Comrades and friends good afternoon! It is truly good to be here in St. Joseph today!
It is an honor to have so revered a political thinker in Peter Wickham as our Guest Speaker. I wish to thank him once again for stepping in at such short notice to fill the slot created due to the unavoidable absence of Mr. Owen Arthur, former Prime Minister of Barbados.
Incidentally, Mr. Arthur has asked that I convey to this Conference his very best wishes and sincere apologies for cancelling at the last moment. Personal issues triggered the cancellation but he has insisted that he be provided an opportunity in the very near future to fellowship with the Dominica Labour Party.
To this end, we will be organizing a public forum for sometime next month at which Mr. Arthur has consented to speak and reflect on issues of importance to residents of Dominica and other Caribbean nationals. We in the Dominica Labour Party look forward to that occasion and opportunity.
Comrades, I speak to you today as Political Leader of the Dominica Labour Party. Don’t get me wrong, I am still very much the Prime Minister of Dominica…but today I want to dialogue with you on the need for us to embrace and nurture this great political organization that has done so much for Dominica and the mass of people of this beautiful island.
Forgive me if I sound a bit cliché in describing Dominica as beautiful…but I’m not the only one who says so.
Within the past six months, almost every visiting dignitary, entrepreneur, sports enthusiast and ordinary tourist who visited these shores, and with whom I have come into contact, have commented on the remarkable transformation that has, and which continues to, come about in Dominica.
They speak to the negatives they read and hear about, and then their astonishment on arriving in Dominica, traversing its lush, green countryside and interacting with its friendly people.
Incidentally, Mr. Wickham, I know you are from Barbados and you guys love to boast of your legendary accomplishments in the field of cricket. Kensington Oval is an historic world cricket venue. Indeed it’s appropriately described as ‘the Mecca’. I take nothing away from you in that regard. But let me say to you, Mr. Barbadian, you have not had ‘a day at cricket’….until you have watched cricket at the Windsor Park Stadium in Dominica!
Again, Sir, it is not Roosevelt Skerrit alone saying this…it is every international cricketer, sports administrator and journalist who have visited these shores in the past three years for an international game.
Can you imagine the experience next time around, when they will be able to have a smoother and shorter ride from Melville Hall Airport? Can you imagine the feeling of contentment by those who will stay in the more than 150 new hotel rooms coming on stream in Dominica in the next 24 months?
Forgive me, Ladies and Gentlemen, but I have every reason to be proud of Dominica this afternoon!
Comrades and friends, we meet at a crucial juncture, not only in the ongoing evolution of our country, but in the tenure of our great political party in office.
As I intimated from the outset, I will not be wearing my governmental or Prime Ministerial hat this afternoon. There will be plenty of opportunity in the coming weeks, including the annual Budget debate, for me to promote, explain and defend the policies of our government.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish today to pause and take a look at ourselves, as a political party, in the context of what is happening around us. Rest assured that the recent demise of several incumbent parties in the region and elsewhere is not lost on me.
Forgive me if I am not in a celebratory or seemingly exuberant mood this afternoon, but I believe this conference is a watershed moment in the continued evolution of the Dominica Labour party.
We need to lay the foundation today for another 25 years in office, based on our transformation and adaptability as a 21st century political party.
I am not taking anything for granted, as it relates to the right of the electorate of this country to judge us harshly and on merit next time around.
I am also acutely aware of the prognoses for several other ruling parties across the region, and I do not intend to make the mistakes that others did.
Our distinguished Guest Speaker has been speaking and writing incessantly about this in recent months and I intend to make sure that this Dominica Labour Party steers clear of the political icebergs that lie ahead in this period of global economic recession and associated voter apathy and cynicism.
Please do not get me wrong. I am by no means running scared. Here in Dominica, we are fortunate to have knocked the opposition parties clean out of the ball park in the last general elections, and it will take a lot for them to recover. But, I am also aware that a day in politics is a long time, far less five years…so I am not taking anything for granted.
Borrowing an analogy from the game of cricket, I see the need, though we have been at the crease for a relatively long time and have scored many runs, to stop and take fresh guard. It is not that the spinners are bowling any better; it may just be that playing conditions are deteriorating.
If all along we have been batting on leg, I want today to start to reposition this party to bat middle and leg, for I want to ensure that we protect our wicket.
