Speech at Renaming of Vieille Case Primary School

Address of Prime Minister Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit
At the Renaming of Vieille Case Primary School –
The Baroness Patricia Scotland Primary School

Monday, December 14, 2015

I am thrilled this morning, to welcome each and everyone of you to the beautiful village of Vieille Case in general, and to my alma mater, the Vieille Case Primary School, in particular.

For me, this is a very special homecoming experience, for I have the opportunity today to once again thank those who have shaped and influenced my life, and who contributed, in no small way, to creating the person that I am today.

We are assembled here this morning to pay tribute to an outstanding lady, whose roots are planted firmly in the constituency of Vieille Case and who, through dint of hard work and perseverance, together with much perspiration, has achieved phenomenally on the international scene.

Baroness Patricia Scotland, the Secretary General elect of the Commonwealth Secretariat, is not the recipient today of any golden handshake or hand out.

Her record of scholastic and professional achievement is acknowledged and heralded by friend and foe alike, as remarkable; yet, she has maintained the humility and a level of social grounding that’s synonymous with the Dominican characteristic we all share.

In supporting the decision of the Cabinet of ministers to rename this institution in honour of Baroness Scotland, I reflected on the excellent campaign that she ran in the lead up to her being elected Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as Prime Minister of this country, I make it a point never to speak out of turn, and on occasion, I have opted to remain silent on matters, in order to disguise or even conceal the ignorance of others.

A few weeks ago, during a regular meeting of the Heads of Government of Eastern Caribbean States, the issue of the campaign for the election of a new Commonwealth Secretary General was raised.

Several persons in attendance were zooming in and focusing on this matter for the very first time. I had been intricately involved in the process for close to one year.

I remind you, Ladies and Gentlemen, that Baroness Scotland was the first named candidate in the run up to this election. I knew, at every step along the way, where her campaign was and what specifically was needed to gain her the victory that was required. By extension, therefore, I also knew where along the journey other candidates were, and what they also would have required to secure a victory.

I believe that I have contested enough elections in Dominica and elsewhere to assess the might and capacity of a candidate.
The one thing I asked for back then, that was forthcoming only from Baroness Scotland’s campaign, was “the numbers”.

In the lead up to and during that OECS meeting, I made direct contact with our campaign and I asked for the solid numbers. I wanted to know how we were doing. I was assured then, and this was confirmed in the first vote at the summit in Malta, that we had the required numbers to certainly get past the first round and indeed, to win the contest outright.

So when some amongst us jumped into the debate at the 11th hour, making all sorts of emotional noises, I knew exactly where Baroness Scotland’s campaign was positioned, and that we had the numbers required to make a success of her candidacy.

I was accused by some in this country of being small minded, selfish and insular, but, on the day of the election in Malta, some made it through to the second round and ultimately to victory, while others did not.
I was satisfied then that Baroness Scotland stood the best chance of becoming the Caribbean’s first elected Commonwealth Secretary General since Sir Shridath Ramphal many decades ago.

In the context of Dominica, it showed clearly the difference between astute leadership and the emotional throwing of tantrums. Baroness Scotland was ridiculed and attacked in a most vicious and personal way, by some amongst us who, by virtue of their positions, should have known better.

Even though the outcome speaks to the suitability and appropriateness of her candidacy, some are too arrogant and childish to apologise for their reckless utterances and unsatisfactory behaviour. Therefore, on behalf of the Government and people of Dominica, today, Baroness Scotland, I wish to formally apologise to you, for the less than dignified behaviour of some of your compatriots, who clearly were misguided and used foolishly by others.

You and your team ran an excellent campaign. I was never in doubt about your capacity to win. Indeed, my confidence in your ultimate success was fortified when it was shown to me, days in advance of the meeting in Malta, that you had a clear 50 per cent of eligible votes, secured safely in the corner of Dominica.
Now on this issue of eligibility, I wish this morning, to address this matter frontally.

No one in this country, barring the Hon. Minister for Education, can begin to imagine what I underwent as Prime Minister of Dominica, a few years ago, to establish my credentials as a Dominican, worthy of the support of the voters of this very Vieille Case constituency.

Amazingly, at the time, the argument was that I either was not born in Dominica or that I left Dominica at a very early age and that my mother was not born in Dominica and therefore I was not a Dominican. Up to this day, I never really understood what was their beef against my running.

Even though I went to school at this very institution where we are now gathered; even though I was born in Dominica; even though I grew up in this village we are now assembled, even though everyone knew I was raised here in Vieille Case by my grandmother and aunts, it took the law courts to prove that I was worthy of being called Dominican and was duly qualified to run and serve as an elected Member of Parliament. A similar scenario applied in respect of Minister Saint Jean.

So, in respect of Roosevelt Skerrit, the issue was my mother or I not being born in Dominica, even though I had grown up and spent 98 per cent of my life in this country.

Now in the case of Baroness Scotland, the argument was, amazingly, the opposite.

