Did King write Kenny’s Sunday Sermon?

kennyIf during the prime minister’s most recent televised address to the nation you closed your eyes and shut down your thought processes; if for reasons you wish to keep to yourself you listened with your heart, at the end of his 30-minute delivery you may well have determined a leader of this country had finally discovered the courage to speak the truth, however inconvenient.
Alas, it’s highly unlikely that those who heard Kenny Anthony with their eyes closed had sought to avoid possible distractions. There’s a far greater likelihood they had been rescued after a few minutes by Shakespeare’s balm of hurt minds. As for the masochistic rest who possibly remained alert throughout the prime minister’s much anticipated “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” speech about the nation’s “current financial situation and the wage negotiations for the public sector,” sleep could not have come easily. Not with the generated nightmarish scenario, wittingly or otherwise weaved—to say nothing of that famous lecturer’s drone that never fails to produce irresistible ennui among even the prime minister’s frontline sycophants!
In some ways on Sunday the prime minister proved a source of embarrassment. And not only for his demonstrated egregious lack of originality. Here was the ostensible great deliverer who in November 2011 had convinced a profusely bleeding, scared and desperate nation that he alone knew how to spare the people further pain from the impact of a world recession that had brought some of the wealthiest countries to their knees. Millions had lost their jobs and their homes—some their wives and children, others their very lives—in consequence, even in bountiful America the Beautiful.
The news on TV, the foreign newspapers, the highly decorated economists, all told the same miserable tale: the world was in an unprecedented predicament with neither respite nor solution in sight.
Ah, but The Great White Hope of local politics had for months been promising the hungry and hopeless “better days,” untold millions to be invested in the private sector, jobs-jobs-jobs for all, and other seducements at special gatherings convened by our conveniently naïve and largely mute captains of commerce—with the predictable endorsements of the usual voodoo economists. If all around the world there was chaos and suffering, he seemed to say, that did not mean relief was not in sight. It all depended on the seeker’s vision!
Typically, no one requested details of the proffered miracles. In any event the questioner would’ve been told, had one been courageous enough to inquire, that it would all unfold when the GWH was back in the prime minister’s chair. After all, he didn’t want anyone misappropriating his ideas ahead of elections for the purposes of yellow-striped nincompoops!
Yes, so early in his Sunday evening presentation the prime minister effectively redefined the meaning of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. “In the final analysis,” he said, practiced eyes trained on the suitably friendly HTS camera lens, “in the final analysis the payment of a wage that is deemed to be fair and just depends on the employer’s ability to pay.”
Did he mean to say it was all well and good for a government to determine a   minimum wage but if employers can’t pay it what’s the point of such minimum wage? Was the prime minister saying on Sunday evening that a minimum wage set at a time when employers were doing well need not be paid when the economy is in the toilet?                 Let’s take that a step further: if some political heavyweight had repeatedly declared a proposed government policy “oppressive, anti-poor and anti-worker,” would such policy suddenly become no longer oppressive, anti-poor and anti-worker but altogether justifiable simply because a fatter butt now occupied the prime minister’s chair?
There is precious little to be said about the state of Saint Lucia’s economy that was not equally true in the time of the previous government. But the present prime minister features prominently in a 2009 TV-news clip, easily accessible on YouTube, vigorously agitating on behalf of public workers for more pay. He is also the focus of a second YouTube item also starring Virginia Albert and scores of teachers marching in protest with their union leader. The recording was made in the same period as that earlier mentioned, with commentary by HTS’ Carmy Joseph.
I hasten to add that the above says more about the then agitator himself than about anything else. I certainly do not mean to imply the present government should be pressured into meeting the current pay demands of public workers, just because    what’s good for the goose is supposedly good for the gander. However, I am stating most emphatically that it is high time, in the best interests of the nation, that politicians cease feigning an interest in the people when in fact their true concerns are altogether selfish. At the time of the 2009 demonstrations, then opposition leader Kenny Anthony declared from the steps of the Castries market, during a rally ostensibly in support of public service protestors, that he had been “two years in purgatory and was now ready to lead again.” Yes, that particularly transparent exhalation spoke unforgettable volumes about the nature of small-island politicians with their penchant for insulting the popular intelligence!
This crux of the issue that faces us, said the prime minister on Sunday evening behind a mask far less suggestive of mindless aggressiveness than had been on display in 2009, centers on “the ability of the government of Saint Lucia to meet the demands of its 9,500 workers for increases by 15 percent spread over three years.”
Ironically, the crux of the current issue closely resembles what in 2009 had faced Stephenson King.
