For Whom the Bell Tolls

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Peter Josie to Prime Minister Allen Chastanet (pictured) and his administration: “The people have been fooled too many times . . .”

On thoughtful examination, it will be revealed that the relatively brand new government of Saint Lucia elected June 2016 faces greater challenges than any other since this island achieved internal self-government in 1967. So much is expected of the new, that comparisons are difficult. High expectations of the bright, star-filled debutantes of the Louisy Labour government of 1979 come close. To this day, people have not stopped speculating about why that Labour government, with its two-thirds majority, ran aground in its first term.

The 2016 United Workers Party administration, led by Allen Chastanet, a first-time elected MP, seems set to navigate more successfully than Louisy’s Labour. But Chastanet has his work cut out for him. He must find the conviction to bring before the courts individuals who have overstepped the limit of their powers (including certain ministers of the government), and which led to the IMPACS debacle. The national treasury is empty; no monies were budgeted for the completion of St. Jude Hospital and a new Hewanorra Airport is years away. From my perspective the reduction of VAT, although crucial, is small potatoes compared to the administrative clean-up work with which this government is saddled.

Appointing a new Director of Public Prosecutions, is again another step in the right direction, but small. As with any work worth doing, it takes planning, mental application and a determination to execute a superior job, no matter the conditions. This new appointment must bring keen new application and new order to criminal cases that have gripped the country’s attention and left unattended for far too long.

The new DPP must lay the foundation for the re-vamping of that office and returning it to the capable hands of career civil servants. The return to a professional, career-oriented civil service ought to be a focus of this government. It must stop the importation of yes men and women, at juicy contracts and exorbitant salaries. Instead, it must promote worthy career civil servants. For my part, one year seems sufficient time to get this process started.

Still, the government ought to take its time to meticulously compile evidence before bringing charges. However long it takes, it must bring criminals to justice. The expenditure of Taiwanese funds from a so-called ‘special account’ must be explained by Prime Minister Chastanet or a delegated Minister, disclosing where these monies were spent and when. This takes me to the appointment of a new Attorney General. How could the former Prime Minister, knowing how he felt and behaved when his party was returned to office in 2011, have renewed the contracts of persons such as the attorney general? The AG, Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister comprise the lynch pin of democratically elected governments. How could an AG (a part of the triumvirate) continue in office when the government changes? Will a new Prime Minister trust an AG appointed by his predecessor? Shouldn’t the spanking new mandate the government was given by the electorate be allowed to function, as it should? [A new AG was appointed earlier this week!]

The people want an end to corruption! They want the guilty to pay. That, to my mind, cannot and will not be done with an AG appointed by a former government. Ministers of the former government and their contractor friends, including non-accredited quantity surveyors and engine-fars, (not engineers), must be investigated. I challenge Prime Minister Allen Chastanet to make an example of those who have defrauded the island’s scarce resources to enrich themselves and their friends. But how can the new UWP government act if the enablers of the former regime are still in key positions within the civil service establishment?

I strongly advise the Prime Minister to act and let the axe fall where it must. The people expect to hear a clear plan in the PM’s address to the nation on October 31, as promised. Enough is enough! Frankly, I expect the appointment of an AG to break the bottlenecks in the system and expose past corruption for all to see—and some to feel.

I saw Minister Guy Joseph last Sunday evening on the TV show ‘Open Mike.’ My question to Mr. Joseph is: What next, after discovery of the shenanigans in the St. Jude hospital project? Will justice take its course? Enough is enough! It’s time to make an example so the people can see a serious government at work. This island needs a new dispensation of up-front, honest and incorruptible men and women, in government and in society generally. When the Prime Minister addresses the nation I wish to hear him to say in clear simple mono-syllables what his government is going to do about the person or persons who approved government expenditures on projects where there were no plans, no completion date and seemingly no one in charge. That has never happened before in the history of government on this island.

Let both Allen Chastanet and his government be warned; the people of Saint Lucia are not foolish, they are watching. That much is known. The eventual removal of VAT and its substitution by a suitable tax must proceed hand in hand with the arrest and charging of those who may have defrauded or helped to defraud the national treasury. Enough is enough!

Finally, when politicians promise jobs-jobs-jobs during an election campaign, what should they offer persons who already have a job? I suggest the following: police presence on the streets and roads with back-up technology; efficient garbage collection and disposal; trimming of overhanging trees and branches; clearing of drains to allow free flow of water; improved roads. Act now so that five years from now there’ll be no need to ask for whom the bed tolls!

The author is a former minister of government in the administrations headed by Allen Louisy and Sir John Compton.

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