While the emphasis should always be on defining a medium to long-term vision for the country and articulating sensible, practicable plans for achieving the balanced development of our people, there are many issues that require urgent attention.
Therefore, there must be a concerted effort to tackle and address the following big problems immediately:
1- Significantly improving the quality of health care in our country. We should stop using St. Jude's Hospital as a deflated political football and complete this hospital so that our southern residents have access to quality health care in a safe, modern facility. Too many of our citizens cannot access adequate health services because of their economic circumstances. It is urgent that we implement a viable national health insurance system that ensures every citizen of our country has access to quality and affordable health care.
Taking a comprehensive, no-nonsense approach to fighting crime in all its forms in our country. We have become increasingly immune to reports of violent crime, particularly homicides and incidents of domestic violence. This must be reversed. Every community in Saint Lucia must be a safe space and we need to create a respectful, working partnership between the police, our communities and civil society organizations to make this happen. We must create a safe society.
2- Tackling the serious problem of unemployment, particularly among our youth. We must invest in our human capital and create opportunities for greater innovation, entrepreneurship and expansion of our economy. Where necessary, the State must step in and create opportunities for economic activity to take root and flourish. No effort must be spared to bring youth unemployment down drastically from its current alarmingly high levels. We must create more opportunities for gainful employment.
3- Addressing the increasing frequency with which people are falling sick or dying from poor lifestyle choices. Too many of our citizens are getting sick and dying from preventable conditions. Among our youth it is assault and vehicular accidents, while among adults it is the lifestyle-induced chronic non-communicable diseases that are linked to obesity and the over-consumption of sugar and salt. We must create a healthy society.
4- Reducing inequality in our society. We must provide greater support to the poor and vulnerable among us, with better targeted social safety net systems and programs that empower vulnerable groups and provide them with opportunities that would not normally be available to them. Our society is only as strong as the weakest among us and it is imperative that we bolster our vulnerable citizens and make it possible for them to graduate from the cycles of inter-generational poverty and dependency that have long plagued their families. We must create a more caring society.
5- Providing greater support for agriculture. We cannot continue to leak foreign exchange purchasing larger volumes of imported food products, while our food security status gets worse. We are losing large tracts of productive farm land to non-agriculture activities every year. Very soon, there will be insufficient arable land left for us to feed ourselves. This is unacceptable. We must protect the best agriculture lands in our country and provide more direct support for farming, with an emphasis on being able to feed ourselves and producing quality export products that can compete in the many emerging niche markets. We must grow more of what we eat and eat more of what we grow.
6- Constructively engaging our young people in all development issues. For too long we have approached youth development from a position of tokenism, engaging with them merely to preempt criticism. We have treated our youth as a quota that must be fulfilled instead of the important demographic that they are. We must create the conditions that make it possible for our youth to participate fully in the political, economic, social, cultural and environmental development of our country. We must stop seeing our youth as the cliched 'leaders of tomorrow' and engage them as the citizens and leaders of today. We must empower our youth.
7- Taking proactive steps to protect and preserve the integrity of our natural environment. This should include legally securing the Queen's Chain and not authorizing any development that restricts the access of Saint Lucians to our beaches or that dramatically changes the environmental or cultural dynamics of the surrounding areas. It should also involve designating sites of critical ecological, historical or cultural significance as Protected Areas and placing strict guidelines about the types of development that will be permitted in these areas. Moreover, the autonomy and authority of institutions such as the Saint Lucia National Trust and the Folk Research Centre must be respected and fiercely protected so that they may be able to play their important role of protecting the patrimony of our country.
8- Dramatically reducing the political polarization in our society. We cannot progress as a Small Island Developing State if we view every issue through heavily tinted political lens. Every Saint Lucian, regardless of political affiliation, has a right to access and benefit from every service and opportunity available in our country. There must be an end to both bias and victimization in the award of contracts, the employment of persons, the award of scholarships and other training opportunities, and the provision of support services. Our country is too small and our human resource too limited for us to deny our country the services or inputs of individuals because of their political affiliation. We must create a more unified society.
9- Putting an end to corruption in government services and the wastage of scarce financial and technical resources through poor management of capital projects. There is potential for significant financial savings through more prudent management of capital works and the elimination of corruption. We must create more honest government.