Transcript of Remarks
By Prime Minister of Dominica
At an Apprenticeship Orientation Exercise, Dominica State College
Wednesday, 29th January 2014
Good night, I am happy to be here. I came to Stock Farm on Saturday and as a result of my visiting Stock Farm on Saturday I am back here on Wednesday evening. I met with some young men and we were engaging ourselves in issues both national and local. I decided to come here so we can engage ourselves in further discussions. So I am very happy to be here this evening.
Let me first of all recognise the presence of Hon. Julius Timothy, Member of Parliament for Roseau North, Hon. Dr. Collin McIntyre, Minister for Employment, Hon. Ambrose George, Hon. Alvin Bernard, Dr. Peters, President of the State College, we have our Counsellors Walsh and Hurtault, Mr. Sherman Boston, Dr. Christian is here with us, businessman and philanthropist, Mr. Francis Emmanuel and, of course, the wonderful people of the Small Business and Employment Agency, ladies and gentlemen, media, friends all, good evening.
I first want to commend people like Clem and Leslie and my friend Ettienne who is originally from Penville but has been living here for a long time, Miss Cuffy, Miss Francis and Annette, I know her but as Annette, for the wonderful job you have been doing in maintaining the State College facilities. I came in here today and I am very, very much impressed with the level of work you are doing to maintain these premises. It is not only about maintaining it but the pride with which you take and that is important because the Government has invested in excess of $33 million in this facility to help educate the children of Dominica in a facility that is conducive for learning.
See where we are this evening and this is also a facility which belongs to the people of Yam Piece and Stock Farm and I am happy that you are taking ownership of it and to ensure that it can last us for a lifetime. There are many parts of the world, countries that are even much more advanced than us who would love to have such a facility to provide education to their children but this Government saw it necessary to invest in our young people by providing the best facilities you can find anywhere in the world. And you can recall myself and in particular the Government in general were very much criticised for contracting a loan to construct not only the State College but the State House and the 60 apartment units that we are now building in Bath Estate and Elmshall.
To lead the country and to lead any institution you must have a vision and you must put your hands to the wheel in formulating that plan but also more critically finding the resources, the money to do what is required for the advancement of this country.
Dr. McIntyre mentioned about the National Employment Programme. I went to Venezuela and negotiated money to pay for this programme and it will cost us in one year in excess of $7 million to finance the National Employment Programme to create jobs for our young people and adults alike in Dominica. This is not a pie in the sky offer; this is not the figment of anybody’s imagination; this is not about words; it is about addressing a practical problem in a practical and tangible way. And so far 262 young men and women have been fully engaged under this programme and all will get paid and all shall get paid at the end of the month because we have been able to negotiate the resources for that.
So I would not come to Stock Farm and tell you that in two or three years we will give you between five and seven thousand jobs. We will not come to tell you that because we know in the circumstances this is not achievable. In Barbados which economy is many times larger than ours are sending hundreds of people home. They will be targeting in excess of 3000 people to be sent home in Barbados not because the Government of Barbados does not like its people but they simply cannot afford to pay the number of employees they have on the Government’s payroll. You would have heard also the Government of Barbados ended a programme that it has had for over forty years providing the tuition payments to students attending the University of the West Indies. They had to stop it because they could not afford it because you are spending more than you are making and once you are spending more than you are making then you have to address something.
So what I would like the National Employment Programme to do is to target certain communities in Dominica; go into those communities, meet the people one by one, hear their views, find out why they are not employed, know their skills level and see how we can tailor employment initiatives in those communities to employing these people and in particular the single, unemployed mothers of this community and, of course, Dominica. We have to help them take care of the children and all of them whom I have met would like to be employed in some way or the other. So those of you who are here please ensure that you fill out a form with the requisite information so that we can know where you are, who you are and what is it that we can do to help you get employed.
Today, I was at a press conference this morning at Clear Harbor and Clear Harbor has announced publicly that they shall be providing employment this year for an additional 400 people at Clear Harbor, 400. Now, anywhere in the world you reside in, if any company could announce that they will be creating 400 jobs that is music to the ears of any country in the world today including the United States of America, the world’s largest economy. The point is, in most cases people are losing jobs. So just between the Clear Harbor and the Government through its National Employment Programme, setting aside all of the Government’s Public Sector Investment Programmes, I am not even including that; I am not including the investments in housing, the number of people who are employed through the housing project; I am not even including the investments in agriculture and the number of people who are employed under the various initiatives and skills in the Ministry of Agriculture.
We will be targeting in excess of 500 people under the National Employment Programme – 500 people all of whom will be paid a salary by the Government of Dominica. We are doing so not because I said we can afford it, we cannot afford it and that is why we had to go and seek funding from our friends in Venezuela. We cannot afford it but we believe, as a Government, that the number of young boys and girls who got to university, who got to the College, who have gone to high school and have done well, we owe it to them to recognise their efforts by fetching employment for them because they have kept their side of the bargain by going to school and doing well. We the Government have a responsibility to keep our side of the bargain by fetching employment for them.
