A critique of PM Anthony’s Address to the Nation
Thousands of St Lucians must have watched with great anticipation the much-advertised address to the nation by Prime Minister Kenny Anthony. He appeared rejuvenated in his speech on TV on Sunday 6th January in contrast to the desperate demeanour we had observed which marked his image during his period in opposition.
In his address to the nation, the Prime Minister appealed to the Public Sector Workers Unions, to consider the temper of the times in which St Lucia finds itself, and accept a freeze in demands for public sector wage increases. He used scare tactics warning that the country would be forced to go to the International Monetary Fund if unions were successful in their demands for wage increases. He pointed out the difficult and troubling times in which St Lucia finds itself, including the state of the developed world and the situation in which our neighbours find themselves, and that St Lucia continues to suffer from high unemployment, record low levels in tourism arrivals as well as the natural disasters that have afflicted our island, destroying the agricultural sector and the infrastructure of the inland.
But while the Prime Minister delivered his speech, ringing in my ears were statements he made during the Stephenson King administration in which he ignored the prevailing economic circumstances at the time and was cajoling and encouraging the unions to demand excessive wage increases from the government and laying the blame for the economic situation in St Lucia squarely on the shoulders of Prime Minister King and his administration, and accusing PM King of mismanagement of the economy. There are those among us who suffer from selective amnesia who will deny that any such scenario ever existed. At the time PM Anthony was oblivious to the global recession which hit the world in 2009, and plunged the world into economic recession that lingers today in the major capitals of the Euro zone and the rest of the world.
But the more I listened to Prime Minister Kenny Anthony and his litany of economic woes afflicting St Lucia, my mind raced back to the period when I served as Press Secretary to Prime Minister Stephenson King. I realized that there seemed to be uncanny similarities between what PM Anthony was saying in the context of the economic situation existing in St Lucia today, as the raison d’être for his inability to pay the public servants an increase or even make a conciliatory offer.
We live in the enlightened age of the Internet in which information is available instantly at one’s fingertips. No one can realistically deny the occurrence of events of the past as they did formerly. I ask therefore that in order to confirm the veracity of my observations, one can Google “2009 New Year’s address to the Nation by Prime Minister Stephenson King of St Lucia.” It would appear that the economic issues outlined by PM Anthony in his address were lifted directly from Stephenson King’s 2009 address.
Among the issues highlighted by PM Anthony: rising oil prices on the global market, hurricanes, the global financial crisis, increase in the price of most imported food items, including the basic food commodities such as rice, sugar and flour. The millions of dollars sacrificed by the government in revenue from subsidies given on gasoline, propane gas, and imposing price controls on the cost of numerous to alleviate the hardship of citizens. The same issues highlighted in King’s address in 2009.
King talked about his concern for the unfortunate and vulnerable in the society and the programmes put in place to relieve the burden put on those persons by the economic storm which was debilitating the entire globe. In his address Anthony played up his contrived compassion for the vulnerable in the society as if it was an original sentiment. That aspect of Anthony’s address was given overblown emphasis on the news on the national radio station RSL. Evidently a cynical attempt to soften his image and make our PM appear to be a charitable man.
I sincerely believe that Stephenson King is a more compassionate man than Kenny could ever be. Whatever compassion Anthony expresses in words are contrived and said for political effect. Anthony’s behaviour in opposition displayed a complete transformation into a bitter, whineing and destructive man, marked by virulent language directed at perceived political enemies. No one was spared. He labeled Timothy Poleon a ‘media terrorist’, and directed nasty and vile remarks at his one time political mentor George Odlum, as a ‘common thief,’ and his one time political adversary Dr Vaughan Lewis was characterized in the most vicious manner in the book “At the Rainbow’s Edge,” which stands in infamy for posterity. If Kenny had made such remarks once, it could have been described as an error of judgement, but the frequency indicates a character flaw of a serpentine nature.
While King offered hope and optimism in his speech, Anthony offers threats to those same public servants asking for a wage increase. Anthony’s intransigence must be seen in the context of his irrefutable involvement in cajoling the union leaders to press the then UWP government to give them a 15 percent wage increase, when similar economic circumstances existed then as exist today. No threats towards the civil servants were expressed in the public domain by PM King, in his negotiations with the unions at the time.
From a moral perspective it is not right for a political leader to want a country to be plunged into turmoil, political strife and economic disaster just because he is out of office, by encouraging unions to demand excessive wage increases, and threatening to shut down the country, marching with placards, and shouting slogans. (Again check the internet for those soundbites and images.)
Now Kenny Anthony desires industrial peace and compromise from the same unions which were threatening to shut down the country under Stephenson King under the same economic circumstances from which most of Europe is still suffering and the great United States has still not recovered.
It is incredulous that while Kenny is calling for austerity, sacrifice and restraint from public servants and the rest of the country, the citizens are fully aware of the many drones, parasites and failures, unable to chart an independent course in their lives, who are cronies of the Prime Minister who have been given positions both locally and overseas for which they are ill-suited, have no experience, untrained and unqualified for the jobs they are assigned to, at astronomical salaries and perks.
One would think that our PM would be sensitive to the economic plight facing our country today which he highlighted in his speech, and would be setting the example and curtail the unnecessary expenditure on postings at home and abroad. Think of the critical needs that could be fulfilled at home with the tens of thousands spent in refurbishing and rental of offices abroad, that could purchase much needed medicines and medical supplies in which there are always shortages, as well as modern equipment such as dialysis machines and ventilators.
Citizens of this country are regarded as quiescent and submissive, but blood runs through our veins like any other humans in the world. It is this kind of arrogance and despotism exhibited by our Prime Minister that has precipitated violent revolutions across the Middle-East today, and through the internet has planted seeds in the minds of people all over the world as to what the collective will and actions of the people can accomplish.
It was a quiet 27-year-old street vendor in Tunisia who was otherwise a computer programmer without a job, who set himself on fire in a square to protest his humiliation when he went up to a government office to seek an interview and was humiliated by a government official. This act became the catalyst for the Arab Spring, inciting riots and continuing revolution, which has brought down several governments and the violent deaths of several despotic leaders in that region.
The differences between Kenny Anthony and Stephenson King are stark. One is cunning, ruthless and arrogant, while the other is affable and magnanimous. For while Kenny threatens imperiously, King seeks peace and harmony, for in King’s words at the time, there was the recognition, that St Lucia is a small rock equivalent to a small provincial town in any large country, with economies greater than ours, small, but beautiful and to be treasured and made a harmonious and peaceful place to live in.
King represents that in his manner and disposition, for in his address outlining the economic difficulties we face; he said, “This is not the time for division and confusion, but a rather a time for unity. We know how to solve problems, especially when we work together. I therefore call on the opposition St. Lucia Labour Party to help us build resilience and be part of this vital transformation.”
Would Kenny Anthony ever utter such words? Don’t bet on it! From me, peace and tranquility for the Year 2013.