I have specially asked to join you this afternoon on the occasion of launching the special STEP UP Programme for Anse La Raye/Canaries.
I wanted to be here because I made a promise to you in the campaign leading to the General Elections of 2011, that a Labour Government will establish a yearlong STEP programme for this constituency. I am here in fulfilment of that promise.
I simply wanted to tell you that while you may have reason to be distrustful of politicians, it is also the case that there are honest politicians in our midst who understand the value of promises to the electorate. We need to rid the country of the deep and pervasive cynicism that passes for politics.
A BEDROCK POLICY
The Short Term Employment Programme was the bedrock of the Labour Party Government when we took the responsibility of reviving the economy in 1997. STEP then found a place in allowing the country to put its people to work in a variety of areas. Today, this new Labour Government continues to embrace the wisdom and foresight of our early days, that is, there is something dignifying and empowering when someone is given a chance to earn their daily bread, small as it may be.
Today, we come to the picturesque village of Canaries to launch a new version of what we originally started in 1997, dubbed STEP UP! This name is fitting because the Government believes that many people need a hand to assist them in standing up and becoming independent bread winners.
STEP UP is about uplifting our people from long-term, structural unemployment.
STEP UP is about breaking the cycle of idle hands, and linking these hands together into a national effort.
STEP UP is about stirring up economic activity on these streets and in homes where many persons have had no real incomes.
STEP UP is about engaging Saint Lucians all throughout this country to take pride in the beauty of their country.
VIABLE SOCIAL GAIN
Under STEP UP, in the next few days, over seventeen hundred people from all across Saint Lucian, and in every constituency, will start to work – many for the first time in months, if not years. This Government has always been confident that STEP is an indispensible programme for our country, perhaps even more for its viable social gains than for its economic impact. Although this year’s project amount of $4.5 million forms a relatively small part of overall government spending, the ability for this programme to spread income and economic activity is clearly undeniable.
Villages like Canaries and Anse la Raye will undoubtedly feel the impact of this programme. Not only will our landscape be enhanced and our country beautified, but the shop owner, the bus driver, the vendor will begin to notice greater activity as more persons become financially empowered by earning their fair wage.
A SPECIAL PROGRAMME FOR ANSE LA RAYE/CANARIES
Government has recognised that this area in particular, because of its peculiar geography of isolation, requires special attention. There can be no joy found in quoting the unemployment figures for communities such as Canaries. The last census of 2010 told us that for every two persons employed from Canaries, one was unemployed. What was even more alarming was that unemployment in this community was at an astounding 44%. These figures are unmatched anywhere else on this island and it is precisely why the Government has come directly to Canaries to commence the launch of this programme. This Government will not allow what has prevailed in the past to continue.
We have committed to having a year long STEP UP for Anse la Raye and Canaries, with about two hundred persons being employed in these communities alone, in any week during the year. This programme should reduce unemployment in Anse la Raye and Canaries by about twenty percent (20%) in the coming year.
As I explained in the budget presentation earlier this year, the basic idea is to employ 200 persons every quarter, then rotate those persons for another 200 the next quarter and so on. In, other words some 800 persons should benefit in any one year.
I wish to clear all doubts by confirming that this special programme will exist side by side with normal STEP Programme. Let me explain!
“BACK TO SCHOOL” STEP
Throughout the rest of the island, STEP UP will run for five cycles so as to induce the economy at critical junctures where our people require particular support. For example, the present cycle, the present cycle is meant to assist parents prior to the reopening of school.
While it is true that Government has kept its promise and is ensuring that every child who is moving from primary to secondary school can access a five hundred dollar ($500) assistance cheque, and while we have also increased the amount available for general bursaries, it is still necessary to support those who need help the most. As such, STEP UP could even be seen as a supporting arm of the Education Access Fund.
This year, the hope is that STEP UP will also take on a new national imperative, that of tackling Black Sigatoka, a disease which is negatively impacting banana production. This is a need for human resources to tackle the clearance of abandoned fields and the application of treatments and we see STEP UP playing a useful role in assisting the farming sector in meeting the expensive challenge of mitigating this scourge.
JOBS, THE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY
As such, ladies and gentlemen, this Government is keeping to its promise made in the lead up to the 2011 General Elections that our number one priority is jobs! We believe that the country needs this boost to keep the economy buoyant.
STEP UP, as you have well heard, forms a part of a suite of employment creating initiatives, with our flagship $100 million programme of NICE set to create over two thousand jobs nationwide. The majority of these NICE jobs will run for two and a half years. I am very certain that more people from Canaries and Anse la Raye will benefit from this programme as construction projects under NICE commence. I urge you to identify projects and job placements within Canaries that can make a long term impact on your lives and livelihood. Ensure that NICE works with you to achieve your community’s plan for itself.
DEVELOPING THE CANARIES PRODUCT
Of course, ladies and gentlemen, in the medium and long term, we must tackle the structural causes of unemployment, particularly in our rural communities.
Canaries, you have a product which must be packaged and marketed. You have your beautiful forested valley with its river and waterfalls. You have your cassava-based businesses which you are known for. You have your famous bread. You have your picturesque bays. You also have infrastructure like this renewed edifice which enhances the character and uniqueness of your space. Tomas has even blessed you with a renourished beachfront. It is now for you to add the will, collaborate with each other, innovate, create and embrace all your strengths towards meaningful pursuits. Canaries can step up!
I encourage you to work with your Government, your local council, your parliamentary representative, to work with yourselves to move your community more fully into the economic network.
To all those of you who have the privilege of having this opportunity to step up, I urge diligence and discipline on the job and wisdom in how you spend your dollar earned.
I should not hear reports that STEP workers are asleep on the job or that STEP workers don’t come to work on time. I want to hear that STEP has made a difference in your life, a difference in your community, a difference in Saint Lucia.
I know STEP UP means a lot to you, as it does to me and the entire Government of Saint Lucia. As such, ensure that you give your country your best efforts, and set your gaze upwards to new heights.
I thank you.