger.

The resolve and resilience of our country and our people are assets that give us the assurance that when the tough gets going, we have the capacity to come together with common purpose to take on whatever challenge confronts us.

I refer here to Hurricane Allen in 1980, the very first year of our independence; the three year political upheaval, again immediately after our independence, Tropical Storm Debby in 1994 that caused more damage than many a hurricane; the world financial crisis of 2008 described as the worst since the great depression. And who can forget the devastation caused by Hurricane Tomas in 2010 and the Christmas Eve trough of 2013.

More recently, we came from a situation of consecutive years of no economic growth, with all our indicators trending downwards: record debt and unemployment levels, drying up of investment and an environment of despair and desperation.

When I addressed you at the beginning of the year, I indicated to you the areas where we had been able to record good progress, especially in lowering unemployment levels, reducing the debt to GDP ratio, easing the economic burden and improving our infrastructure.

Tourism arrivals are now at record levels, and the prospects for agriculture and the manufacturing sector are extremely good. In our efforts to further diversify the economy, we have strengthened the IT sector and introduced the Headquarters Act to facilitate companies setting up headquarter operations in Saint Lucia.

The government has had the task of putting Saint Lucia back on track with its development. There is still a lot to be done.

Overcoming the hurdles so far proves that our people possess the character, the fortitude, indeed the wisdom to rise above adversity.

However, we must continue to recognize the things that keep us back, the attitudes and modes of behaviour which hurt us and we must eliminiate them, once and for all.

We need to apply equal effort to the development of values as we do to fiscal policy and infrastructure. I am speaking here about love and respect for each other and for our country, respect for authority and the laws of our country, tolerance, honesty and discipline.

The theme for this year’s 41st Independence anniversary was well chosen:  “Now is the time; let’s do this together”. It follows last year’s rallying theme for us to get all in.

As an independent nation, we have responsibilities. While outside countries and institutions would give us a helping hand, in the final analysis the task of developing Saint Lucia, is ours.

Our people must play a part in building a nation we can all be proud of - now not later.

As I have said before, Saint Lucia it is our time but we must work together to shake the habits that continue to stifle our country.

•Should we continue to drive as recklessly as we do? Look how many people, especially young people, have been killed in traffic accidents in the last five years, many of them talented boys and girls, some victims of recklessness and crass stupidity. Figures for serious traffic accidents are on the increase, causing mayhem and grief for families and friends of the victims.

•How many people were killed because of personal differences and the inability to resolve conflicts peacefully? We have to develop the capacity to forgive and walk away.

•Why are our young people choosing the path to gangs? The path to a life of crime and ultimately death?

This has to stop.

The pictures of young Brandt Jean publicly and in open court in Dallas, Texas, hugging and forgiving a policewoman who had shot and killed his brother, sent a powerful message of love and forgiveness to the entire world. But how many will follow his example?

There are other dangerous habits which harm our country; like cheating on taxes, failure to collect taxes and dues owed to the government, whether it’s in our hospitals, Customs department or the Police Department. It cannot be right when 95 percent of the traffic tickets issued by our police remain unpaid.

More and more the social problems confronting our country have their genesis in practices and habits that start small. We ignore them in our homes, in our schools, in our communities and the reality is it comes back to haunt us all.

When will it stop, unless we put a stop to it?

Saint Lucia, the advent of social media has given us a great communication tool, but instead we use it to hurt each other, spread gossip and sometimes even malign our own country without considering the consequences.

It is time to change such habits. It is time that we together identify the simple ways in which we can all pull up our socks and do our part to make Saint Lucia a better place. This is what togetherness means.

This is a call to action; a call to develop a change in attitudes. Let us collectively take stock and recommit ourselves to Saint Lucia, to take control of our own destiny.

The words of our national anthem were well chosen, in its call to all Saint Lucians to “love the land that gave us birth.” This is one of the basic requirements of true patriotism.

The words of our National Pledge also speak of the principle of nationalism, as we proclaim to serve our country “with pride and dignity and to defend it with vigour and valour in the pursuit of excellence, justice and equality for all.” The fact is that these ideals require discipline and commitment.

We have many examples of individuals who have embraced these ideals and committed themselves to achieving success: Our Nobel Laureates, Daren Sammy, Levern Spencer, Julien Alfred, Kimani Melius; the list of outstanding Saint Lucians continues.

They made no excuses and kept their eye on the goal of excellence, no matter their background or circumstances, no matter how many times they were told no, it could not be done. They ignored the critics and naysayers, they fought their own perceived limitations and pressed on. That’s what winners do! 

I am reminded here of a beautiful message by a college student Matthew Jeffers, who wrote a letter to the Baltimore Ravens, his favourite NFL team, entitled “A Reason To Win.”

It was a perspective of his physical and life struggles in relation to the struggles of winning a Super Bowl, with the ultimate lesson that, “Life is not fair, it doesn’t care about feeling sorry for yourself or self-pity . . . The only disability in life is a bad attitude . . . A positive attitude is the most positive combatant to life’s misfortunes.”

There is no better time, entering into this new decade, for us to develop a positive attitude. To say from now on that this is our time, we must do this together.

If we profess to be truly great, let us demonstrate this every single day in how we treat our island and how we treat each other.

•Together, let us support the positive development of our young people, attend their games, listen to their music, encourage them and volunteer our time.

•Together let us keep Saint Lucia clean

•Together let us keep Fair Helen safe

•Together let us keep Saint Lucia strong

•Together, let us celebrate our heroes and cherish each other’s success

Today, we stand at the dawn of an exciting phase in the development of our country that holds much promise.

Our aim in the long run is to empower all of our people, to offer them equal opportunities to realize their potential.

The gains that we make will be multiplied ten-fold if we move together as one nation, united in a common purpose, loving and respecting one another, with tolerance and understanding of each other, committed to excellence, as we continue the task of building a new Saint Lucia.

We cannot succeed unless we do this collectively, together.

Not some of us, not most of us, but all of us! Now is the time!

Happy Independence and May God continue to bless you all and Bless our island Saint Lucia. Thank you.

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