By Caribbean News Global contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — For the third consecutive year, the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) upheld their principle position and boycotted the delivery of the throne speech, by governor general, Sir Emmanuel Neville Cenac, at the joint session of parliament on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
The governor-general’s virtual delivery, in the era of COVID-19, messaged “new challenges, new opportunities to continue to build a stronger Saint Lucia together” referenced, “since January, we have been witnesses to a stillness that is portentous as everyone leans forward in prayer to the Almighty God “to intermit this plague” which, apparently, his wrath has brought upon an unkind and cold world. Never before have we seen such stillness: even leaves seem not to stir in the wind.”
Much can be deduced from “portentous” and “stillness” to the agenda for 2020 to indicated: “How do we face this challenge? By giving meaning to our theme for Independence 2020 – “Now is the time, Let’s do this together.” Saint Lucia, we are an exceptional people.”
However, the message prescribed that, “this attitude will redefine my government’s approach to such major strategic intervention areas, as our health system, agriculture and food security, education, citizen security and justice, the operation of the public service and the management of Saint Lucia’s borders.”
The following are extracts expected to define “new challenges, new opportunities”;
Health is a main pillar of development and has been given suitable prominence in our country’s Medium Term Development Strategy. The government determined that 2020 should be dubbed, ‘The Year of Health’. At the time, there was nothing to portend COVID 19 and the dramatic, devastating impact it would have on our society. Among these, the St Jude’s hospital is paramount, and work continues towards completion in 2021.
Equally important is the implementation of the first phase of the National Health Insurance, which will ensure equitable access to a determined package of quality health services. In the course of this year, my government will enact legislation to define and effect the governance structure for National Health Insurance.
Agriculture and food security
The priority focus areas set out in the Agricultural Policy Framework and Strategy (2016-2021) include the enhancement of national food and nutrition security, as well as agricultural diversification and reduction of the food import bill.
The government intends to continue to emphasize these areas, together with the resuscitation of the banana industry and Building Resilience to Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction. The Plant Protection Act will be revised to prevent and control the entry of pests into Saint Lucia, adhere to the International Plant Protection Convention, and facilitate trade in plants and plant products.
The government intends to implement the National Tourism Strategy and Action plan, which charts a practical and sustainable course for the development of the tourism sector for the 2019-2023 period. Tourism initiatives will improve governance and provide the platform to spread the economic benefits of tourism to an increased number of local communities.
To this end, the functions of the Tourism Authority have been streamlined, and the role of the Ministry of Tourism redefined and limited to matters which include administration, policy formulation, licensing, and certification.
The government will, in the coming year, enact legislation to provide for a state-owned company to administer Village Tourism in Saint Lucia and to govern the Saint Lucia Tourism Council, the entity which will spearhead such areas as advocacy, policy identification, research, and product development.
The Tourism Incentives Act is to be revised and its scope broadened to ensure that it is applicable to new niche tourism segments, reflects international best practice, and creates a more favourable investment climate.
We must, therefore, remain steadfast in transforming the education system so that it reflects the demands of today’s technologically advanced world and serves, ultimately to enhance the wellbeing of every citizen.
The government intends to promote the project for integration of information and technology in Education, which involves smart classrooms initiatives, the continuation of digital literacy programmes, and the introduction of electronic books.
As we endeavor to reach all citizens and to ensure no child is left behind, government will continue the Education Quality Improvement Project (EQUIP) and the CARE programme, ensuring that adequate support is available to those with special needs. In addition, our Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme will be bolstered by certain key projects designed to improve responsiveness to changing labour market conditions; integrate safety nets with skills acquisition strategies; specifically target disadvantaged youth and better protect the poor and vulnerable from aftershocks and crises in the context of climate change impacts.
Enhancing security and justice
In the upcoming year, my government will intensify efforts to reduce serious crime through the full implementation of the Safe City Closed-Circuit Television initiative and continued implementation of the community policing strategy. The Royal Saint Lucia Police Force will be restructured to improve efficiency and efficacy.
The Plan to Transform Forensic Services in Saint Lucia by 2022 will continue, with specific focus on the enactment of the Criminal Investigations (Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA)) Bill, which will provide for DNA analysis and testing in the investigation and prosecution of offences.
The Saint Lucia Border Control Agency will be created, comprising Customs and Excise, Immigration, the Police Marine unit, and Quarantine functions. The Saint Lucia Border Control Agency Act will establish the agency and set out related governance arrangements. A modern border management system which will be an integral element of the Agency’s operations will permit a more efficient flow of people and goods while enhancing risk assessment and border control.
The government will now enact laws consistent with the Convention, the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society (1997), and the Declaration of Pétion Ville, Haiti (2013).
Modernizing the public service
The government has established a “Digital government Integrated eServices Platform (DigiGov)” in order to enhance the delivery of timely, efficient and transparent government to Citizen and government to business services.
Through this initiative, citizens, businesses, investors, and other government agencies can apply and make payments online for services such as renewal of drivers licence, passport, and national ID, as well as application for birth certificates, registration of business, and import licenses, to name a few.
Meanwhile, a new Electronic Transactions Bill will be considered, to reflect technological changes that have occurred since 2011 when the original legislation was prepared.
The Data Protection Act will also be commenced. Additionally, the Electronic Data Interchange Act will support information exchange and the integration of functions of key public service agencies such as the National Insurance Corporation, Inland Revenue Department, Registry of Businesses and Civil Status Registry.
Significant emphasis will be placed on upgrading and expanding targeted sections of the road network, including, where feasible, the construction of alternative routes. The rehabilitation of feeder and agricultural roads will continue, as will the maintenance of bridges and culverts, and the desilting of rivers, ravines and drains island-wide.
Further, our people will benefit from the stimulation of the Construction Sector, increased opportunities for small contractors, the reduction in unemployment, and the decrease in Saint Lucia’s foreign exchange deficit.
The government will ratify outstanding treaties and enact legislation to give effect to those treaties and other obligations relating to such matters as security, justice, education, air services, disaster emergency management, and the free movement of people and goods.
In the wider international context, our national agencies continue to engage our European Union partners to bring closure to the vexing issue of blacklisting.
Concluding the message of “new challenges, new opportunities” the governor-general, reference to “since January, we have been witnesses to a stillness that is portentous …” also ascribe that “we must never forget that “God helps those who help themselves, and, therefore, to save lives, we must observe all instructions given by the authorities.”