Charting a new course for dialogue with stakeholders

Over the past several weeks many developments have been taking place and the nations leaders at all levels have been busy at the National, Sub-Regional, Regional and International levels.
It is very definite that the pro-active stance of our Government and Private Sector have begun to pay dividends.

The just concluded World Travel Market held in London provided as usual an opportunity for networking efforts to promote our key industry - Tourism. The establishment of a Tourist office within the Saint Lucia High Commission should assist the small hotels in attracting visitors.

Recent increases in tourists' arrivals are very encouraging. This tourist season is anticipated by many to be a good one, providing there is no crisis due to terrorists' attacks and an all out war targeting Iraq.

I believe that good sense will prevail for the benefit of all. The world in general cannot afford any disruption to the current tranquility. Regardless of the individual's political affiliation, everyone agrees that St. Lucia is poised to come around the corner to arrest the negative performance in the economy within the first quarter of 2003.

I am very concerned about the small hotel sector. If the current environment within the sector does not improve drastically, St. Lucia will definitely be headed for a situation as existed in Barbados in the early eighties when small hotels were failing all around and there were no takers.

I am very happy as I look down at the harbour and take note of two or three Cruise Ships berth alongside. Our Taxi Drivers, Tour Operators, Craft Vendors and Restauranteurs should be pleased with this improvement.

It is my view that given our limited resources our Government and leaders in the industry are doing a great job. There will always be limitations due to size. The need to cut cost and widen the operating net to maximise profits is always an option that will mitigate against small operations. The Tourism Industry is no exception. Virgin Airline and Virgin Tours are working together to enhance the viability of the Group, hence their preference for doing business with the large hotel operators. Some alternative must be found to satisfy the need for additional airlifts.

Opportunities for Dialogue at the local, sub-regional and regional levels are being aggressively persued by all governments to seek consensus from civil society on the way forward as they tackle the troublesome issue of economic survival. In St. Lucia, our Government is doing everything to keep the leaders of our nation and civil society in general informed. The Prime Minister, Dr. the Honourable Kenny D. Anthony along with Honourable Phillip J. Pierre, Minister of Commerce, Tourism, Investment and Consumer Affairs, Senator the Honourable Julian R. Hunte, Minister of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation, and Mr. Richard Peterkin, President of the National Economic Council came together to bring stake holders up to date on developments at a National Economic Briefing held at the N.I.C. Conference Room on Tuesday, 26th November, 2002.

Invitees were drawn from the Public and Private Sectors and Unions including Ministers of Government, Permanent Secretaries, Bankers, Private Sector Presidents, Union Presidents, Heads of major Corporations and Professionals within the Public and Private Sectors. It was a very informative session which was scheduled to last the entire day but urgent government business demanded that the Prime Minister be out of state and could not attend the afternoon session. Given the seriousness of the dialogue, a second session will be convened on December 12, 2002.

Presentations and discussions were focussed in areas of Tourism, Manufacturing and Trade Negotiations. Mr. Richard Peterkin outlined the programme of the NEC and how the Council plans to achieve its objective.

Such opportunities for dialogue should be encouraged as it is a definite step in the right direction. I have always contended that encouraging dialogue is the surest way to achieve national objectives, especially those initiatives that are in the best interest of the people.

The Investment opportunities are now global. New destinations are opening up as there are no longer ideological blocks such as Socialists, Communists, Capitalists. We all live in a free world, except - for Cuba where the USA continues to restrict the level of relationship between the citizens of the two countries. However, there are bold initiatives being taken by certain states which have removed the barriers on movement of people and trade which did not exist for over 40 years, but times are changing. It wouldn't be long before it will be freedom for all peoples, everywhere.

Those leaders who are involved in the promotion of St. Lucia as an investment destination have an up hill task. It is only by keeping the public informed that they could be appreciative of the difficulties. At the root of it all is wage rates, even within our own Caribbean Region - Haiti and the Dominican Republic and very soon Cuba will be more attractive to investors especially in the manufacturing sector competing primarily on wages.

Let the dialogue continue, we will all be better for it.

Keep the Faith! God is in Charge!!! Edward Harris - Freelance Journalist!

Friday November 29, 2002