Looking around the Caribbean and the world today, the off stump is being attacked, so we cannot stubbornly remain on leg. We have to adjust to the conditions and position ourselves to prevail, no matter the deteriorating conditions.
No bad weather, no soggy outfield, no one blocking the sight screen, no plane passing overhead, is going to stop this party from scoring yet another century, by close of play on election night 2015!!!
I am grateful to those of you who call on the radio programs. I appreciate the efforts of those who wage a war on the internet. I value very much the interventions of those who, in their workplaces, at church, in the supermarket, at the hairdresser, playing field and community centres, advance arguments in defense of the stewardship of this government. You are the bedrock of our support. You are the ones who keep the flag of Labour flying and the fire burning. But, alas, you are not enough!
I am not getting enough from those who benefit the most from this Labour Party being in office. The country elected 18 Labour Party representatives to Parliament, but by so doing, it authorized 18,000 Labour party activists and supporters to go out there and be missionaries for this party.
A Parl Rep can only do so much in a given week or month. Most Parl Reps are also ministers of government and that in itself is a full time job. I want to see greater Labour Party representation on the ground; in the various communities and constituencies across Dominica.
Incumbent governments in Jamaica, St. Lucia and Bahamas lost recent elections not only because they were confronted by harsh economic conditions but because both Parl Reps and foot soldiers became disconnected from the people.
I am saying this afternoon, there are too many Labour Party operatives walking around with chests in the air and not pulling their reasonable weight in the service of this party. For them, the party is not what is trending. Well, I beg to differ! For me, the party is definitely where it’s at!!
I want today, therefore, for us to commit, not only to flying the party’s flag higher, but furthermore, to bringing that flag in for much needed repairs. I want to stoke the fire and remove the embers, remove unwanted debris, clean the chimneys, paint the fire place…I want us today to place this great political party in the observation room for a much needed check up.
The Labour Party has been good to this country, and this country has been good to Labour. But, we can do better! I want us to do more! Our goal must not just be to outperform the other parties… I want us to set new benchmarks for political parties in Dominica and across the Caribbean.
It is not my fault that the other major party in Dominica appears today to be caught in a time tunnel experience. Ten years ago they got rid of Edison James because he was too old and out of step with modern, contemporary politics. Ten years later they have brought him back as the Crown Prince of UWP politics!
Repeatedly, they have built their case for election to office on a campaign of lies, deceit and innuendo against opponents. They have clearly not learnt anything and I am no longer in the business of teaching…so they can continue to invest in the power of character assassination on a radio call-in program.
Dominica is truly a remarkable place! This is the only country in the world for which the global economic recession has had no impact on the politics of the opposition. It is almost as if the global economic meltdown never existed.
Can you recall any of them, at any point in the last six years, speaking about the challenges that this economic quagmire presents for countries such as Dominica? Do you get the sense that they even read economic reports or follow the saga in Greece, Spain, Latin and North America?
Budget after budget; debate after debate; public meeting after public meeting, and not a word from a so-called government-in-waiting, about how they would tackle the challenges that we confront. Indeed, they have not even acknowledged the existence of these challenges.
Edison James would return to office tomorrow to continue where he left off 13 years ago, totally oblivious to the mind boggling changes that have taken place since then. Can you imagine what that would do to the Dominican economy? They are still courting Taiwan and Taiwan is making love to China. They continue to beat us up on Petrocaribe and Alba while every other country in the Caribbean is asking me how they can become a member of Alba.
This is a party, Mr. Wickham, which did not even publish a manifesto in the last general elections! Can you imagine that? They invited all Dominicans to attend the launch of their manifesto and then, after keeping people in the drizzling rain for close to six hours, informed them that there would be no manifesto as we have come to know it for the past 300 years, but that they would be ‘putting something’ online.
I have searched the internet inside out and have yet to find anything resembling a social or economic plan for the development of this country, proposed by the UWP.
They built their case for re-election on the vilification of Roosevelt Skerrit and the Dominica Labour Party. They lost that battle. They lost almost every single seat in Parliament and yet, they have continued two years into this current term, with the same misguided approach to 21st century politics.
So we are not using them as any yardstick. If they just want to get high on their ability to sit in a studio and curse every known opponent, that is a matter for them.