It was acknowledged by her detractors that she was born in Dominica; that her mother hailed from this Vieille Case Constituency and that she met all the credentials of being called Dominican. The argument was that she did not grow up in Dominica.

Now here it was that I grew up in Dominica and that counted for nothing when it came to establishing my credentials, but Baroness Scotland was to be exorcised from the ballot for Commonwealth Secretary General, because she did not grow up here. That was the fuzzy reasoning and logic of someone who aspired to be the leader of this country, at this very challenging and dynamic period in our country’s development.

In the end, common sense and reason prevailed and Baroness Patricia Scotland was duly elected Commonwealth Secretary General, benefiting from the support of most Caribbean countries.

What this all pointed to, however, was our readiness as a people and our maturity, or lack thereof as a civilisation, to step onto the world stage. We will not be taken seriously as a nation, Ladies and Gentlemen, if persons in high places continue to wear their ignorance as a badge of honour. There are times when we must close ranks as a people and as a nation and fall in behind the national flag. The campaign to elect a Commonwealth Secretary General was one such occasion and opportunity. There should have been no division in Dominica on this matter!

When I said in the last general elections campaign that certain persons were not suited for public office, persons thought I was being frivolous. But how can you have elected Members of Parliament behaving in so irresponsible a manner? Can you imagine the state Dominica would be in today, had the national vote on December 18th last year gone any other way?

But, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here this morning to salute a daughter of the soil! A lady who has excelled in her chosen field, and who has brought much pride and honour to women of colour around the world.

Baroness Scotland is as deserving of this honour here this morning as any other Dominican could have been. Indeed, it can be argued that such recognition is somewhat belated, as her becoming the first female Attorney General of Great Britain ought not to have gone unnoticed years ago, by the land of her birth.

We speak very loosely in Dominica about the importance of the Diaspora and the role it has played and continues to play in the social and economic development of our country. Yet, there are those among us who would seek to minimise and play down the achievements of outstanding Dominicans on the world stage.

I made mention recently of former Attorney General Eric Holder of the United States of America, who had an entire judicial complex in Barbados named in his honour because of his ancestral association with that country. On Nevis, Nevisians do not permit anyone to forget that Actress Cicely Tyson had ancestral links to that island. The former Governor General of Canada, a black woman, was born in Haiti.

Here in Dominica, we have Kennedy Avenue, named after a former United States President who never set foot in Dominica and our own national hospital, is named after a member of the Royal family, even though, unlike in many other Commonwealth countries, our Head of State is Dominican.

None of the foregoing, and I am sure there are countless other examples I could have referenced, has sparked any interest or debate in Dominica, but the honouring of a highly accomplished Dominican, whose navel string is unquestionably buried in Dominica, and who speaks with pride of her Dominican ancestry, is cause for concern in some quarters.

The fact of the matter, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that a lady from Penville in Dominica gave birth to a daughter who went on to become the first female Attorney General of Great Britain and who has now more recently been elected the first female Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat. This distinction has brought much pride and honour to her, as it has to Dominica.

The leaders of 53 Commonwealth countries voted a Dominican into office and that, for me, was worthy of national acknowledgement and commendation.

So we are gathered here this morning to help historians who will 100 years from now record that Baroness Scotland was recognised in the land of her birth by compatriots, who were truly impressed and inspired by her scholastic and professional achievements.

To you, the students of Vieille Case Primary, you are challenged this morning to be inspired by the achievements of this outstanding Dominican. Her mother grew up in this constituency just as your parents and grandparents did.
They struggled, just like your parents are doing now, to educate her and to put her on course for greater things.

You are challenged this morning to set your gaze on academic and professional excellence. Dominica is where you were born; the world stage must now become your focus.

We speak today of the world becoming a global village. We speak also of the era of the Renaissance Man. We speak as well of Global citizens. There is nothing to stop anyone of you here from becoming Prime Minister of Dominica or Attorney General of Great Britain. You have in this room today two living testimonies to what can be achieved in both regards. Vieille Case has done it in my generation and Vieille Case can do this and more, with you in the vanguard of its development.

Residents of Penville, Thibaud and Vieille Case, this is a glorious day for our constituency. Time was, when such achievement would have been traced to certain urban communities. Today, you are recognising another major achievement from a by-product of this constituency. You have every reason to be proud!

I wish to commend the Principal and staff of this school for so readily embracing the decision to name this school in honour of Baroness Scotland. I commend the Ministry of Education and others in the Government service for facilitating the decision on such short notice.

Baroness Patricia Scotland has done much for the recognition and promotion of the brand “Dominica”. It is our delight and honour this morning to publicly and globally acknowledge the pride and joy she has brought to us as fellow Dominicans. I am 100 per cent in support of this honour in her name.

It now gives me great pleasure to formally re-name the Vieille Case Primary, the Baroness Patricia Scotland Primary School in honour of an outstanding daughter of this community.

May God continue to bless and guide Baroness Scotland in her endeavours. May God bless Dominica…guide and protect us all.

I thank you.