Will petty party bickering ever stop?

Some time in 2005, when crime—in particular, violent crime—was at a record high and, as now, citizens were at their wits end what to do about it, a gentleman commonly referred to as Azi grabbed headlines with his announcement of a crime symposium organized by the political party ONE, of which he was the putative leader. Invitations were sent out over the airwaves to all interested citizens and to the day’s government then headed by Kenny Anthony.

I attended the symposium and was shocked by what I encountered. First there was the near-empty hall. Not one member of government had considered the day’s activity important enough to warrant his or her attendance. Not even the minister in charge of the crime portfolio bothered to show up.

My second shock centered on the organizer’s naiveté. Never before had I heard so many clichés as confidently presented as original thought.

The event was followed by another as sparsely attended, in Derek Walcott Square, and by a march through the streets of Castries that culminated in a rally on the steps of the Castries market. As I say, the government refused to participate in any of the activities that according to their organizer was meant “to prove to the criminals we will not tolerate crime in our city.”

Several weeks later, at a convention of the St. Lucia Labour Party, a clearly frustrated prime minister Kenny Anthony derisively referred to Azi’s anti-crime demonstration. In a gut-busting, hilarious imitation of my voice, Anthony said: “What do they want me to do? Hold a meeting like they did, so Rick Wayne can say, ‘they talkin’ crap, crap I tell you, they talking crap!?’ ”

His audience was regaled, as indeed I am every time I listen to my recording of the then prime minister’s Rick Wayne impression. But the subject he referred to was anything but funny.

Not long after the recalled SLP convention, and shortly before the 2006 general elections, the day’s government staged at the NIC conference center what it referred to as “the national crime symposium.” On October 26, this was how the government’s newspaper NationWide reported on the event: “The government of Saint Lucia took another step in tackling the problem of mounting violent crime in the country when it staged a major symposium on crime last Saturday.”

The report quoted the prime minister as follows: “Notwithstanding what history has bequeathed the government and people, the onus is now on all citizens to deal with the level of crime today. We have to be highly realistic and face the full reality of what confronts us. We must approach the issue with absolute realism, we need to go beneath what initially appears as an attractive logical argument and seek to fathom the deeper issues that line beneath the surface.”

While acknowledging the link between poverty and crime, the prime minister underscored the fact that “right within the Caribbean region there are instances
where low unemployment is still met with high crime.”

No one at the symposium that included the then police commissioner, leading business people and other concerned citizens seemed to have any idea what to do about the soaring crime figures—blamed primarily on criminal deportees from the United States, even though no one seemed to know how many there were at the time in Saint Lucia or whether they were involved in what the police chief described at the symposium as “a new kind of sophisticated crime.” Alas he did not volunteer—and no one in the audience thought to request—an example of the genre, not even the minister of justice or the prime minister. But one prominent attendant did suggest the implantation of micro chips in the deportees upon arrival in Saint Lucia!

Evidently, the public was unimpressed with Kenny Anthony’s undeniably laudable efforts at crime prevention. During one of his Conversations With the Nation program over Radio Saint Lucia, the prime minister lashed out at critics of his administration: “The tendency in our society is to reject personal responsibility for our actions and misfortunes and to find reason to blame someone else . . . The biggest recipient of national blame is always the government, and in this regard the principal culprit is your humble servant the prime minister. You should not wish to be prime minister if you do not understand that martyrdom awaits you.”

Referring to our official protectors of life and property, he said: “The police blame the government for denying them proper equipment and for not providing vehicles and drivers. Police prosecutors lose court cases, then they blame the government for their incompetence. They blame the government for not hanging convicted murderers, regardless that their appeals may be before the courts.”

So how to explain the following statements by the same Kenny Anthony on May 25, 2010—now speaking as leader of the opposition: “The leadership of the Saint Lucia Labour Party has listened to the cries of Saint Lucians from all walks of life for an end to the crime and lawlessness that has gripped our country over these last few weeks and months . . . We have heard from young people who are now afraid to venture outdoors to play . . .” All of which was hardly new, bearing in mind that in 2006 the murder rate was at a record high.

More pointedly: “We have waited in vain over the last three-and-half years for a coordinated approach and a defined plan by the King administration to fight crime.” From there the opposition leader went on to remind his audience that during its successful 2006 election campaign, the UWP had promised, if elected, to “reduce the level of crime in the society and restore the feeling of peace, security in our communities.” In much the same way that in 1996 and 2001 the SLP had promised to reduce existing crime figures, to no avail.

Truth be told, the murder rate did go down in 2007, from forty-something to 26, only to rise again to its present all-time high. But that is hardly the point of this article. Rather, it is meant yet again to underscore the fact that neither the Kenny Anthony government nor that led by Stephenson King has demonstrated an ability to keep local crime figures at an acceptable level. As I’ve said so many times before, the methods employed by the last three administrations have all failed to contain crime. Which is why I applaud the prime minister’s recent invitation to the opposition to “forget all we’ve said in the past,” to quit pointing fingers at each other every time someone is fatally shot, and instead combine our efforts at putting a stop to the senseless killings.

Reports are that the deputy leader of the opposition party Philip J. Pierre is willing and ready to sit with the government and other individuals, perchance to discover new ways to combat the common enemy of crime in our time. And while there has been no word on the matter, so far as I can tell, from the leader of the SLP, it is also true that he has not turned down the prime minister’s public invitations. After all, by his own word on May 25 last year, he has been waiting for the prime minister to come up with “a coordinated and defined plan to fight crime.”

Oh, but there he was on TV the other evening, the earlier-mentioned Azi, the presumed leader of a presumed party of ONE, advising the SLP not to accept the prime minister’s olive branch in the name of effective crime fighting. According to Azi, the current government has “no moral authority to talk about crime fighting.” Of course, citizens of this democracy have a constitutional right to their opinions—however undeserving of respect!—but in the case of the ONE man it does appear a wee bit self-serving, not to say counterproductive, to imply Kenny Anthony should keep his party’s anti-crime ideas under wraps until the SLP is returned to office—as if Azi had never excoriated them for failing to address crime effectively during their two terms in office.

The bottom-line question remains: Will our political parties forget their petty differences now and unite in the fight against crime—as recently endorsed on TV by an LPM representative—or will they instead remain selfishly divided on every issue of national interest, regardless of the cost in innocent lives?

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