Here’s to better days . . .

Is Kenny Anthony capable of country-before-party leadership?

It is with great caution that we welcome Kenny Anthony and the SLP team, comprising of the old and new, out of the wilderness and into the seat of power in Saint Lucia. Some of us remember all too well that the last time the Labour party was in office  the many mistakes that cost the nation dearly that were carried out with impunity, so much so that the electorate in 2006 recalled the then opposition UWP into power and placed their trust elsewhere. This time around the electorate has reversed the mandate in favour of the opposition SLP apparently finding it necessary to exercise the virtue of forgiveness, and second  chances, perhaps on the assumption or conviction that Team Labour has indeed learnt from its mistakes of the past.
As I reflect on some major and costly SLP blunders that we do not wish to see repeated this time around, including some reckless and disturbing electioneering tactics, we really do hope that the many promises made in the manifesto—especially of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” come smoothly into manifestation as sold to the electorate.
Team labour must be congratulated for running a successful campaign in which they managed to make the actual performance of the incumbents and the hard core issues and policy options between the parties to become the side show and replaced by personal attacks and broad brushing of the UWP in red paint as the main issue and basis of choice for the electorate. The SLP march into power was no doubt given further momentum by the catchy slogan of “en rouge” which shifted the attention of the public away from their many misdeeds however similar to those they opposed, allowing fluff to win over substance.
We also call for an atmosphere of peace, respect, healing, reconciliation and inclusion to prevail in the governance of this country and in how we treat each other henceforth, free of political discrimination. As has been the trend with the last SLP and UWP governments a significant amount of time and resources was directed at Commissions of Enquiries.
The Ramsahoye Report gave a verdict of guilty of maladministration to Dr Kenny Anthony and his SLP administration on the basis of numerous cases of poor and reckless management of the financial affairs of St Lucia including the least bit transparent Rochamel Affair. Indeed many other indicators and policy actions taken by the SLP administration led by Dr Kenny Anthony provide corroborating evidence to support the conclusions of the Ramsahoye report. For example the near tripling of the national debt stock under his watch from EC$562 million in 1997 to $1.624 billion in 2006 certainly pointed to a lack of fiscal discipline and prudence in the management of the country’s resources.
His poor and naïve handling of the banana industry which was hastily privatized to make good on promises ostensibly to the farmers—but more so to the likes of Patrick Joseph—without putting in place a regulatory framework and other mechanisms to deal with crop protection and other common challenges further underscored his ineptitude as a leader and manager of the country’s scarce financial resources.                 The result of this policy action was the splintering of the industry into a number of small companies which were individually less capable of providing support to the farmers. This invariably led to increased difficulties for the banana producer to get financial and other forms of support and thus resulted in the mass exodus of thousands of farmers from the industry.  Confidence levels plummeted and banks understandably retreated, thereby accelerating the decline of the industry. However issues as germane as this to the kind of leadership that Dr.Kenny Anthony will provide never got the kind of scrutiny they deserved.
Against such a backdrop of failed policies and other blunders perpetrated by the so-called intellectually superior SLP administration, led by one of the region’s legal luminaries, it’s not surprising that Dr Kenny Anthony would have great difficulty and would lack the magnanimity to acknowledge the achievements and good stewardship of Prime Minister Stephenson King.                 Instead during the recent political campaign he went to great lengths to question the figures provided by the National Statistics Department. In fact he has been selective with regard to which performance indicators he approves and which ones he disapproves.  As was most apparent in his address to the nation after then Prime Minister King addressed nation on the anniversary of hurricane Tomas. Dr Kenny Anthony derided and excoriated the Department of Statistics for the economic growth figures. It must be noted that the same department produced the numbers on unemployment which he and his echoes gloated about because they wanted to make his tenure in office appear to be better—at least for those who are not able to place such numbers into context.                 Now that he is back in office, it would be interesting to see if the numbers produced by the Statistics department will suddenly be sound and credible again.
Another error of Dr Anthony’s on the campaign trail was to discredit every achievement of the UWP government. It’s always better, more politically mature, and a more dignified example to give jack his jacket, to objectively give credit where credit is due and to criticize constructively where necessary.
In fact, the Stephenson King-led UWP administration performed admirably under very trying circumstances globally and domestically. It is an undeniable fact that the King administration faced challenges far worse than those faced by the 1997 to 2006 Kenny Administration when the global economy was still riding the wave or housing bubbles. It is now a fact that despite these many shocks, Stephenson King, a modest and unassuming man, upon whom the mantle and responsibility of leadership was thrown as a result a tragedy which struck his party with the death of Sir John Compton, rose to the challenge and performed with distinction, all things considered. His performance is even more commendable when one considers his so-called capacity limitations according to his detractors and the cast of colleagues he had to work with.