The following is taken from his 22 April Budget Address: “In September of 2008, the government of Saint Lucia concluded negotiations with the public sector unions on a 3-year collective agreement for the triennium 2007-2010. The parties agreed to a general wage increase of 14.5 percent over the 3-year period, with 3 percent being paid in the first year, 4 percent in the second and 7.5 percent in the third year. To date government has honored 7 percent, covering the first two years of the agreement. All public sector workers have, therefore, received a 3 percent salary increase in respect of 2007-2008 and 4 percent in respect of 2008-2009.”
Over a period of less than seven months, King underscored, his government had effectively paid out “a little over $25 million to civil servants as increases in their salaries.”
King reminded the nation of what was already common knowledge in 2009: the major economies of the world were all in decline and experiencing rates of growth well below projected levels . . .                 Referencing several once prosperous countries, lead among them America and Europe, King cited overseas government employees by the thousands who had been laid off, mindlessly adding, “something we refuse to do”—as if indeed workers’ wages in this part of the world came out of his own personal bank account. He spoke, too, of countries that had borrowed “outrageous amounts of money in what will undoubtedly prove a most unsustainable venture for their economies.” He promised his own leadership would “not be defined by excessive borrowing.” Yeah, right!
Still from the King’s 2009 Budget address: Saint Lucia was not immune to the effects of the failing world economy. Nevertheless his government had taken “the deliberate policy decision that that the preservation of jobs—particularly in the public sector!—would be an essential element of our strategy.” Moreover, the government had gone further “to attempt to create more jobs by accelerating the implementation of our own public sector investment program.”
Additionally: King’s government was involved in the preparation of the 2009-2010 budget, in which Saint Lucians, “particularly the most vulnerable, are of paramount importance.”
Like the prime minister today, King and the then leader of the opposition were in 2009 well aware of the “huge budget deficit on recurrent expenditure, that the government was not collecting enough recurrent revenue to cover its recurrent expenditure—and a country unable to cover its recurrent expenditure from recurrent revenue is one headed for disaster.”
Trust me, dear reader, most of the words quoted immediately above, including that now daily repeated “most vulnerable” phrase, recur in Kenny Anthony’s most recent Budget. They were also heard again and again on Sunday evening. So what the hell is going on? Do these guys, their pretend parliamentary pugilism notwithstanding, get together to plan what BS they will hand us, when and how often? Do they also anticipate our passive reactions? And why all this emphasis on “particularly the public sector?” What about the hard-working, hardly-as-pampered toilers in the private sector that is supposed to be the nation’s wealth generator?  Are they just chopped liver? Is all they deserve, private sector employers and employees, political lip service?
As is by now common knowledge, but nevertheless worth repeating, the Trade Union Federation “outright rejected” King’s proposal and presented its own instead. As the day’s prime minister had observed: “The situation is truly unfortunate at a time when the world is in recession.”
Cutting to the chase. “What are the options available to government if it is forced to proceed immediately with the full implementation of the 7.5 percent?” asked King in his Budget speech, and then answered himself: “It would mean an additional amount in excess of $20 million on the Budget. Government would then have to consider reduction in other areas including cutting the public service.” Government would also have to “borrow more money, cut back on expenditure, and reduce waste.”
Shouldn’t beggarly governments like ours be doing all in their power always to reduce waste and be careful about expenditure, regardless of the economic climate? Almost in tears, the prime minister went on: “We have done all within our jurisdiction to reach out to all concerned. We agreed to a 14.5 percent increase in salaries during a challenging period. But that was at a time when we felt economic conditions would sustain. We have not faltered in our promise; public officers have already received 7 percent.”
He pleaded with public workers to be understanding and patient and allow the government to resuscitate the economy and bring about some normalcy in an all-encompassing difficult global economic environment.
“Let us not forget those who have no jobs, the less fortunate, the indigent, the homeless, the hopeless and confused. They too need attention,” he said. Should the workers back down, promised the prime minister effectively on bended knee, his Cabinet had agreed to stand with him and “take a pay cut to help the less fortunate.”
So ended King’s 2009 prayer. But not the protest marches, aided and fueled by the opposition leader’s massive media-attracting presence. To keep his own job, King predictably paid up!
Pointless going into all Kenny Anthony said on Sunday evening, much of it comprising “inconvenient truths” earlier ducked, disregarded or downright denied.
“Save for our pleas to our maker and creator,” said the prime minister confusingly, “we have nowhere to turn for help with our problems, especially when they are of our own making. We cannot turn to the rest of the world for help. They have abandoned us, consumed with their own challenges and what they believe to be their strategic interests.” By abandoned, did the prime minister mean to imply our broke former perennial rescuers, now “consumed with their own challenges,” had forsaken and deserted us in our endless hour of need? Especially when, as the prime minister himself had earlier admitted, our miseries had nearly always been of our own creation?
