Some have sought to impugn the efficacy of Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s leadership. His leadership style has been described as dictatorial; there are those who consider his frequency of travel excessive and expensive. It has also been claimed by the least qualified that he does not have what it takes intellectually to be a prime minister—never mind that last June 6 the majority thought otherwise. It need be added that the prime minister’s most vociferous critics, for the most part, are fellow politicians seeking to help themselves!
At his press conference on Thursday afternoon, scheduled to end after an hour, the prime minister fielded media questions for almost two and a half hours. He was engaging, personable, and did not refuse or censure a single question. On the contrary, he seemed willing and able to indulge the probative exercise in perpetuity; he had to be coaxed by his senior communications officer Nicole McDonald into bringing the meeting to a close. Hardly the man who is routinely maligned and caricatured at every opportunity. On Thursday he came across as a leader whose pronouncements connoted a pellucid sense of direction; a prime minister who has a perfervid dedication to the socio-economic upliftment of his people and sincerely cares about the well-being of our Caribbean neighbours; who acknowledges that the way out of the economic morass in which we have placed ourselves is paved with difficult choices. He was nevertheless undeterred and would boldly go where his predecessors feared to tread, all in the best interests of the people—even if it meant placing his nascent political career at risk.
For close to fifteen minutes the prime minister reported on the combined efforts of his ministerial colleagues to mitigate the devastation rained by Irma and Maria on Dominica and the BVI. He highlighted what already has been and will be done to assist the victimized populations, among them facilitating the evacuation from Dominica of 1,700 Ross University students and their transportation back to the home nations. He took on complaints that he was off-island during and after Hurricane Maria: the decision to attend the meeting of the UN General Assembly instead, though a difficult choice, was made with his people in mind and in consultation with the other OECS leaders; at least one of the heads of the OECS member states needed to represent at the UN the various interests of the region—including advocating for climate change mitigating accords which could positively affect the magnitude and frequency of hurricanes. The prime minister explained that his offer to secure some of the prisoners from the BVI and Turks and Caicos was an obvious humanitarian gesture. Who knew when we might find ourselves in need of assistance with our own prison inmates? He recognized the Canadian, American, and Martiniquan people and governments for their roles in the relief efforts while singling out Venezuela for special mention on account of its unwavering and particularly generous aid. He went on to express his intention to permit businesses from the BVI and Dominica to temporarily set up shop in Saint Lucia while their countries of origin prepare for their return.
The prime minister also sought to clear up any misconceptions about the St. Jude reconstruction. Speculation has been rife about the fate of the would-be structural reincarnation of the southern hospital, thanks to careless talk on the part of one government minister, which was like red meat to the government’s detractors. The prime minister said that while a decision was yet to be taken about the 50 per cent-complete structure, demolition was never on the cards, never mind a recommendation to do just that. He did not rule out the possibility of repurposing the structure if the cost of rectifying the various structural and functional faults uncovered by an audit prove prohibitive. He said the matter was under urgent discussion.
He capped off the press conference by encapsulating key aspects of Saint Lucia’s economic reality and outlook. He reaffirmed his commitment to the realization of the DSH project and again asserted that the developer would be fronting the financing of phase one – to be reimbursed subsequently. He assured the press gathering that OJO labs is slated to open its doors in less than two weeks – on October 15 – initially employing 35 young Saint Lucians, then many more.
The ground-breaking of tourism projects at Sabwisha, Choiseul, and at the site earmarked for the Ritz Carlton were confirmed for later this year as well as the construction of an additional 400 rooms at Sandals Grande. In addition, it was disclosed that banana production has increased by 30%, overall tourism arrivals are up by 10%, and cruise ship arrivals are up by 22%. On the matter of financing the operations of the Owen King EU Hospital, the PM confirmed that the government is actively seeking corporate partners for the purpose of establishing a public private partnership (PPP) to mitigate costs.
The prime minister lauded the professional acuity and the autonomy of the chairman of the Citizenship by Investment Programme, Mr. Ryan Devaux, and the chief executive officer of Invest Saint Lucia, Mr. Gillray Cadet.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet at his press conference on Thursday. While he gave a full account for his absence over the last several days, he also had a few words for the press on research versus calculated loose talk.