Notwithstanding Stephenson King successfully navigated the ship of state with strong head winds through the choppy waters of transition and economic downturn, tugged by strong social and political currents seeking to throw him off his course to stability and growth. Many questioned his capacity to do so, given that he was not a man with degrees and PhDs to broadcast to the world, as others who had gone before him had done. However, his stewardship over the past four years with over four percent growth in 2010, significant progress in containing the rate of increase in criminal activity, managing the debt levels to the lowest in the OECS and much better than the more academically advanced Dr Kenny Anthony did in any comparable 5-year term (where debt-to GDP ratio climbed by over 12 percentage points compared to just over 6 by King). Despite all the baseless attacks on his stewardship by his SLP opponents Stephenson King led St Lucia to become the largest economy in the OECS and the Best Place to do Business in the region according to the World Bank Survey.
During the campaign Dr Kenny Anthony started out by disregarding all the projects implemented by the UWP administration, particularly those done with the help of the Taiwanese as being inconsequential and nothing more than small gutters, termed te canal in local parlance. Does it not matter to him that these projects were often selected by the people who communicated their wishes and priorities to their parliamentary representatives? The SLP should be reminded that the communities and people that benefited from the projects are the best judge of what they needed.  Are we to now regard as insignificant any similar projects done by the SLP now that they are in government?
In a world where it is increasingly difficult to get friends and diplomatic partners that are prepared to provide meaningful assistance to small states  the SLP  has arrogantly regarded the projects financed by the Taiwanese, which number over 100 to the tune of over EC$120 million as minor and insignificant. It is lost on them that the relative impact of the Taiwanese projects on the economy and people of St Lucia is much higher than the Chinese projects given that the direct financial injections provided by Taiwanese projects create employment which increases demand and spending especially in the rural economy.  The resources spent also results in a multiplier effect which boosts the rural community and economy as a whole. This cannot be said of the
Chinese projects, although they were large projects, because they were built by the Chinese using imported materials with zero or a negligible amount of leakage and injection into the local economy. Another advantage of the approach of the Taiwanese compared to the Chinese is that there has been knowledge transfer which would benefit the economy in agriculture and other sectors in the long run.
Despite all of these irrefutable advantages and benefits to St Lucia from the Taiwanese, Kenny Anthony attempted while he was Opposition Leader to get Ambassador Chou recalled from St Lucia by writing to the President of Taiwan. According to some if he had his way this would have been yet another example when Kenny Anthony wins while St Lucia loses.
Now as prime minister and faced with the daunting challenge of leadership, mindful of the fact that it is not easy to get friendly countries that are ready and willing to dole out millions of dollars to small and relatively insignificant countries in the world, it would appear that Dr Kenny Anthony now has a  change of heart. In one of his first statements as St Lucia’s new prime minister he publicly promised the nation that Ambassador Tom Chou will not be unceremoniously booted out of Saint Lucia with immediate effect as had been the unwavering sentiment during the campaign, but that there will be discourse ‘with both sides’ and that a decision will be taken in the best interest of the country. We applaud that change of attitude as the later would indeed seem very ungrateful and improper of us in return for the good the Taiwanese have done for our country. Is this a sign of some learning taking place or is it mere pragmatism? I guess we shall see.
Leaders and political parties must be reminded that none of them have a monopoly on ideas, plans or policies. In fact most of them have failed the people in one way or another. Therefore a plan or policy is not bad for the country simply because it comes from the opposition. Let us stop this opposition for the sake of it or disregard a message because we do not like the messenger or source. This is backward and only serves to restrict our development. We need the best ideas and plans for St Lucia wherever they may roam. Now that the campaign is over and the effort to discredit manifestoes is also over, we hope the current prime minister will not abandon all projects started by the former UWP administration or because it is in the UWP manifesto. We the public will be watching closely for genuine country-before-party leadership.
Finally as we call for the healing of the nation after the prolonged rift created by partisan allegiances and multi-colour divisions, let us put country before self and ‘de party’ and remember daily the reason that Our Father commanded  that we should love one another. We therefore urge the afflicted party hacks to put down their red-tinted lenses and green or yellow frames so that they may see more clearly as we move past the elections of November 28, 2011 and begin the process of
uniting and working together alongside the government that the people have chosen.
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