February 6, 2014
Well I am very happy to be here in Trafalgar. Let me recognize my friend, Honourable Dr. Collin Mc Intyre, Member of Parliament,; Honourable Ian Douglas, Minister for Tourism; our friend Mr. George, Chairperson of the Village Council; Mr. Stephenson, friends from the National Employment Programme at the Employment Agency and Small Business Unit, and of course all the wonderful people of the Valley.
I believe and Mr. George is here, I believe, I have visited Trafalgar more than all Prime Ministers since our Independence put together. I have been here more than all of them to speak to you on various issues of your own development and matters relating to the country. But tonight we are here specifically to speak about the opportunities which exist under the National Employment Programme, under the Small Business Support Unit of the Government of Dominica. In Independence we announced, in my address to the National and of course in my Budget Address, I spoke on the issue of unemployment as being a major challenge confronting Dominica.
Now, it was no secret that there are people who are unemployed in Dominica. In Spain, speaking to the Ambassador of Spain to Dominica, she said to me the unemployment rate among young people in Spain was as high as fifty percent and among the national population twenty-six percent. In Grenada the unemployment among young people is in excess of forty percent, in St. Lucia it is in excess of twenty-five percent. So everywhere in the world, no matter which country it is, whether it is a rich country, a middle income country, or a low income country you have challenges of unemployment. In our case for example, there is a challenge, there has been a challenge, and there has always been a challenge of unemployment in Dominica. Some people may speak as if the issue of unemployment became a subject matter only during the reign of this Labour Party Government. But over the years we have not sat on our hands and do nothing about the unemployment issue confronting our country, we have launched a number of initiatives in this country to create employment for Dominicans. We have gone into building hotels, investing in hotels, we have spent millions on the infrastructure, we brought in night landing in Dominica which would allow for more people to come into Dominica because when 4:00 o’clock/5:00 o’clock came all flights would stop landing in Dominica and as a result of the heavy investment of the Government into the Airport at Melville Hall we have more people coming in because the Airport is opened over a longer period of time for the day.
We launched the Youth Business Trust, because we recognized that a number of young people had ideas to invest, to become self-employed. But we as young people always had the issue of this important aspect of security, collateral. We could not go to the Bank to get a loan because the first thing the Bank ask for is security, some land paper, a Certificate of Title, and we, just coming out of school we do not have that. And most of our parents may have had a piece of land but it is not registered, so they cannot use it as security in the Bank. So we had great ideas but we had no money to implement those ideas.
This Government launched the Youth Business Trust and we put money in the Banks to guarantee the loans for young people. We train them and we guaranteed loans for them. You know what it means to guarantee a loan for somebody? It means that if the person does not pay you will end up paying because we wanted to tell the young people of Dominica that we trust you and we trust that you can do something positive if you are given the opportunity to so do.
And I can speak of a number of other initiatives that we have launched to assist in addressing the issue of unemployment in Dominica. But tonight we are here to talk about the National Employment Programme. And you heard from Mrs. Joseph who is the Coordinator of the National Employment Programme. She stays in the Roseau Valley. So when people are tell you, and you may want to even repeat that propaganda, that the NEP is not working and nobody from the Valley is engaged, out a 108 people who applied, who registered so far in the Valley, 54 have been employed by the NEP. 54 people, who had no jobs, on the 30th November, 2013 got a job on the 1st December, 2013. Fifty-four people in the Roseau Valley. And you can understand and appreciate the impact, the socio-economic impact it is having on the Valley because people can now bring a cheque to their homes, and buy their groceries and pay their telephone bills and help pay the rent, and help their younger siblings to go to school.
What we are here tonight to talk to you about, is to encourage those of you who have not done so, to engage yourselves, to register with the NEP in order for you to be able to take advantage of this opportunity. Now, the NEP has different facets, there are a number of different programmes under the NEP. We have sought to target the University graduates, we sought to target the College graduates, we are seeking to target the semi-skilled and the unskilled, and from all reports the majority of young people who have been engaged are doing well. And you may have heard reports that people are not getting paid. I get the feeling in this country that there is a group of people who celebrate anything that goes wrong in this country. Anything that goes wrong in the country, they will celebrate. If it is said that poverty had just dropped in this country from thirty-eight percent or thirty-nine percent to twenty-eight percent that is not true as if we would like to know it has increased.
