Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Let me first of all recognise the presence of my friend and colleague, Hon. Gloria Shillingford, Minister for Social Services, Community Development and Gender Affairs. Let me also recognise the Chairman and Board of the Grotto Home for the Homeless, Community Hotels Inc.; the Manager and members of staff and, of course, the media present, the benefactors of the Grotto Home.
I want to say that the Grotto Home is fortunate to have a very concerned and caring group of men and women at the helm of the Grotto Home. I know Aunty Angie and ASP Irish, they would come to my home very early in the morning to say that the Grotto Home needs $10,000 or $5,000 right away to purchase certain items and I get calls and texts from them on a regular basis. It is fixed to their deep concern for the less fortunate in the country.
I want to also especially recognise Mr. Paul Green from Green’s Wholesale who has been an exceptional benefactor of the Grotto Home. So if you buy more from Green’s Wholesale he will be able to give more to the Grotto Home. So I urge all of us to buy more from Green’s Wholesale so that he could give more to the Grotto Home.
I want to say that the Government is totally committed to continue to be a partner to the Grotto Home because we believe that all of us have a responsibility to the less fortunate. This is why if you have looked at the Government’s programmes we have focused heavily on assisting the less fortunate in our country because we do not only have a responsibility as leaders to the less fortunate but we also have a Christian responsibility, a biblical responsibility to care for the less fortunate among us.
And a country would be judged not only by the high rise buildings and the improvement to the physical infrastructure but it will be judged by how well you can take care or you have been taking care of the less fortunate in the country. This is why we have instituted the Yes We Care Programme; this is why we have instituted the assistance to the school children to attend school whether it is transportation or the school transfer grant; this is why we have had social housing providing free homes and repairs to homes of less fortunate across the length and breadth of Dominica and a number of other programmes that we have instituted, social safety net programmes to assist the less fortunate.
It has been unfortunate that we have been criticised by some quarters in society for reaching out to the less fortunate; people have characterized them as beggars; people have characterized them as being greedy but at the end of the day we will all have to answer to our maker if we believe that there is a maker and I am sure one of the questions that will be asked is how well have we taken care of our neighbour. Have we been our neighbour’s keeper? None of us know in this life what the future holds for us. We may want to be at a particular point in life in the future but none of us except the Maker knows what tomorrow will bring for us. Some of us may very well find ourselves as residents at the Grotto Home, residents of the Infirmary and what type of care would we want at the Infirmary; what type of care would we want at the Grotto Home and that is something that we have to be mindful of.
When we instituted the Yes We Care Programme I said to the Minister for Social Services that we need people who care about people genuinely. We are not going to give you a job, we need to go and find out how well you are taking care of your children, your parents and your grandparents and based on that that is how you will get employed under the Yes We Care Programme because we have to ensure that we care for the elderly. And I gave a commitment to the less fortunate, as long as I am the leader of this country they will be always cared for by this Government because we have a responsibility. Notwithstanding how difficult the economy may be, notwithstanding the fact that our revenue has dropped like every other country in the world, we are committed to keeping the safety nets intact and this is why we have not tampered with any of the social safety nets we have instituted in this country; the all remain intact, properly financed. I have said publicly that if it means that I have to stop the construction of a road or … infrastructure to finance the social safety net programmes that shall be done.
We have been working with the Grotto Home towards the realisation of its new home and I have committed as Prime Minister and Minister for Finance $120,000 towards the purchase of building materials and we also have mandated the State’s Prison to use labour from there to assist with cutting on the cost of construction for the Grotto Home.
I have been told by my staff this morning that you have received $40,000 worth of building materials so far. I am saying to you before the end of the working day you shall receive an addition $40,000 to continue the project. By next Wednesday, God willing, you will receive the other $40,000 to complete the $120,000 committed by the Office of the Prime Minister.
We have also, I believe, leased land to you, two point something acres of land, very prime land in a tranquil location at a peppercorn rate. So you are not paying for it, we are not selling it to you but you have it for $1 a year for eternity. When we bought the land from you for the construction of the road we paid you more than the value of the land because we wanted to help you. I recall there was a debate in the Caribbean we decide to give you more for the land, though the land was originally Government’s land and we gave it to you and we bought it back from you but it is all part of … the country.