But, in this Dominica Labour Party, we have a duty to reach out to and positively impact the lives of those we lead. We therefore need to set our own goals and benchmarks.
Accordingly, I am today calling this party to arms in the context of its readiness for the challenges that we will confront as a political party going forward.
The first request I wish to make is for a reaffirmation of your commitment to this party. There is a strange paradox which I want you to consider. Each of us work hard as officials of government to make the work of the government and the image of the government as impressive as it can be. So as a government, we play our part to make the government attractive.
Yet, as a party, we tend to ignore or play down our obligation to make the party stronger.
All of you here, who are ministers, Parl Reps, Members of Boards, Public Officers or otherwise affiliated to the government, are first and foremost, representatives of the Labour Party. It is because of this Labour Party that you are who you are and where you are. It is the fate of this Labour Party that will determine how long you remain who you are and where you are. So we have to spend more time nurturing the cow from which we get our milk, our cheese and our butter!!!
Everyone wants to be invited to a government reception and to be seen up front, but few willingly and readily turn up to a party activity. Few volunteer a day’s work in the service of the party. Few make it their business to go out there and promote the work and image of the party…and yet, it is from the party that you draw your strength and sustenance.
Comrades all, I want to see a change of attitude and approach to this dangerous trend, in the shortest possible time.
Every one of you is a Parl Rep in your own right. Elected representatives will come and elected representatives will go, but the Labour Party must remain strong in the villages and hamlets of this country.
As Political Leader of this great party, I intend to deal with non performing or poorly performing Parl Reps. No Parl Rep is bigger than the party! No Parl Rep is guaranteed automatic endorsement as a candidate in the next general elections. I intend to declare all constituencies vacant and persons will have to make a case as to why they should be returned as candidates for this Dominica Labour Party. Those who cannot and who do not make a satisfactory case for retention will be replaced as candidates!
But, in the meantime, I want the party’s presence in the constituencies to be strong and its image favorable, so as to give me the room and maneuverability to do what I have to do, as Political Leader, to ensure that we end up with the 21 strongest candidates this party can field in 2015 or whenever the next general elections are called.
Comrades, as a 21st century party, there are also some other fundamental goals we need to set and pursue over the course of the next two years and certainly before the end of this current parliamentary term.
We promised Dominicans to take Dominica to the next level. Well in order to achieve this, we have first to take the Labour Party to the next level as well.
In this regard, one of the first undertakings that comes to mind, and which is near and dear to my heart, is the acquisition of our own home or headquarters.
I do not know how much more time I have as your Political Leader, but I will consider it a major failing if I do not, by the end of my tenure, provide this party with a place to call “home”.
I am very serious about this! No great political party in the 21st century should still be operating out of a little rented office in the highly congested city of Roseau.
We can have a city presence, but I need a home and sophisticated headquarters for this party. I would like to see a research unit in our party, where persons can go and familiarize themselves with the history of this organization and the outstanding contributions of its founding fathers.
I do not want any external gift…I want a facility that reflects the hard work and sacrifice of the members of this party.
I want us to embark on a series of activities to raise funds towards the construction of a modern, state of the art headquarters for the Labour Party. It must be large enough to hold conferences such as this. It must be a place of learning, where people can assemble regularly and be enlightened.
I envision a place where school children can do their homework and where the less fortunate can drop by for a little sustenance every now and then.
I want the executive of this party to move with dispatch to set up a building committee that will work, in earnest, to provide this party with a home in the shortest possible time.
Secondly, Comrades, I want to grow our numbers. I want the Dominica Labour Party to become the single largest mass organization in Dominica. We have done enough and are doing enough for the people of this country to merit that distinction.
Young people in particular must be educated and sensitized to the work and accomplishments of this great organization. We have to chronicle our achievements and market them to the people of this country, so they would be inclined to join our ranks in the continued service of Dominica. I want to set ourselves the conservative goal of 2,000 new members by the end of this current parliamentary term.
Thirdly my friends, we are in government and I want us to remain there for a long, long time. To do this, we have to simplify government and make it work for the people!
The whole style and approach to constituency representation is in need of review and overhaul.
Our ministers are hard working and I do not want anyone to underestimate this. Dominica today is not the Dominica of 40 years ago. There are many tenuous and complex matters confronting ministers on a daily basis. Yet, they must also function as Parl Reps.
Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to provide them additional personal staff or facilities. But I recognize that you want to see more of them…you want to have greater and more regular access to them.
We have been discussing this among ourselves as Parliamentarians and we have agreed to recommit to the concept of select constituency days, whereby, as long as a Parl Rep is on island, he or she will be on the ground in his or her constituency, either holding clinics in their constituency office or out and about in the communities interacting with people and addressing problems.
I wish to stress that there ought to be no exceptions to this rule!
We also, as a party in government, have to start talking and interacting more with the membership and with the public at large. Accordingly, I want to see the reactivation of constituency branches and the scheduling of monthly constituency branch meetings, involving presentations and town-hall-type meetings with Parl Reps, Ministers of government and party members, as well as members of the public.
These discussions and interactions are healthy, not only for democracy, but, also they provide an avenue and opportunity for the free flow of ideas and options. We do not believe for one moment that the Cabinet of ministers is endowed with all knowledge, wisdom and understanding. That is not how we function in this Labour Party. Therefore, I am today requesting constituency executives to get to work in organizing and sustaining monthly public outreach activities and initiatives.
I want to hear of Labour Party branch meetings being held every single week at different venues across this island.
On this question of communication, I am eager to move this party to the next level, as it relates to its embrace of the new social media. We cannot and must not yield the communication war to the other side. Several of you are already doing a fantastic job of defending the party’s honor on the blog sites, facebook, twitter and the like but, going forward, I would like for it to be done in a more structured and sustained manner.
We have to apportion far greater priority and attention to the business of information management and the need to keep our overseas based nationals, in particular, informed of the goings on in Dominica, as well as up to date on responses to the diatribe that is peddled by our opponents on a daily basis.
So yes, Comrades and Friends, there is work to be done. I know we have much to be proud about and which we can celebrate…but I implore you to hold the festivities for later.
I want to inflict another beating on the UWP and the Freedom Party before the celebrations begin.
I want to put Edison James out of his political misery. I want to send Judith Pestaina on her way, leaving yet another deposit in the treasury. I am waiting, oh yes I am waiting, for Lennox Linton to declare which seat he will be contesting…for if nothing else, I am going to go all out to ensure that he loses his deposit!
So Ladies and Gentlemen, in addition to all that we are doing, with respect to the governance of this country and keeping the economic ship of state afloat, we are also working feverishly to improve the functioning of your political party.
I am keen as well to sit with the Hon Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs to undertake an assessment of our Legislative agenda. There are some archaic laws on the statute books of Dominica that I would like to see either updated or removed. Far too often I am confronted with legitimate complaints from citizens about how their goals and aspirations are being frustrated and even destroyed by cumbersome laws that really need to be removed from the statute books.
There are also issues of crime and antisocial behavior that current laws and penalties do not go far enough to deter, and this is a matter we will have to examine.
Dominica has built an enviable reputation as a safe and peaceful place to live, reside and visit and we are committed as a government to doing all that is necessary to retain that reputation.
Those in our midst, who wish to persist with behaviors totally foreign to our accepted way of life, will soon discover that this government is not going to be tolerant of lawlessness in any form, shape or size. We will go to Parliament and update the laws and stiffen penalties to ensure adequate deterrence to lawlessness in this country.
So, Comrades and Friends, there you have it! The task before us is clear. This Dominica Labour Party is the only party in the region in the last five years to have increased the number of seats it holds in Parliament. This Dominica Labour Party is the only party to have defeated its opposition in the midst of a global economic recession. This Dominica Labour Party, I am determined, will be one of the parties in the region that will emerge unscathed from this period of global economic and political turmoil.
We shall do that, Ladies and Gentlemen, because we shall remain focused. We shall keep our eyes on the prize. We shall redouble our efforts to move this party forward and to transform it into the most progressive 21st century political organization in the region.
So yes, we have much to celebrate and much for which to thank Almighty God…but until we put another beating on the United Workers Party; until we extend our mandate, giving ourselves another term to continue the work we have started on behalf of the masses of this country; until we succeed, as we have promised, to minimize suffering and hardships; and until we succeed in taking this country to the next level culturally, socially and economically, this Political Leader of yours and this Prime Minister of Dominica, cannot and will not party! We have too much work to do!
May God bless the Dominica Labour Party and every one of you.