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OECS, Cable & Wireless Simmer Down For Talks - February 20, 2001

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by Earl Bousquet

  The Government and People of St. Lucia won the day in the court of public opinion this past week in round one of the case of Cable & Wireless vs the OECS governments over the latter�s efforts to deregulate the sub-regional telecommunications sector. After a week of loud exchanges between the company and the St. Lucia government on the eve of the expiry of the company�s license in St. Lucia next month, OECS leaders and their Caricom counterparts lined up behind St. Lucia and called for the company to withdraw its threat to pull out of the island on March 31. They also warned the company, at their 12 Caricom Intersessional Summit, that if it pulled out from St. Lucia it would also have to leave the other four islands where it also operates.

Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony also addressed the nation on the issue last Sunday evening and reassured St. Lucians and the company�s workers that telecom services will not be disrupted and workers� rights will be protected in the event of any transfer to a new entity after March 31. But by the end of the week, the governments and the company had simmered down and were getting ready for talks today in St. Kitts & Nevis, to continue the process towards deregulation of the telecommunications environment in the five territories.

St. Lucia joined other Caricom states in Barbados last week in signing the latest set of protocols bringing the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) closer to being. Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony, who is the Caricom Head of Government with lead responsibility for Justice and Governance in the Caribbean Community, affixed his signature to the relevant documents at the Barbados summit and urged the earliest possible ratification of the necessary legislation by the respective parliaments. Attorney General Senator Petrus Compton also participated in several meetings this past week with his Caribbean counterparts, to follow-up on legal and other commitments relating to the CCJ.

The National Skills Development Centre was launched last Thursday, opening the way for training of St. Lucian in skills for today�s job market. The project, which has transformed the inside of an old factory shell at the Bisee Industrial Site, is being undertaken by the Ministry of Education, through its Youth and Sports Department. The programme offers training in computer-related skills and persons interested in employment or self-employment opportunities can enroll for training. The NSDC will utilise computer assisted modules as well as practical exercises for training.

Education, Human Resource Development, Youth & Sports Minister Mario Michel said the Labour administration found it necessary to embark on new and modern approaches to improve skills training because the approaches employed by the previous administration failed and facilities had to be closed down after it became obsolete, eventually dying a natural death. He said the centre�s outreach will eventually be extended to the other locations of Vieux Fort, Anse La Raye, Marc and Choiseul, where facilities were constructed under the old programme.

Permanent Secretary Ernest Hillaire, who also heads the Youth and Sports Department, explained the operation of the centre and promised I will make a difference in the battle against unemployment and for self-employment.

The General Manager of the NSDC is Mrs Rose Joseph-Medar, who encouraged young people in particular to make use of the entity and the opportunities it offered.

The 2000 Annual Sports Awards Ceremony took place this past week at the National Cultural Centre, where the Ministry of Education and major sponsors honoured the best of the best of last year�s sportsmen and sportswomen. Gifted young athlete Laverne Spencer and national cricketer John Eugene won the coveted Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year awards, respectively.

During the ceremony, the education minister paid tribute to the country�s national swimming and women�s cricket teams, the former making St. Lucia somewhat proud during the Sydney Olympics and the latter placing second in the regional competition. He also noted that sports were expected to improve nationally in the coming months and years with the start of construction of the national stadium and the national cricket ground, as well as the recent completion of the new aquatic centre and the island�s latest 18-hole golf course.

Government announced it had secured some US$10 million from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to go towards the housing sector. Specifically, Housing Minister Dr Walter Francois said the money would go towards planning for reshaping the national approach to housing, to address and avoid replication of the undesirable current situation, whereby 60% of the island�s population is concentrated in the northern quarter of the country.

Government also announced this past week that it had received a loan from the CDB for construction of the new Primary school at Union to house some 1,000 students from the crowded Castries basin, and a secondary school at Ciceron, both of which are to commence this year.

The newly established National Housing Trust also made the news this past week, with the Housing & Urban Development Corporation (HUDC), the St. Lucia Housing Authority and Nationwide Properties being closed down and their staff amalgamated into the new national unit. The Trust says one of its priorities will be the recovery of huge old debts that seem to have been ignored by those who incurred them.

A Witness Protection Bill was passed last week in parliament, which has offered certain guarantees to potential witnesses who may have reason to need or request protection from the state in exchange for their cooperation in fighting crime. This new bit of legislation, which has been welcomed in legal and judicial circles, is the latest step in the government�s continuing effort to introduce new laws to improve the delivery of justice in St. Lucia.

A senior police officer was sent on leave and charged with assault and threatening the life of a young man he had apprehended and allegedly savagely beaten on his buttocks with a cane for having stolen his brother�s dog. Complaints by his mother and attention given to the case in the press resulted in quick police action. An internal police investigation was mounted and the well-known policeman was sent home on suspension, pending his case. The police force has assured that, should he win his case he will be reinstated. But should he be found guilty, the officer will be dismissed forthwith.

SLHTA Executive Vice President Rodinald Soomer acknowledged last week that his association did not accept an invitation to be part of the St. Lucia Tourist Board�s mission to several US cities to reassure tour operators of the safety of this destination. He said it was because of �bad timing� � and not because of any perceived problem between his association and the Ministry or Minister of Tourism.

Mr Soomer said he did not think it was necessary to take advantage of the opportunity to beat back any negative effects that might have flowed from the SLHTA�s support for a tourism advisory that in effect blacklisted certain parts of the island because, in his view, �there was never really a threat� and �it�s a non-issue, really.�

The stalemate between the NDC and the CSA over the dismissal by NDC General Manager Elizabeth Charles Soomer of a key union official employed with the state corporation continued throughout the week. The NDC Board reportedly first agreed to reinstate the worker and subsequently set preconditions the union considered unfair and unhelpful in the search for a solution.

The union�s key branches began solidarity action Monday morning, but it was called off after Labour Minister Velon John intervened. The union has accused the General Manager and the NDC Board of employing anti-worker and anti-union tactics and not negotiating in good faith, with some workers also calling for their collective resignation. The union is threatening major disruptions if the corporation does not live up to its agreement last Sunday to reinstate the dismissed employee.

The St. Lucia Labour Party began putting its slate in order for the next general elections with the endorsement of lawyer Nicholas Jn Baptiste, 41, as its candidate for the Micoud North constituency � the only one held by the opposition UWP. The SLP says it intends to win all 17 seats at the next election and its next run-off exercises to democratically choose between candidates offering themselves for selection will take place in Vieux Fort South, Gros Islet and Castries East, the constituencies represented by the Party Leader and the two Deputy Leaders, respectively.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Sir John Compton this past week criticized the ineffectiveness of his party under its current leadership, repeating earlier claims by his cousin, former Director of Culture Jacques Compton, that there was no effective opposition in the country. Sir John said he was unable to help repair the damaged state of his party because he was now �just an ordinary member.�

All he needed, Sir John said, was �a few serious people� representing �the best brains in the country� to be able to offer better leadership at the upcoming polls.

Current UWP Leader, Dr Morella Joseph, did not take kindly to the criticism of her stewardship by the former party leader. She replied that there was no opposition �because that�s how the people voted� in the last election. And she said any inquiries or criticisms of the party�s failures prior to her stewardship should be directed to the previous leaders � Dr Vaughan Lewis and Sir John himself.

February 20, 2001


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