Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen…it is good to be in the company of friends!! I say this against the backdrop of the uncertain and most unfortunate state of affairs in the French capital of Paris, this morning.
France is a long standing and reliable friend and ally of Dominica. We therefore felt the pain and outrage of the government and people of that beautiful country, as a result of the unprovoked and barbaric killing of scores of innocent people last Friday evening.
When on the morning of August 28th, 2015, Dominicans woke to assess the damage and destruction wrought by Tropical Storm Erika, the Government of France was one of the first partners to respond in that, our hour of urgent need.
Today I express my sadness and sympathy to the Government and people of France, and assure them that they remain in the prayers and good wishes of all Dominicans, living at home and abroad, especially in the neighboring French Departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to add my personal words of welcome and that of the Cabinet of Ministers to those of you visiting our island for this Conference of Development Partners.
I apologize for inconveniences encountered in traveling to and arriving in Dominica, as well as in journeying to the capital city of Roseau. This is a far cry, I can assure you, from that which would have been experienced one year ago, when we opened the Nicholas Liverpool Highway, renamed the then reconstructed and fully functional Douglas Charles Airport and boasted several score more quality hotel rooms and other accommodations than we do today.
That was Dominica pre-Tropical Storm Erika. We were on course then, to ushering in the start of the Roseau Enhancement Project. An initiative of the government, that would have seen the capital city of Roseau undergoing major structural and aesthetically appealing changes. That initiative is still very much on the cards, but, has had to be delayed, as a result of the reason we are all assembled here this morning.
Ladies and Gentlemen, when I presented the budget address for the current fiscal year, less than four months ago, there was no plan or intention to convene a Development Partners’ meeting as part of the strategy for financing the budget. We were satisfied then that we could have achieved developmental goals, within the ambit of existing pledges of support from friendly governments and institutions, as well as existing revenue raising measures.
Dominica prides itself in being home to a strong willed and resilient people. Together with the support of family and friends in the Diaspora, we were, and still are, determined to lead from the front, with the construction and rebuilding effort that is necessary to propel the modernity of our beautiful island.
In 10 short weeks since the passage of Erika, we have picked up the pieces and returned normality, as best we could, to most spheres of social and economic activity. But the reality is, 1.2 billion East Caribbean dollars is the kind of money that a resident population of 70, 000 can only dream of raising in the short or medium term.
There is still much, too much human suffering, particularly as it relates to housing shortages and limited access to outlying communities. There is also the need for us to embark upon and complete comprehensive repairs and upgrades to the Douglas Charles Airport and return integrity to the pipe borne water system, which has been a hallmark of Dominica’s existence over the years.
As you drive around the country you too can observe other aspects of earth movement and infrastructural instability in need of urgent attention. Our goal is to make Dominica a safe and convenient place for persons to live, visit and do business.
We strive for self sufficiency in food and livestock production. Our farmers are eager to get back to planting and producing, but many of their farms have been dessimated or rendered inaccessible, due to collapsed bridges, poor road surfaces or landslides. They do not need a fish. They are excellent fishers. What they need are the tools and the enabling environment to ply their trade. This scenario obtains across the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Our people are ready to do what has to be done. What they need is the wherewithal.
So this Conference is timely. It is absolutely necessary because we are at that point as a nation where the resident population has done as much as they physically could, to establish makeshift arrangements for the conduct of their lives and enterprises. What they need now is a return to normalcy. They need the setting down of permanent structures for the rebuilding and reconstruction of their lives and environment. Now is time for the heavy-lifting to begin.
In the 2016 budget, we rolled out a portfolio of strategic investment projects for agriculture, tourism, road infrastructure and geothermal energy that were intended to create a sound platform, toward realization of our growth target of 5 to 7 per cent.
In order to make the tourism and hotel sector more competitive and attractive to new investments, we rolled out a regime of support, crafted in large measure through the collaboration of stakeholders. Those policies are still relevant, but availability of funding is not.
The Government has consistently taken various measures that are aimed at encouraging citizens to improve their well-being and to be in a position to make a greater contribution to national development. In that regard, measures requiring citizens to support the maintenance of the road infrastructure, discourage the excessive use of goods and substances deemed risk factors for various illnesses, and for the support of agriculture, were introduced and accepted by the general public.
One of the progressive reforms we made, which speaks to our growing commitment to be creative and innovative in facilitating our own development, is the embrace of the Citizenship by Investment Programme. This programme seeks to attract investors, increase foreign direct investment, and raise revenue. In fact, government will be looking to this programme to raise some of the funds that are required to finance the recovery process.
So, Dominica had been progressing steadily with its development. The task was however made more complex, as a consequence of the passage of Tropical Storm Erika and its disrupting effect on all spheres of social and economic activity. Simply put, our lives and livelihoods have been re-ordered. We are now back to the drawing boards and we need the assistance of friendly governments, institutions and individuals. Hence, the convening of this Development Partners Conference.
We are seeking your support in our endeavor to rebuild Dominica. The investments required are not limited to the replacement of physical infrastructure. Technical assistance will be necessary to support the works to be undertaken. We also need to focus on the human element of this disaster and follow-up work on the impact on livelihoods, is essential.
At this hour, there are hundreds of people housed in Government paid accommodations, as it is unsafe for them to return to their homes. We must deal urgently with the matter of resettlement.
Fortunately for us, you are here as friends. You have been key partners in the progress Dominica has made since Independence in 1978. Time and again, you have come to our assistance in times of disaster and need. You know of our record in managing the resources you have made available to us. In fact, we initiated the process to strengthen the macroeconomic framework so that it can adequately support the level of investment we will have to make to rebuild Dominica.
I want to thank all of you who immediately responded to our request for assistance, in a variety of ways, after the passage of the storm. It was reassuring and comforting to know that you cared at that critical time.
The assistance received to date has been used in settling costs associated with immediate clean-up activities, creation of emergency and temporary access to communities and provision of supplies to affected residents. There was also considerable costs associated with the initial search and rescue operation.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my hope and prayer that as we go through the day’s agenda, we will find many points of convergence of interests, leading to firm undertakings towards the rebuilding of Dominica.
We want that in four years, you can return to this island and be amazed by the transformation that would have taken place, and be satisfied with the soundness of your investment and contribution to the cause.
Cheers towards a successful meeting, and may Dominica be the better for our having assembled here today.
May Almighty God bless and guide our deliberations. I thank you.