The Minister for Tourism, Heritage and Creative Industries, Lorne Theophilus sat down with the STAR last Thursday December 29 in his first exclusive interview since he was appointed to discuss his plans for the coming months and how he’s fighting to show St Lucians that the PM chose the right man for the job. The minister seemed confident as he answered questions thrown at him. Looking quite sharp with a new haircut and a crisp suit, the minister immediately apologized for being late and was more than anxious to get the interview underway. With a half-smile while clasping his hands on his desk, he said, “I’m ready.” Following are some excerpts of the interview.
STAR: Many people felt that the prime minister did not make a right choice appointing you as the minister for tourism, what is your response to that?
THEOPHILUS: Before I was in there, the other ministers of tourism, Romanus Lansiquot had absolutely no expertise, Menissa Rambally, Philip J Pierre who is considered to be almost a guru now, came into this ministry having expertise in commerce as a businessman. With the ministries, if you are serious about what you do, you take time to learn various things about the industry. You have your own ideas; in addition you come in with the mandate of the government. The government has a mandate they intend to fulfill. But then again, it’s about meeting the various technocrats because you do have a good technical team and the technical team basically does what is necessary to run the ministry for you, whilst you ensure the mandate of the government and the people of the country are actually fulfilled. You may find that persons may have expertise in tourism and you may find their services are questionable. Although my expertise is found in law, it doesn’t in any way preclude me from functioning in my capacity as the tourism minister. There will always be critics, they will always think that their opinion matters over everyone else but I tell persons, rather than being skeptical and be pessimists; we ought to be a lot more optimistic. I take the criticisms, actually I am very encouraged by the criticisms because they motivate me, and they make me work even harder.
STAR: What initiatives will you implement to improve the tourism industry and which initiatives will you discontinue?
THEOPHILUS: My honest view is that no prudent government and unlike what we have seen in the past where there is a change in regime, you see certain initiatives just stop. Programs that may be beneficial to the country for example the STEP program was stopped and all of a sudden before election it was started all over again. If you are a prudent government, you will examine the initiatives that were implemented by the previous government with a team of technocrats and improve on them where the need is or if it is not in the country’s best interest, you discontinue it. So a careful analysis of the various schemes will be done and we are going to look at decisions that have been taken and actually my way of doing things is not just looking at decisions for the last five years but for the last seven years. We are first going to sit with all the entities and technocrats to determine what plans are in the best interest of the country.
STAR: What plans do you have in place for Soufriere, the tourism capital of St Lucia?
THEOPHILUS: Rather than look at Soufriere generally, I’m going to suggest something to you that what we are looking at is a decentralization of the tourist product. While Soufriere is important, Castries would be important, Gros Islet would be important. We believe it is necessary for the different parts of the island to get into the tourism sector. So we are looking at a different form of location marketing so that we can sell products and packages that enable parts of the island that had not previously enjoyed the tourist dollar to be part of it. It also helps us broaden the scope of the tourist package. I can tell you for a fact that there is a keen interest in the redevelopment of the southern zone but for me to tell you that government is going to commit to Soufriere or Laborie or Vieux Fort or even Choiseul in particular at this time is somewhat reckless to do but I can indicate to you that there is a plan for the redevelopment of the southern zone and a number of things, probably the development of a southern port which is being conceptualized.
STAR: Some are of the view that the appointment of the new director of the St Lucia Tourist Board creates conflict of interest. Mr Matthew Beaubrun who is also the manager/owner of Cox and Company is in a similar position as that of the previous minister, Allen Chastanet whom your party, the then opposition stated that it would create conflict of interest to have him as the minister for tourism and also manage his hotel. How do you respond to the claims?
THEOPHILUS: I actually read a comment out of the media which I think is very pessimistic and I think persons can find issues which they believe are perceived conflicts with almost any appointment that you make and rather than persons being pessimistic and unnecessarily negative, they should allow persons the opportunity to function in this country, persons who have made viable contributions in this country. Persons have raised conflicts every step of the way and in each instance where they have raised conflicts they’ve never been able to point to an instance where the perceived conflict have affected persons’ ability to function or where they function in a manner which is contrary to the interest of the country. So the pessimism is something which we expect and I think persons never get over that hurdle but at the same token, I am very optimistic of the ability of not just the chairman but of the entire board to function and function in the best interest of St Lucia.