Now, I want to be happy if my neighbor is doing well, if my people in this country are doing well. And because they heard that one or two people did not get paid at the end of January, they on the radio – “NEP is not a success, people are not getting paid”. I have been told only about fourteen people have not gotten paid because either they do not have their Social Security card yet or they do not have a Bank Account which is required now by the Accounting system in the Government Service, have not brought in their Bank Account numbers. That is why. It is not because we don’t have the money for it, because when this Government makes a promise to people, we find ways and means of fulfilling that promise. Some may take longer than others but at the end of the day we make way and find a way to do it. So when we decided to launch this programme, to initiate this programme, to implement this programme and we saw that it would cost us in excess of seven million dollars, I went to Venezuela and spoke to the President of Venezuela and said to him I need to address this particular issue which is confronting our young people in Dominica, I am going to need some financial support from Venezuela to implement this programme and we were able to get this money from Venezuela to finance it.
So it is not people’s VAT money or tax money for that NEP. So even when people come here and they tell you they can create seven and five thousand jobs in three years, they must tell you and tell us how they intend to finance it, because let us understand it. So when we send people to Whitchurch to work the Government is paying for it. When we send people to LIME to work or DOWASCO, the Government is paying these people salaries, not DOWASCO paying their salaries. So it is our Government that is paying for the salaries of these people.
So, the fifty-four people who have been engaged from the Valley, your salary is being paid by the Government of Dominica and not where you are in fact working. And my advice to you here, those of you who are at school, it important that you remain focused on your work, you cannot be distracted. I will be the last person to come here and tell you, you should not have an iPad and a smart phone and a blackberry, that would be crazy of me to say that, because we live in a different time. But we have to manage the use of it; it must not become a distraction to us. Education is important.
When we came into Government this Labour Party Government when it came into office, only seven percent of all High School graduates had access to the College in Dominica, only seven percent. So it means out of every hundred people who left High School in any given year, only seven of them made it to the College in Dominica. Whether to do a technical course, or an academic pursuit, seven percent. You know what it is today? It is eighty-seven percent in Dominica. We have laid the platform, to allow for one hundred percent access, it is left to the students to do well at CXC to gain entry into the College. But with a thirty plus million dollar investment at the College, we have laid the platform for it to happen. And the Dominica Sate College is the only campus in the Caribbean, the only Community College Campus in the Caribbean that has one hundred access to the internet. You can sit anywhere on the campus, under a tree, on the road, on the sidewalk, anywhere, in the farm at the College in the washroom, wherever you are in the College you can access the internet because we put the infrastructure there to allow for a hundred percent access.
These things don’t come just like that. You have to think of them, but first you must have an appreciation for the challenges confronting your people and you must also want to see your people succeed in order to implement those projects and programmes. And that is why I take personal interest in the National Employment Programme and I want to commend Dr. Mc. Intyre for his leadership, because it is under his Ministry that that programme is under and I want to thank him for the leadership which he provides to that programme. And I want to say to our young people that when we get engaged in this programme you must be diligent, you must come to work, because it is how you behave that will cause the programme to be successful because I have met many employers who have told me, “boy these young people are very good”. Because my position is this, in many respects our young people have kept their side of the bargain, they went to school, they have done well, and they are back or they have completed the State College, we owe it to them as a country to keep our side of the bargain by creating opportunities for them to make a living and to develop a way of life for themselves. And this is why we will ensure that at the same time, I am getting my salary, at the same time Dr. Mac is getting his salary; those who are engaged under the programme will get their salary at the same time. Not a week later, or two weeks later, the same time you are paying us you must pay the people under the National Employment Pograme.
Those of you who have dropped out of school, whether High School or College, back then there was the issue of second chance, you know when you get out of High School that is it for you. But today we are talking about second chance and third chance, and fourth chance and my advice to young people here who hold students at the State College and you dropped out for whatever reason, you need to seat down with Dr. Mac and tell him what is the reason. If it is a financial reason the Government shall take care of it. Because we are paying the College, we have been giving the College about three million dollars annually to meet the costs of its operations and the Government has committed to giving the College an additional $1.2M annually, taking it up from $3M to $4.2M annually to provide more so we can ensure that more students can be enrolled at the State College.