So even when Clear Harbor itself was negotiating and we assisted in negotiating with the companies, giving them a case for Dominica to say that Dominica is the best place to come to bring your business and Clear Harbor is the best company in the Caribbean and the World to give your business. When Clear Harbor decided to send home 243 people we did not sit on our hands and cry and say, well, what are we going to do or put our hands on our heads; we went out there to the United States. I went all the way to Colorado – I am not smoking so I did not buy any, they say ganja is legal in Colorado and so on. We went out there to help look for opportunities for our young people. While those in the Opposition were happy, we singing on their radio programmes – I do not understand how anybody in this country can take pleasure in somebody’s misfortune. So if they hear there is plenty poverty in Yam Piece they are happy; if they hear the roads are bad in Stock Farm they will praise it. Anything that is affecting people in Dominica they are happy not saying, well, how we can help you to better yourselves. They can raise money but every dollar that they have raised is for themselves and for themselves and for their own personal agenda. To fight cases against me and other Ministers they have raised over half a million dollars. Can you imagine what half a million dollars could do here in Stock Farm and Yam Piece for you? How much of that half a million dollars they brought here to help you, to help your children and to help this community?
I am saying to the 32 young men who are working on the road project, you should go back to work tomorrow; the monies will be made available to Mr. Timothy to start the … (applause). So you should go back to work tomorrow morning at 8:00 o’clock, the 32 of you, the monies would be made available to complete this work. I want to commend the young people in Stock Farm and Yam Piece because for many years people have sought to give this community some bad name. I walk through these places and I do not see any trouble makers; I do not see any bad people in this place. I see people who are trying under difficult circumstances confronting their families to make life better for themselves and their families. I must commend you for your efforts; you have done a remarkable job in improving your way of life and the Government must continue to assist you in reaching to the point at which you have set yourself.
So I know you have to complete the road that we have started and you have done a fantastic job there and I believe there are two other roads lower down in the community which must be completed so let us move ahead and do these roads and ensure that our people can get employed.
I will say to Counsellor Walsh that once these roads are completed in that section we will do the road at Stock Farm heading to the Prisons; we will do this complete road and so forth.
I had a meeting today, again, with the Management and Board of the College. This College was created in 2002 to increase access to higher education for our young people and in large measure the Government of Dominica, the Treasury of Dominica has been underwriting the full expense of running the College but with increased enrolment you will see an increase in the administrative cost. Every year we give to the College about $3 million and I have given a commitment to the College that we will make an increased contribution of $1.2 million annually to the College taking it from $3 million annually to $4.2 million. All of this geared towards ensuring that our students can not only gain access to the College but have the means of taking advantage of the access.
So it is all left to the young people. We have invested in excess of $33 million in this facility; you have all the teachers you need to teach you, the lecturers and the College has 99% of the money it needs now to teach you and to make sure that you are at school. I see Dr. Peters is laughing, he is happy about that. We have made this commitment to the College not because we have the money there, so do not get me wrong, do not think that we have the money there – the only problem Skerrit has is that he does not know what to do with the money he has. That is not true. The demands are here and the resources are down there. It is in large measure by the Grace of God that we are able to raise the resources that we need to implement what the people of Dominica has asked us to do. It is also because of the passion and the compassion of this Government that we have been able to implement a number of initiatives that we have implemented so far in Dominica. And sometimes in my own personal reflections I ask myself but where were the Governments in all of these years not to address these issues. We had to literally start from scratch in many instances to addressing some of the challenges confronting this country.
So we are committed to assisting the College in reaching out to as many students as possible in Dominica. This is the only college campus in the Caribbean where you have universal access to the internet and I understand many of you here in Stock Farm and Yam Piece are accessing the College’s internet and so forth – I told them do not take it away from you, as a matter of fact I think we should extend it further down into the community. So there is universal access to the internet on the campus here. These things did not just happen; it is on the instructions and decision of the Government. So you do not have only 25 students at one time having access to the internet; every single student at the College and the lecturers and staff has access to the internet at the same time anywhere on campus.
This is the next level, my friends. When we speak about the next level that is the next level we are talking about. Taking us from a little untidy room of the State College where we would have to be sweating and have big towels wiping our faces and so forth to a place where we are even cold, very, very cold inside here. That is the next level we are talking about.
I understand also while we assisted several of you under the housing programme there is still a huge demand and the Parliamentary Representative and I will be working on providing additional resources towards address some of your challenges here. As he says, sometimes your name may not show up on the first list but it means that your name is closer to being addressed. So as we go along we will be addressing the situation because we spend a lot of money across the country helping to improve people’s housing; we have been criticised by saying it is hand-outs but we see it as on opportunity where the Government can assist families in improving their way of life, in improving their housing; building washrooms for people; giving you extra rooms so your boys and girls could be in separate rooms; taking your little kitchen from outside and attaching it to the house so that when you wake up in the morning if it is raining you do not have to go out to make a little coffee.
