I’ve often wondered why successive governors general and prime ministers so often see the need to remind us that we are a special breed, resilient beyond compare. There is hardly a throne speech or a budget address on record that does not begin with that line about how tough we are “as a people.” If only they would also see the need to identify the evidence that sets us apart from the rest of the herd. To my mind, accepting without serious question whatever is served us by politicians marks us as passive, not resilient; weak-kneed, not tough; and easily satisfied or distracted. I recall being asked by a visitor several years ago about our “fight for independence.”
Quite possibly with Grenada in mind, he wanted to know how many brave Saint Lucians had died so their brothers and sisters might be free to make our own decisions. When I informed him that the process had been bloodless and that the shots fired were aimed at the stars in celebration of our new status, he appeared confused.
Perhaps I should’ve made it easier for my friend. I should have told him straight that our fight for independence was fought right here at home, with Saint Lucians on both sides determined to rip out each other’s throats. Then again, perhaps that would’ve been even more befuddling, since he seemed to believe we had the same goal. In all events, the whole “free to do as we please” thing had been delusive; at best symbolic—as are most local occurrences. Which brings to mind the writer V. S. Naipaul, as famous for his acerbic wit as for his penchant for dispensing inconvenient truths, one of which centered on our nature.
Permit me to paraphrase: The Caribbean is doomed precisely because its people refuse to recognize the vital difference between reality and ole mas. We laugh the loudest when the joke is on us—which, I suppose, is indicative of a kind of resilience! But then shouldn’t there be a point to resilience, defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties?” By our own measure our people have been the target of political slings and arrows going back centuries. Still we suffer in relative silence. Where is our recovery plan?
We seem always to be preparing for war, but always against one another. Dependent on whether the perpetrators are garbed in red or yellow, we hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. So we continue to perpetuate evil, lesser or greater. To quote once again the percipient Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, to whom we handed over a king’s ransom to tell us what we’d always known but refused to acknowledge, let alone take remedial action: “I have discerned a culture in St. Lucia of studied indifference or, at the very least, inattention to the practice, even the concept, of public accountability; a cultural climate in which administrative torpor is often the consequence, and malpractices in government, including corruption, can thrive, unhampered by detection or, if and when uncovered, by disciplinary action.”
He had identified in his report of a 1998 commission of inquiry “certain aspects of serious malpractices and maladministration in government: A senior civil servant disregarded, if not positively defied, a clear prohibition on engaging at any time in any private activity which might be in conflict with, or harmful to government; a breach by a former minister in government of the strict rules relating to governmental contracts [Guy Joseph had not yet started his political career!]; and a series of acts of mismanagement, not to say improper action, by the chairman and chief executive of a government agency established to manage government housing. Ministers and civil servants should be reminded of the rules relating to public expenditure, and those persons appointed to public authorities or government agencies must comply strictly with their remits.”
But something in the back of Blom-Cooper’s brain—perhaps his discerned established local indifference to uncovered corruption—gave him reason to issue the following warning: “More, a great deal more, will be needed to dispel the pervasive influence of the culture that I have identified. Otherwise, the allegations of corruption which prompted the [Kenny Anthony] government to establish the commission, will continue to flow. The suspicion in the public’s mind that the machinery of government is not working, and consequently that corruption is rife, is almost as damaging to the public weal as individual corruption itself . . .”
Moreover: “An impetus toward a changed attitude in the various departments of government will be necessary. If the government has at least put St. Lucia on the road to good governance by encouraging the exposure of past failures, the future demands a permanent searchlight . . . St Lucian sunlight on government has been too often clouded over by an unwillingness of those in authority to expose to public scrutiny the public activities of either themselves or of others. St. Lucians should be assured that failures and malpractices in government, once identified, will not go publicly unnoticed.”
How impercipient of the imported commissioner, that he failed to realize corruption can thrive only with the permission of the people; that corruption is a bipartisan activity. There have been other commissions of inquiry since Sir Louis Blom-Cooper submitted his report to the Kenny Anthony government nearly two decades ago. In all that time, while all kinds of allegations continue to pollute our Christian atmosphere, not a single suspect official has been required to account for his stewardship before a judge.
As I write an elephant half the size of the building that houses it sits more or less ignored in a corner of its cage while the public pays through the nose for its upkeep. The birth of the red pachyderm named Grynberg has yet to be accounted for by its putative progenitor. Meanwhile, at least half the nation, the majority also clothed in red, insists the elephant is but a figment of someone’s imagination, someone yellow-garbed, and that if indeed there ever was an elephant hiding behind the prime minister’s chair, it long ago had passed away.
The elephant is dead . . . long live the elephant!