And all of these things my friends are being done at a very difficult time in the World. You hear of the challenges that the United States of America is having. So sometimes people come here and talk to you as if the only place in the world where they are having problems and challenges is Dominica. But all of us here have relatives in Antigua, in St. Martin, in the United States, in England and wherever our relatives are they will tell us that things are not as they used to be in those countries. In Anguilla, jobs which the Anguillans would leave for Dominicans and Vincentians and so forth and Kittitians now they are taking them back, they are taking them back and now our Dominicans who leave in these countries are unemployed, they were now interested in taking them back because there are no jobs there now.
There are Government’s in the region who have to borrow every month. There is one Government in the OECS who has to borrow in excess of $4M every month to meet its obligations to its citizens. You saw what is happening in Barbados, in excess of three thousand people will be sent home. Last week Friday three hundred people were sent home, this week again an additional couple hundreds were sent home. This is not because the Government of Barbados does not like its people, it is because the Government is making less than it is spending. And if you are not making enough to meet your obligations you have to take action and they have to send over three thousand people home, people who have worked in Departments for fifteen years, twenty years, people who have families, but the fact is if the Government keeps them on the play role it will not have money to pay them when the months come. So it has had to take some very strong actions.
When I saw on the news the people who were going home, I read the newspapers in Barbados every day and you see front pages of the Nations Newspaper, it is not easy for people to go home at that particular time and so the flip side of it you can understand the excitement and the relief of somebody who is getting a job in this very difficult time in our history in the world. Not because the jobs fell like manner from Heaven, it is because your Government is concerned, your Government is caring and your Government has created opportunities for our people in this country.
So I do not want to be long here tonight because I am sure you have questions and you want to get registered but one of the issues here I know that you have particularly my friends across in Wotton Waven and just to say that we should start this bridge next week. I have asked on the request of the Minister for Employment, your Member of Parliament, that from this month end we shall make a contribution to the vendors, a financial contribution to the vendors, those who have been affected by this breakage in the bridge and of course the entire Roseau Valley tourist vendors will benefit from this financial contribution and it will be for a period of some months. So I am sure the Parl. Rep. will meet with the vendors later on and speak to them with the details of this and so on. All in an effort towards bridging the gap that has been created as a result of the challenges which we have.
So I will say to you that running this country is not easy. We have so many challenges which we require a lot of resources for and the amount of money we raise from taxes, VAT included, income tax will never be enough to address the needs of our people. And that is why we have spent a considerable amount of time cultivating relationships out of Dominica, people who when something happens to Dominica they can reach out to Dominica and say because we are friends I am giving you this. We have the Foreign Minister of Mexico, who is coming in to Dominica tonight to meet with us sent by his President to visit Dominica, because of the extra ordinary relationship which exists between Dominica and Mexico, and I met the President of Mexico in Cuba last week and as a result he sent his Minister here to meet with us and Mexico has announced to us in writing that they are making an initial contribution in response to the Trough in the amount of $0.5M to assist us.
So we have friends out there who are prepared to assist us in times of need and it is not only about diplomatic relations, it is about how you treat these countries, how you react to them, the sincerity, the level of trust that they have with you, because relationships between countries is not different between two people. If your neighbour is cursing you every day and then she comes to ask you for something one day, you will tell her ‘whole week you cursing me, why should I give you my stuff?’, but if the neighbour is always greeting you, ‘Hello Mam! Good Night! Good Morning! How are you? How are the children doing? How is school…’ and so forth, if tomorrow the lady comes to ask you for something, sure, and you may even give her something else in additional to what she ask for. So when I hear people talk about they will have relations with Venezuela and China and these places, these people are not fools, they read everything we say in Dominica, they know it. It is about trust, it’s about respect, it’s about sincerity.
I am very happy to be here and thank you Dr. Mc. for inviting me and the NEP for inviting me to speak to our young people here. But I am really calling on people to register because we can only help you if you are registered and we will try our best to ensure that all those who are registered will find a space under the programme. So I want to thank you for listening to me and may God bless our country, may God bless you.