It is not because we have an obligation to give housing to people because that is not really a responsibility of the Government per say but because we recognise without the help of the Government there are many families in Dominica who would not be able to improve their housing. And for some of you for decades you were squatting on Government land and we always maintain that squatting is not a legal thing to do but we understand why many of you had to squat in the first instance. You wanted to have a little shelter for your family; you go and you put a little boundary and put a little house and bit by bit you buy a few blocks and as you go along, you get a little pay packet you put a little block, buy some cement and you start a little something. But you could not go to the banks or the credit union even if you had a little money there to improve yourself.
There were Governments who wanted to keep you in that bondage of squatting so that when elections come around they would threaten you and they would tell you if you do not vote for them they would kick you out of the land. We wanted you to be independent and to make independent choices and decisions for yourselves by giving you the land. So Timothy cannot tell you to come out from the land anymore; Skerrit cannot tell you come out from the land at all; that land belongs to you now because your name is on the certificate of title and nobody in the world can take it from you. But more importantly was that many of you went to the credit union and to the banks and got a loan on the basis of your title because while we sold it to you at $1.00 and in some cases, lower Yam Piece, I believe $2.00+ and that is something we have to look at, we have to review, the value of the land in many instances is as high as $8.00. So the banks will take the value of $8.00 rather than the $1.00 which the Government sold it to you at. That was all geared towards empowering, giving you the ordinary working class people of Dominica a piece of Dominica and we have regularised thousands of Dominicans across the country.
These are the things that we have been doing for the people of Dominica but if you listen to some they will say Skerrit has done nothing for Dominica. We just set up a mammogram at the Hospital and many other very important pieces of medical equipment. Before 2005 we never had an Intensive Care Unit in Dominica; 2005 was just the other day. An Intensive Care Unit is a critical part of the health services; having this or not have this will determine whether somebody dies or lives and based on the statistics of the number of people that have gone through the ICU and whose lives have been prolonged or saved based on what the doctor is saying to us, one can only imagine how many of our relatives and friends died because we had no ICU in Dominica.
We are at the final stages of the finalisation of the plans for the new hospital; there are some changes we have to make to it; there is an issue of functionality that we are making changes to it; we are getting the advice of some experts but this will be a brand new hospital given to us by the People’s Republic of China. As we speak we have about five to seven young Dominicans at various universities across the world doing their post-graduate studies, specialising in various fields paid for by the Government with the hope that they will come back to Dominica and take responsibility for the provision of improved health care to our citizens.
So we are not looking at the problem and just sitting there. We do pray but with prayer you have to work; you have to do what you have to do. So, yes, we do pray but we also put our hands to the wheel and do what we have to do to help better this country. A lot has been done but we still have a very long road to travel towards addressing all the issues confronting our people but when we work together and I take note of the quotation read by Mr. Boston about community, about we working together towards addressing challenges confronting us. We have to join forces. Yes, Mr. Timothy can come in and provide the resources but who would be present to do what is required with the money and to ensure that when it is done that we show appreciation for it by maintaining it? I want to commend Mr. Timothy for empowering the young men and women in Stock Farm and Yam Piece by demonstrating the confidence and trust in them to be able to handle the infrastructural development of these communities. I can tell you what I saw on Saturday is top class work and if you were to put a real figure to the work done it would be about three times more than what the Government spent to do these works. My only comment when I came here was that, boy look a wide road; anything can land on that road. We have to increase our housing assistance in those areas and so on. We need to spend much more money there and we need to target this community and let us address once and for all, there are some young men whose homes were affected by the storm, by some slides and we have to help them out. There are many single mothers here who have come to us and I see some of you in the audience and so on but we need to increase the pace of reaching to these people. And we stand committed to that, my dear friends.
So, we are not here to talk about people, we are not here to attack people, we are not here to give any mépwi or anything, we are here and all of us have spoken, we are here to speak about issues that are affecting you, that are affecting the country and what can we do together towards addressing them. All the young men I met on Saturday, great ideas, very bright fellows, they spoke to me about housing; they spoke to be about jobs; they spoke to me about small business support; they spoke to me about agricultural investment, at no time did they mention anything about guns to me. People who go and talk about these things are people with no idea or no vision for this country; they have no plans for this country; it is just empty talk where they go to America and the only thing that they can send back is some photographs standing in front of some big building in Washington DC. I even understand that some of them took some snow and put in a bottle and freeze it and try to bring it back to Dominica to show their friends that they were, in fact, walking in snow in America. They say they went to Cuba and they were well received and so forth. They cannot show you one picture yet of who they met and where they met who they met.
I am very happy to be here and we have to help you. We have been doing some work in these areas but we have to, certainly, help the struggling families of Yam Piece and Stock Farm and we stand committed to that. I said, Sherman, we could start back work tomorrow, Mr. Timothy will get the first … by Friday morning to continue the project. I want to say very publicly to the National Employment Programme, I want to see a special programme for Yam Piece and Stock Farm, let us find some means. There are some of them who told me they wanted to do a little shop, they want to get some supplies, they want to do some things and so forth; they have ideas. We need to help them realise their dream and fulfil their ideas and so forth.
I thank you very much for listening to me. May God bless you and may God bless our country, Dominica.