Looking back, looking ahead
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit gives a "mini-manifesto" independence address, ahead of the general election
It was one of those sunny days when it promised to be "96 degrees in the shade"; it was "real hot" by 9.00 am when Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit began his address on Independence Day 2014 at the Parade of Uniformed Groups at the Windsor Park Sports Stadium in Roseau.
Undoubtedly, the speech sounded like a mini- party manifesto-the look back at the achievements, the promises if the party wins the up-coming general election. Skerrit said the transformation of Dominica began 15 years ago when the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) re-captured the reins of government.
"That Government promised you a new beginning in 2000… and this Government will continue to strive, relentlessly, to deliver on all the promises made since then," said Prime Minister Skerrit.
He argued that his government, faced with challenges of "hurricanes and earthquakes, floods and droughts and (a country that had) come to the very brink of fiscal and economic collapse", that the citizens of Dominica and the government had "remained resolute."
"We adjusted our life-styles and made the sacrifices necessary to rise to the challenge," Skerrit said.
In his speech, Skerrit spoke of his government's achievements in foreign affairs, in education, in health, in job creation.
Let's begin our review of the address with foreign policy.
"As a progressive forward-thinking Government, we have been able to use the tool of Foreign Policy to advance our national development goals. That is why our efforts have been supported by international development agencies, and bilateral and multilateral partners. To date, we have expanded and deepened our diplomatic relationships with 96 countries," he said.
In good governance: "We have built on the Westminster system of Government that we inherited at Independence. We have deepened our practice of democracy through the selection and training of Parliamentary Representatives who keep in close touch with their constituents, thereby ensuring that there is a constant two-way flow of relevant information and vital resources between Representatives and constituents".
In culture: "Just as we use our natural resources for economic development, we have also dedicated our cultural resources to the development of our cultural industries, especially the music and audio-visual sectors as an additional means of economic activity.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, even though our natural and cultural resources are important in themselves, their value cannot be maximized without the development of our human resources. That is why, in appreciation of the great opportunities available in this new millennium, we embarked on a policy of education and training for all Dominicans".
In education: "during the past 14 years, we have devoted an increasing amount of public expenditure to Education and Human Resource Development. This investment reached a peak of $58.4 million out of the $437.6 million budgeted for the financial year ending in 2013.
"Our efforts have borne beautiful fruit. Building on the attainment of universal Primary Education, we achieved universal Secondary Education by 2005. Henceforth, our sights are set on achieving universal access to Early Childhood and Tertiary Education. We, as a nation, can be proud that today we are on track to achieve the goal of having a graduate in every household by 2015".
In provision of support to the private sector: "During the past 14 years, your Government has intensified its support to the established private sector, and trained, funded and supported budding entrepreneurs by designing and funding innovative institutions whose unique goal is to grow the pool of local entrepreneurs. Among these were the Dominica Youth Business Trust, the National Development Foundation of Dominica, the Employment and Small Business Support Agency, and the National Employment Programme".
In infrastructure: "By 2014 we had brought all major and secondary roads connecting villages and cities up to an acceptable standard. The recent formal opening and naming of the Dr. Nicholas Liverpool highway from our major airport to Pond Casse, is testimony to the considerable progress we have made in up-grading major roads.
"Even before that we had achieved the highest quality of road network this country has ever known".
Then Skerrit repeated the oft-heard promise of building an international airport and the signing of a memorandum of understanding with an unnamed entity in China:
"Our next task is to make connections to Dominica from the major cities throughout the world a reality. In that regard, your Government has signed an MOU with a private company in the People's Republic of China for the construction of an international airport in Crompton Point; using the Build, Operate & Transfer (BOT) model", he said.
Then there was the promise of cheaper electricity through geothermal energy:
"Thanks to our investments of over $54 million dollars in the development of geothermal energy, we have made a breakthrough which guarantees the feasibility of generating electricity, cleanly and cheaply. As a result, geothermal power generation in commercial quantities will begin in earnest in 2016!",he said.
"The generation of electricity from geothermal sources allows me to make the announcement that we have abandoned the policy of relying on fossil fuel to drive our economy. Instead of continuing to add to the emission of greenhouse gases we are now on the threshold of using clean energy to green the economy. This will allow us to preserve our proud legacy of luxuriant forests, clean air and clean water, while at the same time creating more jobs, increasing productivity, and raising the standard of living".
In the tourism sector, the Prime Minister implied that the mountains are greener here in Dominica and that is why "there are large numbers of people who have made the conscious decision to spend their hard-earned cash in destinations like ours, the Nature-Culture Hub of the Caribbean".
"It is for this reason that, over the preceding 14 years we have, through The Tourism Master Plan, developed tourism policies and targeted investments to create an attractive package of ecological, educational, cultural, heritage, community and sports tourism products," he said. "These include an improved airport, the Waitukubuli National Trail - the longest hiking trail in the Eastern Caribbean - the second largest boiling lake in the world and a dive experience that is second only to the Australian Great Barrier Reef; plus world-class hotels such as Rosalie Bay, Jungle Bay and Secret Bay; the World Creole Music Festival, our traditional carnival, the pageantry of our Independence celebrations and a friendly and hospitable people".
During the next term, if he wins the elections, Skerrit promised to transform Roseau, the capital city and Portsmouth, the second town.
"We shall enhance the contents of this already impressive package with a fully-renovated Roseau, including the construction of a luxury hotel at the Public Works Garage site, improvements to the roads and sidewalks; through implementation of the Roseau Enhancement Project, freer flowing traffic for motorists and pedestrians and a general major facelift for our capital city," he said. "Portsmouth, the historic second town, will be significantly enhanced by the Cabrits Hotel and Spa, the luxury Range Resort Development, the development of Fort Shirley, and the new road linking Picard to Sugar Loaf.
"Above all, the new international airport will give us access to new markets for our tourism products. This new airport will come with a package of facilities and opportunities to transform constituencies from Cottage to Soufriere".
The Prime Minister did not say much about agriculture except that "Government's policy is that agriculture will remain a major pillar of our economy. This gives us several advantages including: (1) food security; (2) job creation; (3) making a contribution to foreign exchange earnings; and (4) linking agricultural production to our tourism and cultural industries".
At the end of his speech, the Prime Minister promised to:
"Continue to invest in the health of our people. In particular we shall build a new, modern and well-equipped General Hospital offering specialist services on the site of the Princess Margaret Hospital.
"We shall pursue a system of healthcare finance that makes access to high quality care possible for all Dominicans.
"We shall continue to invest in the Housing Revolution where we help needy citizens in every community to refurbish or rebuild dilapidated homes and in the process eliminate all pit toilets by 2020.
"We have started the construction of 1,500 affordable homes and the programme will continue in 2015.
"We shall continue to empower young people by sharpening their skills and assisting them in getting the training and on-going support to secure employment or establish their own businesses. We are committed to the retention and expansion of the National Employment Programme!
"We shall strengthen the "Yes We Care" Programme and increase support to the elderly.
"We shall continue to embrace our overseas based Dominicans and give them the opportunity to use their talents and other resources to help develop Dominica.
"We shall continue to be a leader in the international community, especially in advocating ways and means of dealing with the challenges faced by Small Island Developing States."