Merriam-Webster defines crucible as “a pot in which metals or other substances are heated to a very high temperature or melted . . . a difficult test or challenge . . . a place or situation that forces people to change or make difficult decisions.” Regular viewers of Rick Wayne’s TALK will readily agree the show is always aflame. However, the July 16th episode of TALK was particularly scorching and proved a crucible for guest Dr. Andre Matthew, an aspiring politician and potential UWP candidate for central Castries.
The host, in his own words, “went straight for the jugular,” having started by asking his guest to identify the main problem confronting Saint Lucia. Dr. Matthew confidently replied that the main issue was one of systemic injustice and, in an attempt to tender a topical instantiation, narrowed his point, perhaps a bit dangerously, to the IMPACS scandal.
Armed with facts read with journalistic diligence, he attempted to prove Police Commissioner Vernon Francois and his force were actually scapegoats of an ambiguous ploy orchestrated by the nation’s prime minster. Having marshaled his data to the fore, Matthew boldly declared the government’s policy decision to join ALBA was the prime motivation for the US government’s changed attitude towards Saint Lucia. Evidently Dr. Matthew views the IMPACS investigation not as a response to alleged human rights violations by our police but as retaliation on the part of US government.
The host countered that there is no reason to disbelieve the official viewpoint that IMPACS and the application of the Leahy Law were motivated by human rights violations.In support of his position he pointed to the increasing cordiality between the US and ALBA members Cuba and Iran. Wayne also challenged his guest to explain in the new circumstances the continuing unfavorable relationship between the US and Saint Lucia.
Even if we entertain Dr. Matthew’s viewpoint (not altogether untenable), it hardly justifies the allegation that the prime minister had scapegoated the police commissioner and his men. Neither does it resonate with me as representative of the plethora of injustices that continue to plague this island.
That Dr. Matthew had sincerely proffered the IMPACS scandal as the most pressing issue facing Saint Lucia seemed to amaze Wayne. Obviously he could not fathom why his guest, after much prodding, felt no urgent need to finger our economic predicament. It would seem that Dr. Matthew had invested a lot of energy into the IMPACS argument and had imagined it a sort of pièce de résistance—for after it had failed to stand up to scrutiny, he seemed to have nothing viable to fall back on.
When prompted for the umpteenth time to identify the most critical issue confronting Saint Lucia, Dr. Matthew lamented a culture that anticipates the failure of others, and urged that we foster the development of a culture of success that would redound to the benefit of all. Such a perspective is not without virtue and, in its economic consequences, cannot be blatantly denied consideration. Nevertheless, Dr. Matthew felt no need to touch on our economic crisis in all its rawness and taunting conspicuousness.
Perhaps his closest approach to addressing our economic predicament took the form of a call for the development of Port Castries to meet modern standards—a project he is convinced could have done much to assuage our economic austerities had it been implemented according to plan. When prompted by a caller that work on the port had resumed with the demolition of the old fire service building, Matthew trivialized the point, arguing that the project—allegedly the brainchild of the previous UWP administration—had been in the pipelines for three years and was unlikely to materialize any time soon, given the economic climate. He also lamented that successive administrations did not build upon the successes of their immediate predecessors, choosing instead to concentrate on their ostensible shortcomings.
Dr. Matthew’s five-point plan for the country must not go unmentioned. The first element of the plan promises heavy investment in agricultural farming. He identified food security as a pressing issue, confidently asserted the availability of lands to meet the demands of his prospective agricultural project but paid little attention to funding.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with an interest in agricultural development. However, the “we’ll invest in farming” card has been played so often by politicians seeking office that this first item of Dr. Matthew’s plan must be greeted with skepticism. It is as if politicians expect that the mere mention of a return to farming will mollify a credulous electorate by evoking the nostalgia of bygone days, when bananas were “green gold.” If politicians wish the electorate to take their vapid appeals to farming with the enthusiasm and optimism they believe it already commands, they must do much to extricate it from the bounds of intolerable platitudes and what host Rick Wayne terms “voodoo.” The time is long overdue for clearly delineated proposals that have passed the basic tests of economic viability, to say the least.
The second item on Matthew’s five-point plan made issue of a dearth of voluntary activity and called for an improvement. A caller who identified himself as Saint Lucia’s National Volunteer Coordinator Cyril Saltibus informed Dr. Matthew that already volunteerism was booming here—and provided evidence of that. He also urged the doctor to do the necessary research before guesting on a talk show. Dr. Matthew’s comeback lacked muscle: he said still more volunteerism was required, at which point the caller invited him to sign up. Time may have rescued the doctor from having to identify the rest of his five-point development plan.
Various callers expressed disappointment in what Dr. Matthew had to offer as a prospective politician and potential representative for Castries Central. The frankness of this disapproval I had pronounced unfair in last week’s STAR, on the premise that such unreserved disapproval did not extend to the established politicians (whose level of competence is oftentimes indistinguishable from that of a novice). That position still stands. Nevertheless, in retrospect, I find much reason to empathize with the level of intolerance expressed by these callers insofar as it is indicative of a representative body of people who have grown intolerant of mere eloquence, unending platitudes and fickle abstractions.
When questioned by the host on his reasons for wanting to enter elective politics and how he intends to make a difference, Dr. Matthew advanced that his mission was to help Saint Lucia find solutions to its various crises—financial, health, judicial and educational. However, his arguments on IMPACS, Port Castries, farming and volunteerism were recognizably bereft of anything that approximated possible solutions. I must, however, acknowledge the value of Dr. Matthew’s claim that the most immediate way to address the cost of health care is by investing in preventative medicine.
All in all, notwithstanding his optimism, good intentions and evident eloquence, Dr. Andre Matthew did not strike me as representative of the kind of change urgently needed in Saint Lucian politics. If his perspectives on the show promise anything, it is wholesale conformity to the political status quo.
Upcoming local politicians must heed the fact that lack of imagination can no longer coexist with political aspirations. Now is the season of impatience. Anyone who ventures into the political arena will inevitably be weighed and measured. The surest ticket to admission is the presentation of useful ideas. Do not make the mistake of thinking that political inexperience relieves you of the responsibility to proffer viable solutions from the inception. If you start off without solutions, you will almost definitely continue without them and quickly find yourself, despite your best intentions, mere instruments of outmoded politicians whose ideas (or lack thereof) have proved recurrent failures.
It is interesting to note that the seriousness of issues discussed on TALK has never stood in the way of opportunities for levity. Two calls were salvaged from inanity by providing unintended humor. The first imputed the failure of local businesses to the unfettered gambling and promiscuity of businessmen. Another spoke of the reopening of a bankrupt hotel, while still another pointed to a NICE-enacted agricultural program as indicative of economic progress. Whatever the veracity of the latter claim, it reduces to irrelevance when juxtaposed with the unenviable economic reality of 24 percent unemployment and a debt-to-GDP ratio of approximately 85 percent.
TALK did not end on the healthiest of notes as Dr. Matthew was intent on blaming what he deemed the “terrible” hosting for his failings on the show. As Mr. Wayne rightly advised, a show of the dynamism of TALK cannot lend itself to being a platform for lengthy speeches, especially when they offer nothing in the way of originality. I would instead ascribe whatever shortcomings manifested by Dr. Matthew to inexperience, poor preparation and a false sense of the liberties permitted on a show such as TALK. Hopefully, Dr. Matthew will profit from the experience!