I know that you receive a subvention plus public assistance in the region of about $30,000 thereabout. I have been also told that you have a budget shortfall of about $30,000 annually. I am giving a commitment here today that we will provide you with an additional $30,000 for the next five years so that you would not have any difficulty in meeting your operating cost from time to time but, of course, the math can be worked out between my staff and your staff. So we are committing as from this year to you the addition $30,000 so that you do not have to come to me at my home or in my office early morning and tell me you need money so you can resolve the issue.
Caring for our people, the brunt of the responsibility should not fall on the State and the question is should we not start having discussions in our country, as other countries have discussed and taken decisions, in instituting a levy on our salaries of half a percent or 1% that would go into a special fund to help provide for these people who need help. Just two weeks ago I had to give the Infirmary, though we cover the full cost of the operation of the Infirmary, I had to give the Infirmary $70,000 to do some improvements to the facility; we had to give an additional sum to them. So we just gave them two weeks ago $70,000 from the Government.
There are people who have family members and these family members they have lots of land, they have money in the bank, they receive a pension, they receive Social Security benefits and these families are not giving the Infirmary a dollar of the pension or the moneys they get from Social Security. I am saying to them that we are going to change that policy that if you want to come to the Infirmary and you are getting a pension, you are getting Social Security you must sign a legal document assigning that money to the Infirmary to take care of your father, your grandfather, your mother, your aunty or yourself. And if you have land you should sell the land or bequeath the land to the Infirmary so the Infirmary can liquidate it to help pay for your maintenance because when you come to the Infirmary, the Infirmary and the Government provides 100% care; doctor’s visit must be covered by the Infirmary; nurse’s visit must be covered by the Infirmary; medication covered by the Infirmary and even when the person dies the Infirmary has to pay to bury that person. It cannot be fair to the State, it cannot be fair to the Managers of the Infirmary that somebody who has money, as small or as big as it is, would leave that money in the bank or family members would benefit from it and the person who worked for that money cannot benefit and enjoy that money. It is not fair and I have said to the Management of the Infirmary to send a recommendation to the Board and send me a copy, a copy to the Minister so we can discuss it and take decisions in this issue. We have as family our first responsibility to take care of our family. The State can assist where we cannot assist or where you cannot assist the State will assist but we our primary responsibility is to care for the elderly.
I really want to commend the Grotto Home because you have done an exceptional job in caring for the less fortunate, and exceptional job. The Management, leadership and the staff because it is not easy to deal with the residents, it is a huge challenge but because of their intrinsic love for service and service to mankind they are there working and labouring. I have my dear friend, Nurse Smith, who was a nurse for more than forty plus years who is there, you go there and she is there working and helping out. And a number of other people who come there both as volunteers and paid staff and to you, all of us here in the country, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can volunteer a day a week or two hours a week to go in there? The business houses can you send your staff there to help out with something or the other whether it is to help cook the lunch or help serve or help wash the dishes. It is something that we may want to consider as our contribution to mankind and society.
So I really wanted to be here this morning. This week is a very tight week for me because I am working on the finalization of my budget speech and I have to focus on that because it will be delivered next Wednesday, 23rd July, in the Parliament and I need to finalise it by all means this week. I wanted to be here to lend support to your efforts and to say to you that you have a committed partner in myself at Prime Minister of the country and the Government as a whole and you can always look to us and to me for whatever support you require to care for our people in this country. As I said we never know where we shall end up in life and that has always to be our guiding principle because life has a funny way of teaching us some lessons and I am guided by that and this why I have always tried to be generous and responsive to the less fortunate in this country.
It is okay for anybody to criticise me for that but I believe that I have a Christian and biblical duty to assist.
We will continue to be partners and I look forward to the completion of your facility; I think that will address a number of your challenges that you presently have at the Old Dominica Club but you have been able to do an exceptional job under very trying and difficult circumstances. It all comes down in large measure to a committed Board, a few committed benefactors and wonderful staff you have at the Grotto. So God bless your efforts and God bless our country, Dominica.
Thank you very much.