Mister Speaker, Honourable Members of the House of Assembly, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.
I am delighted to be here and wish at this juncture to express sincere thanks for the invitation extended to my wife and I to attend the Opening of the First Meeting of the First Session of the Tenth Parliament. I also warmly welcome and embrace the opportunity accorded to me to address this august body on this most significant occasion. Please accept Mister Speaker my sincerest congratulations to you on your election as Speaker of this Honourable House of Assembly.
I have every confidence that you will have sought to familiarize yourself with the Standing Orders and practices of this Honourable House and that in quick time, you will demonstrate a comprehensive grasp and understanding of the rules of this Honourable House and that you will apply these rules with distinction, discretion, objectivity, and impartiality.
I pray that the Almighty God will bestow His blessings and guidance upon you as you undertake this challenging duty as Speaker of this Honourable House.
I also wish to congratulate the Honourable Senator Mr. Phillip Rolle on his election as Deputy Speaker at age 24, quite possibly the youngest Deputy Speaker in the region. I am reminded of William Pitt, the Younger, who in 1783 became Prime Minister of Great Britain at age 24.
Congratulations. Allow me also to thank Mrs. Alix Boyd-Knights, the immediate past Speaker of the House of Assembly, for almost 20 years of dedicated and sterling service to 2 the House.
My wife and I wish Mrs. Boyd-Knights the very best in her future endeavors. I also offer congratulations to all the Honourable Members who were successful at the polls at the recently held general elections of December 6, 2019, as well as to the Senators who have been appointed in accordance with Section 34 (1) (a) and (b) of the Constitution to complete the composition of this Honourable House.
I commend and congratulate the Honourable Prime Minister for his party’s success at the polls for an unprecedented fifth consecutive five- year term in office.
And if I may take the liberty to quote the Honourable Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, “to win a fourth term individually and a fifth term as a party, is a political equivalent of climbing Mount Everest, many have tried hitherto and few have reached that mountain top.”
May the Prime Minister and his Cabinet be led by the wisdom and understanding that comes from The Most High. I also congratulate the Leader of the Opposition who was sworn in by the President on Friday, the 7th of February 2020 and say to him and to the members of the parliamentary opposition that yours is a most sacred task and to encourage you to remain true to the oaths that you have subscribed to.
The observers from the OAS, the Commonwealth Secretariat and CARICOM who were invited to cover the elections have all reported publicly that the elections were free and fair. I therefore wish to congratulate the citizens of our beloved country who conducted themselves in a responsible and respectful manner on polling day and the election officials for their service to the country.
This institution, the House of Assembly, is the forum where, in accordance with the Constitution, laws are formulated for the peace, order and good governance of the state. Typically, the debates take place under the watchful eye of the Speaker, whose responsibility it is to facilitate the contributions of Members on both sides while ensuring compliance with the Standing Orders. It also implies that the debates which take place within this Chamber would be based on fact and guided by research, thereby serving as a credible source of information for public opinion.
Such optimum involvement would allow for consensus on difficult issues to emerge more frequently within the House of Assembly, a feature which would result in benefits for the country as a whole. Mister Speaker, Honourable Members of the House of Assembly, as we sit here today, we must give thanks to the Lord for He has been good to us.
Overcoming Erika and Maria 3 Two events during the term of the last Parliament will remain forever etched in the minds of all Dominicans and that is the massive and extensive damage inflicted on us by the rains of Tropical Storm Erika in August 2015, followed by the greatest disaster that has ever befallen our nation – Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
These two events in the space of two years destroyed all that we had built over the 40 years of our independence and beyond, amounting to 316% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), i.e. 90% in 2015 and 226% in 2017, including the loss of a combined total of 95 human lives.
We were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster and destruction we suffered from these weather systems. However, we did not surrender but rather placed our trust and faith in the Lord, and the Lord broke the yoke of our burden and shone His light upon us; our blessings multiplied and our joy increased (Isaiah 9: 3 and 4).
Integrating Resilience in the Development Plan Mister Speaker, we have made significant strides in our national recovery efforts, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, resolving to combat global climate change by rebuilding even better and stronger and to make Dominica the first climate resilient country in the world by 2030.
To realize this goal, the Government integrated climate resilience and disaster risk management into the national growth and development planning framework.
