In the general elections of 1997 the people of Vieux Fort were asked to “give Vieux Fort a Prime Minister.” The propaganda promised that a vote for the SLP candidate and new party leader would transform Vieux Fort. The Vieux Fort MP was prime minister for close to fifteen years but such changes as have occurred in the town are hard to see. Even before 1997 Vieux Fort residents had dreamed of overtaking Castries, of becoming “the Miami of Saint Lucia”. What has become of that dream? Has Vieux-Fort been transformed for the better? Have the townspeople finally seen through the fakery and lies of 1997?
In 2016 the crucial question is: what can the failed prime minister deliver to Vieux Fort as an ordinary MP that he could not (would not?) as Prime Minister? The people were warned that unprincipled politicians who fought for nothing and stood for nothing were doomed to fail. Worse was to be expected from politicians with confusing communist/socialist notions. We were reminded that real men stood up for what’s right; real men were always ready to defend their beliefs. Such men of principle never run away from difficult political decisions!
Having experienced three election victories, how many times did the constituency’s parliamentary representative treat Vieux Fort to the awesome sight of the Governor General administering to her ministers the oath of office? Vieux Fortians had to wait for Prime Minister Allen Chastanet!
What the people of Vieux Fort saw as “a special honour” – the visit of the Governor General and her ministers within days of the June 6 general elections – the Vieux Fort MP saw as “rubbing salt in the wound”. He neglected to say who had been wounded, by whom, and why. Indeed it was the people of Vieux Fort who had been deeply wounded by years of neglect, VAT and other killer taxes.
Any political novice can see that the island’s economic future depends heavily on the development of Vieux Fort, specifically its air and seaports, its marina (proposed by John Compton in 1992 at Coco Dan), its medical/technical educational complex, and in harnessing its river for irrigation and fish. These development loci must be wisely planned and integrated if they are to produce maximum benefits for Vieux Fort . . . and Saint Lucia.
The scandalous neglect of Hewanorra Airport hurts everyone. The soi-disant best brains decided to remove an exit tax imposed by the King-led UWP government to assist in rebuilding and modernizing the aiport. Today, that exit tax would have realised at least EC$250 million. That tax only affected persons leaving the island on international air travel. The same fools who removed the airport tax added new ones on water, and more VAT on some local foods. Can you believe this? Hunter J. Francois, the deceased former Minister of Education, once said that if you send an ass to university, all you’ll get eventually is a qualified jackass. How right he was!
There are at least five elements to be developed if Vieux Fort is to prosper. First its airport: no other country in the Caribbean has the infrastructure the Americans left at Beane Field, now renamed Hewanorra International Airport. Visionary leadership demands that a government look at the entire HIA area with a view to locating a modern air terminal building and using all three runways. Runway ‘A’ is already in regular usage; Runway ‘C’—caca-beuf—needs strengthening and expanding to accommodate the largest aircraft; Runway ‘B’ would be expanded to link A and C and a new air terminal. The free zone would be relocated, while some of its structures would be used for air cargo business.
The present terminal ought to be upgraded for regional air travel, air charter and American and Canadian airlines. The new terminal should be designed to service air carriers from Europe, South and Central America, India, Japan, Taiwan and the Middle East. Then there is the marina at Coco Dan still waiting to be built. The land and sea area for this important marina in the south must be clearly delineated to allow rational use by investors in hotels, guesthouses and restaurants. A new bridge to replace the old wooden bridge that once linked the western part of the town to Coco Dan must form part of the development plans for the area west of the old river outlet.
Prime Minister Chastanet has already spoken on his vision for the Vieux Fort sea port, New Dock. A seaport serves no useful purpose without cargo and passengers. Besides a cruise ship terminal, port Vieux Fort should aim to become an active trans-shipment point. The possibilities are enormous, if we think global!
The fourth and crucial feature of the town of Vieux Fort needing attention is the Vieux Fort River. That river poses a significant threat to HIA during periods of heavy rainfall. It has been known to overspill its banks and damage the airport and main roads between HIA and Vieux Fort town. The silent threat the river poses can undermine the efforts of tourism development island-wide. The aim must be to properly harness that river with intervals of mini dams for irrigation and inland fishing. In so doing it should be borne in mind that that river has been diverted from its original course at least twice in the last seventy-five years.
The development of medical schools and other hi-tech intellectual pursuits should be a major thrust in energizing the economy of Vieux Fort and the entire south.
Vieux Fort needs a complete makeover. To this end the people of Vieux Fort must demand the resignation of their MP. They must afterwards select someone who will assist in executing the development of Vieux Fort, regardless of party in power. The person selected must be honest and fearless and ready to work for Vieux Fort full time. That’s what Vieux Fort needs to usher in a new day for the better. That’s my wish for the town of my birth.
The writer is a former government minister.