“Given our previous and current borrowing needs,” he confessed, “we have arrived at the point where caution must be exercised in choosing the projects and programs to be financed with debt. Our rate of debt accumulation must be reduced and this must be done without delay.”
When it came to spending more on public service wages than the country can afford, he echoed the 90s John Compton and the 2009 Stephenson King: “This level of borrowing cannot be sustained any longer, nor can our country increase the level of debt financing, particularly to fund activities such as expenditure on goods and service or salaries.” He rattled off, as if he were Pastor Ben effortlessly reciting the Ten Commandments, the consequences paid by Antigua, Barbuda, St Kitts-Nevis and Barbados for having done what we have never stopped doing for more than half a century!
“Our regional bank, the Caribbean Development Bank,” he revealed, “has also had to suffer the indignity of two sovereign downgrades this year.”
Once more he echoed the 2009 Stephenson King: “These are difficult and troubling times for everyone. For the people, for governments and for institutions.”
He cited millstones around the government’s neck, forever bankrupt WASCO among them, $12 million in arrears to LUCELEC (of which central government and the Castries City Council are together happy major shareholders, an irony ignored on Sunday!). Again, as if this were 2009 and he was King, the prime minister pleaded to  “our unions to consider the temper of the times. Let us look at developments in our sister islands.”
He acknowledged public sector salaries in Saint Lucia were already “among the highest in the Eastern     Caribbean Currency Union.”                 Alas, he neglected to say why this was so. Might the reason be our public service contributes far more to our economy than their colleagues in the other named territories?
“I know there are many who are working diligently and beyond the call of duty,” the prime minister went on, “while others are chronically late or spend large chunks of their work day in unproductive activities.”
I, for one, can’t help wondering what had been done about the unconscionable skivers and whether among the unidentified who perform beyond the call the prime minister included our new mayors, our reconstituted former police commissioner who, from his plush quarters in prime minister’s office, now keeps us safe from terrorists and others who would do our country harm, the several consultants who cannot explain their function let alone the attendant results. Or Vaughan Lewis who, if he should be judged only by what the prime minister wrote about him in his book “The Rainbow’s Edge,” would be relegated to the ranks of the permanently unemployed.
Finally it was time for the oft-repeated, obviously not-so-scary scare tactics.
Said the prime minister, having saved the worst for last: “Even with the offers on the table from the government negotiating team of a lump-sum payment equivalent to a one-off three percent increase, government would still have to borrow an extra $10 million just to pay wages.
“We still have the chance to avoid going to the IMF but this will involve some very tough decisions. These are the realities that face us, and that is why I urge we, all of us, need to sacrifice collectively:
“If we agree on a wage settlement higher than what our country can afford, then we would have to immediately reduce or eliminate a number of programs to fund this new expenditure. The subsidy on petroleum would have to be reviewed and we may have to move to a full pass-through mechanism where fuel prices increase whenever the price of oil goes up on the world market.
“The government subsidies on rice, sugar and flour would have to be reviewed.
“VAT would have to be imposed on water and electricity and a range of other items that are now VAT-exempt or zero-rated.”
But please special attention to the language here, dear reader. I submit it could’ve been so much simpler stated and taken up far less space: “We would also have to revisit the size and configuration of the public service to see where we can obtain the savings required to finance the salary increases being requested.” Isn’t he saying that if the unions don’t back off he might have to sack public servants? Or did I read more into the prime minister’s words?
Again sounding like the 2009 Stephenson King, his back up against the wall: “My fellow Saint Lucians we are living in tough times and sacrifices must be made. Many are without a job and have no means of providing for their families.                     Governments and people worldwide have recognized the severity of the current situation and adjustments are being made in response. Saint Lucia is no different.”
As I say, much of what prime minister observed on Sunday is undeniable. But it was equally true back in 2009 when from an opposition platform he declared otherwise.
Now, he says: “It is simply not fair, right or just in these troubling times that some would want all the earnings, while others go without.” Neither was it fair in 2009, or when John Compton first spoke those sentiments back in 1994!
Curiously, the prime minister said not a word about ministerial salaries or about the millions to be saved, if only he would apply his shears to the several
pleasure houses we call overseas embassies, staffed by folks whose performances on the job have never come close to matching what they are paid annually by home-based Victims of Anthony’s Taxes, commonly referred to as VAT!

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