This is quite evident in the establishment of the Climate Resilience Execution Agency of Dominica (CREAD), which will facilitate the implementation of projects focusing not just on physical reconstruction but also on establishing climate resilient systems.
The National Resilient Development Strategy (NRDS), is another tool that was developed to transform this economy in a sustainably resilient manner, thereby increasing the probability of attaining key development objectives of economic growth, employment generation, poverty reduction, social protection and the overall improvement in the quality of life of all citizens as outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
It is this broad framework which provides the road-map and guidelines for taking the country to where we would wish it to be by 2030.
Major works have been undertaken to rebuild the housing stock using CBI funds; to repair and redevelop the road infrastructure; to support investments in hotel infrastructure; to redevelop the education, health and social welfare infrastructure; to diversify the agricultural sector; to develop the geothermal energy potential for local consumption and in the medium term for export; and to place the international airport development and a cruise port and cruise village on the front burner. This development thrust should instill in us a great sense of hope and optimism as Dominicans, whether living at home or abroad.
Mr. Speaker, in the global village of today’s world, there appears to be no shortage of challenges or threats to the survival and/or prosperity of Small States; indeed it appears as if new challenges continue to emerge on a regular basis. One example of this phenomenon is the recent outbreak of the Corona Virus in the People’s Republic of China and which so far has been responsible 4 for around 910 deaths and about 40,500 confirmed cases of the illness; additionally, it is being reported that the Corona Virus has already spread to at least 28 countries.
While the Caribbean, Dominica included, has not so far been directly impacted, we are most vulnerable. It is well known that when major countries sneeze, we the Small Island Developing States catch a cold, no pun intended, and therefore there is no room for complacency neither is there room for undue agitation regarding what, by all account, is an emerging global crisis. In that regard, I take the opportunity to acknowledge the response of Government in working in collaboration with key stakeholders spearheaded by the Ministry of Health, Wellness and New Health Investment.
Further, it is my understanding that this initiative by the Ministry is being undertaken in tandem with related initiatives by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the local Embassy of the Peoples Republic of China, among other international partners. Government is on record in conveying its solidarity and sympathy to the Government and people of the Peoples Republic of China; a sentiment which I endorse, as this country is the world’s second largest economy, has the largest population in the world, is a permanent member of the Security Council and an important development partner of Dominica. We therefore share in the concerns and the suffering of the Government and people of China at this time, as we do with all countries and peoples who have already recorded confirmed cases of the Corona Virus. 2019 Election Campaign Mister Speaker, Honourable Members of the House of Assembly, Free and fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy, indeed of any true democracy. The competitive and adversarial nature of election campaigns can be heated and divisive, and the 2019 election campaign can truly be described as one of the most unusual and divisive campaigns in our political history. Notwithstanding the heat of the campaign which at times focused on the Electoral Commission and even on the Office of the President, the process as provided for in the Constitution, and in the House of Assembly (Election) Act was diligently followed for the holding of the general elections.
Electoral Reform Mr. Speaker, there is the unfinished business of electoral reform and I would urge members on both sides of this Honourable House and the public at large, to approach the debate on electoral reform from the point of view of ensuring that the rights of all eligible voters are protected and that the names of persons 5 who are not eligible to be on the voters list in conformity with our existing laws, are struck off. There should, therefore, no longer be any room for animosity, quarrels, hateful speech and conflicts on the matter of electoral reform which is a continuing process and not a short-term once and for all exercise.
We need also to empower the Electoral Commission to proceed with the exercise of issuing ID Cards which will be used for voting, by approving the necessary legislation. We need also to encourage confidence in the institutions of the State and the mechanisms they provide for resolving differences. The Way Forward Mister Speaker, Members of this Honourable House, The election campaign is over and the people have elected a government of their choice.
They have also elected a parliamentary opposition. It is for us to now put aside our differences as a Parliament and as a people, focusing on what unites us rather than on what divides us, to lock arms together to face the challenges of this evolving world, and to build upon the foundations we have laid over the years, particularly since the passage of Hurricane Maria, for the emergence of a modern, resilient and sustainable Dominica.
I thank you Mister Speaker and Members of this Honourable House, for the courtesy of your attention and pray for the continued outpouring of God’s protection and divine guidance upon you all, for a fruitful and productive session today and for the life of this Parliament.
May God bless you and may God bless the Commonwealth of Dominica