Transcript: Remarks by Prime Minister of Dominica, the Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit
At the Certificate Presentation Ceremony of 199 Dominicans, following successful completion of Hospitality Skills Training
Let me first of all recognise the presence of my friends, Dr. McIntyre, the Minister for Employment; Hon. Ian Douglas; Hon. Reginald Austrie; Hon. Ronald Toulon; Dr. Peters, the President of the State College; Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Employment; and staff of the NEP; the facilitators of the various modules or the components of the Apprenticeship Programme; ladies and gentlemen; friends all, but more particularly our dear people who have participated in this very important training programme.
I am very happy to be here this afternoon. I am very pleased to see that most of you who started the programme, in fact, completed the programme. I have always held that the majority of our young people in Dominica are law-abiding citizens, positive people, and we must demonstrate our level of trust and confidence in our young people and I am very happy that you have not disappointed me as the Prime Minister of the country; that you stuck through the programme and you have been benefiting from the results of your perseverance.
I give you the assurances as I gave you when you started the programme because I did, in fact, address the trainees in Roseau and I addressed the trainees in Portsmouth. So I do not take a hands-off approach to this programme; that is a programme I ask questions about every single day and to ensure that everybody who is on the programme gets their salary at the same time the Public Servants get theirs, and at the same time the Prime Minister gets his. And there should be no excuses; we have to ensure that everybody gets paid under the programme on a timely basis because you have kept your side of the bargain and, therefore, it is important for us to keep our side of the bargain.
I want to say to you young people that your graduation here this afternoon is not the end of the exercise. You are going out in the service industry where you have to be providing service to the guests of your establishment. Respect for time, respect for self and respect for people are going to be paramount. If you see a guest twenty times on the property you have to greet him twenty times. You cannot say I just greeted him and I cannot greet him again. If the guest is coming out of the door and you are going in, you should allow the guest to come out before you go in because it is his presence at your restaurant or your hotel that is going to determine how long you stay at the hotel or restaurant.
I want to say to you that this programme did not come out of nowhere; it did not come out of the Public Service; there is no Government Public Officer who developed this programme. This programme came from the leadership of the Dominica Labour Party. Similarly to the Housing Revolution; similarly to the Yes We Care Programme; similarly to, the fact that every Dominican citizen, 60 years and older and 7 and 18 years and younger, do not pay hospital bills in Dominica. The fact that we have universal access to secondary education and we provide free transportation to almost every single high school student in Dominica paid for by the Government.
And we have made housing available to scores of Dominicans; we provided washrooms to hundreds of Dominicans; we have provided housing assistance to thousands of Dominicans. Not because we are obligated to do so but because the Party which I have the honour to lead is a Party that understands the struggles of the ordinary person and who cares about the people of Dominica and who has gone out there to raise the required funding to finance this programme.
So this Apprenticeship Programme, this National Employment Programme is not VAT money; it is not Income Tax money; it is not Import Duties money; it is money that came about by a programme, a project written by myself, the Prime Minister of the country, and went to Venezuela and sat with the President of Venezuela and say to the President of Venezuela, Comrade, I have a challenge in Dominica of youth unemployment and here is a proposal I would want you to finance for me to my people in Dominica. So this money is coming from our friends from Venezuela because of our extraordinary relationship that we have engendered with the Venezuelans.
They have seen it fit in this very difficult economic situation to assist us because you hear of unemployment all over the world. In Spain the unemployment among young people is high as 50%, in a developed country called Spain. In St. Lucia you heard the Prime Minister recently on the news saying that unemployment has risen in the last year in St. Lucia. Barbados is sending home 3,000 people in the Public Service; 3,000 people. And our economy can go into the Barbados economy more than a hundred times.
President Obama has poured in hundreds of billions of dollars into the US economy to create jobs and he has not been in any significant way, been able to reduce on the unemployment rates in the United States of America. In the United Kingdom the Government has had to send Police Officers home; they have had to send teachers home because they just cannot afford to pay the expenses associated with the running of the United Kingdom. In some Government departments there have been 50% cuts in their budget with one Minister claiming that his Ministry has been reduced to a paper Ministry because he has no money to spend. As a matter of fact he suggested to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom it is better he abandon that Ministry.
So for anybody to give you the impression that they can give you milk and honey and molasses to mix with that, he is not telling you the truth because if the Treasury of Dominica, as it is now, cannot afford to pay this National Employment Programme, how do we propose to pay for 7,000 jobs from the Treasury of Dominica. And what we have been able to do over the last several years, to minimise the burden on the taxpayers of the country, because as you know a Government can raise revenue through different means – (i) through taxation; (ii) through loans; and (iii) grants.
I have been accused by many in the Opposition and some in the country of being a beggar because I go out to negotiate resources on behalf of the people of Dominica. But I say to them if I did not have to go out to get the West Coast Road how would we have financed the $125 million we spent on the West Coast Road and those of you who drove on it from Roseau today. How would we have invested in health care, to buy the mammogram and I am telling you even the mammogram and the CT Scan and the other orthopaedic equipment we are buying the Treasure could not afford it. The Prime Minister had to go out to negotiate the resources for these things.
Let us understand, my dear friends, all we are asking of you, in a demonstration of your gratitude, is to be diligent at what you do. I can help create a job for you but I cannot keep your job for you. You cannot go and jump in Portsmouth opening of carnival and do not show up for work next morning and then ask for a salary at the end of the day. People leave Dominica, they do not want to work and then they go to other countries and things that they would never do in Dominica they have to do it to survive outside of Dominica.
