I’ve just received via Skype the following presumed rhetorical question from a concerned friend in Toronto: “What do Saint Lucians expect Kenny Anthony to do? Print money?” My response, nevertheless, was immediate and, I admit, not a little angry: “No, they do not. What they expect is that he keeps his campaign promises though the heavens fall!”
When it comes to local politics, not to say the idiosyncrasies of local unions, the prime minister in his third term is obviously no neophyte. In 1979 he had been a front-line George Odlum booster when, some might without charity say, the politically ambitious Big Brother was at his most insane, aided and abetted by a CSA with pay increases in mind.
A then Afro-ed and Stokeley Charmichael-skinny Kenny Anthony had been very much in play when the baby was thrown away with the bathwater that unforgettable night shortly after the year’s general elections; when for purposes purely egotistical Castries was laid waste by dreadlocked red-eyed demons and accomplices hell-bent on outdoing what a year or so earlier Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard had visited on Grenadians while they slept.
Lord alone knows what had been the cost to Saint Lucian taxpayers of the historic 1979 episode that had resulted in Plywood City and the local invention of burglar-bar architecture. When I speak of cost I refer not only to the millions wasted on repairing the unnecessarily devastated city center and on restoring William Peter Boulevard’s normal ambience following the shit-storm that had left the area smelling for weeks like an open sewer. The price paid in lost business, including tourism-related, also remains classified information.
Kenny Anthony had been, to borrow a somewhat gross Mailer line, as close to the action as a crab louse to the begetting of a child, in any event close enough to know precisely the price Saint Lucia paid for the stupidity of over-ambitious politicians.
As earlier noted, he was also well positioned to know firsthand the CSA’s role in the recalled debacle: he had been leader of the teachers’ union before finally coming out of the political closet. Indeed, long-retired teachers today know not whether to brag or cry about their union’s contribution to the Labour Party’s 1997 election victory, in particular to Kenny Anthony’s concomitant rise to power. That despite his own curious history he had chosen to tempt fate shortly before his 2011 reelection may be a small indication of Kenny Anthony’s expectations of the CSA leadership, not to say his own presumed ability to manipulate public thought.
For what other reason, if not self-serving, would he, when the world seemed to be falling apart at the seams from economic stress—from America to Greece, the UK, France—boldly promise the electorate “better days,” jobs-jobs-jobs and an injection of a hundred million dollars into the private sector “for job creation.”
Did it even occur to Kenny Anthony that many who would rather have seen the back of him but for the day’s “lesser evil” circumstances had in desperation taken him at his word, however farfetched? Beginning with a large section of the public service? Or was the prime minister so arrogant as to be self-convinced the CSA leadership would, as in earlier times, keep dissident members in check, thereby sparing him the natural consequences of repeated false promises and false hope?
Was it over-confidence or uncharacteristic inastuteness that had induced him, in the worst of economic times, to carry on during his Budget presentation last April as if he were a modern-day Moses come down from Mount Sinai with an armful of solutions denied the President of the United States and the leaders of hurting Europe? On the unforgettable occasion—and contrary to all the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association knew to be true—the prime minister had predicted tourism would be bouncy-bouncy again in sixteen months and that the world economy would be back to normal in two years. He even promised a building boom that would resurrect the local economy.
Then there are those appointments, those insane appointments now daily cited by a money-mad CSA gone wild. Were they based on the prime minister’s expressed belief that “better days” were just around the corner? Months after his reelection his election posters up and down the country reminded of his campaign promises. Let’s not quibble about the creativity that had invented the Ministry of Creative Industries. Even Derek Walcott couldn’t quite get that one. But might anyone have the smallest idea what a consultant in the Ministry of Creative Industries does five days a week to warrant a debt-financed $10,000 a month paycheck?
Ditto the other consultants in almost every other ministry, all without experience in consultancy work of any kind. How to explain the appointment of a failed police commissioner as the prime minister’s special advisor on national security, at a salary higher than he had earlier received? Did taxpayers have to be further burdened at this particular time with mayors all over the land? Oh, but there was the panacea that promised all would be well regardless.
Once declared the most oppressive of tax regimes, VAT had abruptly metamorphosed into a cure for every conceivable economic threat to the nation’s survival. Catchy radio jingles were sung in its praise and several one-sided discussions staged, all choreographed to convince the nation that if VAT had been just four years earlier—when the now prime minister was still leader of the opposition—anti-poor and anti-worker, it nevertheless had its good side.
To hear its well-rewarded promoters, VAT had the potential (never mind contrary evidence in the other OECS territories) to rake in millions more than had the earlier tax regime. Also that it would be used to benefit the poor and the vulnerable and deliver those promised jobs-jobs-jobs—to say nothing of the CSA’s otherwise impossible expectations. As for the rest of Saint Lucia, well, they had never been known to complain, not openly, however abused by the day’s government. Clearly, where the CSA is concerned a promise is a promise, regardless of how veiled. Doubtless they had been taught that lesson back in 2008 when the day’s government was quite likely more broke than today’s.
The current prime minister, then leader of the opposition, had convinced the perennial campaigners for more money that their government-declared “unjust” demands were in fact quite just and they had every right to pursue delivery. Teacher even pointed to where the money might be found: ironically, via cuts in the public service, beginning with Saint Lucia’s UN representatives. And now the devil is vehemently demanding his due, even if it means this already halfway down the toilet nation will consequently be flushed all the way. Industrial action by its various euphemistic names, aided by doctors who evidently care only for themselves, has already begun. On Friday it was for some businesses chaos, the result of customs inactivity.
One couple complained to me that they needed urgently to fly to Martinique for medical attention but could not, thanks to customs unavailability. Many already comatose private sector entities had to eat the cost of work only half completed, therefore of no use to clients, thanks to an uncooperative customs department.
A government press release offered reassurance that all would be well regardless; more pie in the sky. With much regret it is generally anticipated (for such has long been the custom) that the government will soon succumb to union pressure. Conceivably, the dissident CSA membership fully expects Kenny Anthony to do as his immediate predecessor was forced to do in 2008. It’s the way things work here. And as always it is the innocent citizen who will pay via his jugular, by hook or by crook. The question is: If this experienced prime minister believed (conveniently or otherwise) all along he had no other choice but to plunge the nation deeper into debt in the narrow interests of the CSA, why did he have to make things even worse by prolonging this helpless nation’s agony? Pretending to hang tough may have its good points but in this case I very much doubt it.
Then again some might say, as did Compton in his own time and in similar circumstances, we simply do not have the money. To which the dissident public servant will doubtless say: “Kenny didn’t have the money, but he found it for his consultants and the rest of his chosen entourage, not to say STEP, LEAP, SMILE, NICE and UGLY! Why did it never occur to the government to trust the people’s judgment and solicit public support in this latest killer issue?
The prime minister had to have had some idea of the coming shit storm. Why did he not do this time around as he had done in the time of King? Why did he not take to the streets to explain to the hurting country what lay ahead—and its consequent pitfalls? Was the prime minister too afraid that along the way he might’ve encountered his own ghost? Yes indeed, the bloody instructions we teach more often than not return to plague the inventor!