I can give you the assurances that all of you who have completed this programme you would be engaged one way or the other; one way or the other you would be engaged. I have been advised about 85% of them have been engaged already and we have been paying the salaries of all of them. I know there are some particularly with regard to those who have done the pedicure and manicure programme, we have a solution to your particular challenge and the Ministry of Employment will speak to you in the next couple days about that solution.
We just signed an MOU for the construction of a high end hotel in Portsmouth. It will be between 75 to 125 rooms with a company called Range Property Development and we are in negotiation with another group of investors for another 75-room hotel that will be located in the north of Dominica and it is a Memorandum of Understanding. We saw the construction of a 65-room hotel right here at the Cabrits with a conference facility to sit about 200 people comfortably.
All of these things the Government is doing to create jobs for the people of Dominica. We do not sit on our hands and complain about the problems. And I keep saying to my colleagues one of the biggest problems of this Government is that we do not explain sufficiently to the people of Dominica how difficult it is to manage the affairs of Dominica.
We do things and because we do it so well it appears to the world that is easy work but I can tell you as the person who has been charged with the leadership of the country for the last ten years, Dominica is no easy place to manage. The challenges are many and the resources are extremely limited or even non-existent.
We will soon start the construction of the new hospital which will cost about US$50 million. If we do not go and negotiate a gift of the hospital from China, how would we be able to borrow US$50 million which is equivalent to EC$135 to build a new hospital because quite clearly we cannot in the second decade of the 21st Century have the PMH as our premier hospital. We have to do better than that.
I heard somebody who says that he wants to replace me as the Prime Minister of the country, saying that if he becomes Prime Minister he will turn the State House into a cultural center.
Now, you wonder when you hear these things do you laugh or do you get angry. Here it is that that very same person went to Washington, DC and stood in front the address, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which is the White House of the United States of America, have a tam on his head, and took a picture and sent it on facebook and all over the world saying look he is in front the White House in America but he is saying that we, the people of Dominica, are not deserving of such magnificence in our country.
It tells you that these people lack a vision and the Bible tells you where there is no vision the people shall perish. You must have a vision and the Bible speaks clearly about our responsibility to leadership; that we have to provide for the comfort of our leaders. In the Constitution it provides for us to ensure that we take care of the Head of State. Now, where would you put the Head of State when you turn the place into a cultural center? My friends, nobody will take us seriously when we talk that kind of foolishness because everywhere in the world there is a decent place where your Head of State resides.
I will say this, in small countries like ours if the Prime Minister is not responsible for the purse of the country and for the economic management of the country, that country will have problems. The Prime Minister must and should be the Minister for Finance of these small countries. I can tell Reggie and these guys I am not giving the Ministry of Finance to no Minister; that when I am out of the country they will act [and] when I come back I will take over the Ministry of Finance. We have seen in our history when the Prime Minister is not the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Finance will mash-up the country because the Prime Minister must take a keen interest in the economic management of the country.
So in the United States, for example, where the President does not hold a particular portfolio but it is the President of the United States who articulates an economic and financial policy of the United States of America. You do not hear from the Treasury Secretary, you do not even see him. It is President Obama who speaks about economic and financial policies of the United States of America but I guess those who want to lead the country do not feel within themselves that they have the capacity to be the Minister for Finance. You cannot go and announce your Cabinet without you having a portfolio for yourself because you did not figure which one to hold.
So we are here today to speak to you, to graduate you here, and rest assured that this Government shall continue to work; the Labour Party shall continue to work and your Prime Minister shall continue to work in the best interest of all of you in Dominica.
Before I leave, one of the things that is very interesting and we should not lose sight of and I will tell you how progressively thoughtful this Government, this Labour Party has been. Some of you who did the hospitality component of the programme here today may not have attended high school, you may not have completed secondary school, you may have dropped out of high school but you will be today receiving a certificate from the Dominica State College. So I urge you to frame your certificate and put it where everybody can see it because you should be proud of yourself as mothers and as young men.
I mean when the lady says that she has eleven children and she was able to attend the programme and ended the programme successfully, this tells you how important this training programme has been; how important it is for many single mothers. Some of you whose fathers are not supporting you, I want to say to the men you have to take your responsibility to care for your children. You cannot leave it to these women alone to take care of the children; you cannot come and say you love the girl and you have children with the girl and just turn your back. The children need the financial and emotional support of the fathers as well.
It is a shame to any man in the world, Dominica included, where a mother has to take the father of her child to court to give her something for this child every week, every month. You cannot do that.
So I am very happy to be here this afternoon and I will say to those of you who are working at the Atlantic Resorts: we held a Cabinet meeting there but I did not tell Minister McIntyre and some of you who I know very well that I was coming to evaluate your performance at the Atlantic Resort. I was coming to see how well you were doing and I will tell you that you did a fabulous job.
The service was excellent, the presentation was superb and you did a very good job in the service which you provided to us. From all reports, and you will recall I came here one night unannounced. I came there one night, about after 10:00 at the resorts and I was very impressed with the bar people there. So you are doing well, stay positive.
You have to think positively. You have an opportunity now; my advice to you is to hold it tightly. I know you have children and sometimes it is difficult to get up in the morning to prepare them, send them to school and go to work but we have to do it. We have to be positive, we have to be diligent because if you are not going to take care of yourself or show any interest in taking care of yourself, who will?
So I wish you all the best. I wish you God’s blessings and guidance and let us continue to work together for the advancement of this country, Dominica.
Thank you very much.