There was much venting but it had little to do with somehow avoiding the abyss currently threatening us. Perhaps Ernest Hilaire said it best; his sole nugget of the night. “Great things came out of civilizations like Japan and China, only when they had reached the brink.”
What Hilaire had perhaps unwittingly admitted was that we were indeed in a deep and dark hole, a place we had never been before. Not even during the unforgettable 1979-1982 period.
I am here referring to the Castries Town Hall meeting put on by Saint Lucia’s first “talk radio” WVENT 97.5 & 94.3 on Thursday evening, moderated by Jerry George. His panelists Economist Richard Peterkin; Ernest Hilaire, a front-line Labour Party member and Saint Lucia’s Ambassador in London; Dr. Claudius Preville, also an economist and a member of the United Workers Party; and the executive director of the Saint Lucia Chamber of Commerce Brian Louisy.
The town hall meeting started off with a wimpy presentation by Peterkin on the state of the economy that offered no fresh perspective. His presentation offered Dwight Venner quotes, but veered the wrong way when he quoted St. Vincent prime minister Ralph Gonsalves and Kenny Anthony who have both been blamed for the state of the economy in their respective countries.
But what perhaps threw me off was when Peterkin pulled up the unemployment figures, now upwards of 24%. He then went on to suggest that “if people and the youth lose hope, then this may see young people turning to crime, drugs, etc.”
If? May? Where has Peterkin been living these past several years?
In his own presentation, Hilaire had warned about going back and asking “How we got to where we are? Who is to blame?” Such questions were “useless.” Hilaire said, and I couldn’t help wondering: Useless to whom?
Inadvertently, Hilaire had left the door wide open for Preville to go for the jugular. He painted a picture of don’t-give-a-damn governance which he said had resulted in the worsening debt to GDP ratio and the financial mess in which we now find ourselves.
Preville threw as examples the Grynberg affair and cost over-runs relating to the Soufriere to Vieux Fort road project. In his rebuttal Hillaire said he had not expected the discussion to go down these roads but instead would consider solutions and the way forward.
As if to prove he too could play the blame game, he slipped in the Tuxedo Affair, fingering Allen Chastanet and Keith Mondesir as examples of ministers involved in maladministration on the part of the former government.
For his part, Brian Louisy was his usually politically correct self. He added no real enlightenment to the discourse, and no hint of where the Chamber of Commerce stands on the way forward.
During the question and answer segment, the panelists fielded questions from this reporter as well as Jason Sifflet. However, an attempt by former government minister Calixte George to comment ahead of his question was shot down by the moderator. The strange excuse was that the program was “live” and it could not accommodate comments. What a cop out! I saw the moderator’s approach as condescending and disrespectful of a former government minister.
The turnout on Thursday was poor. Hilaire blamed that on the Saint Lucian attitude to entertainment, which he said we preferred over real discourse.
For her part country manager for WVENT Sue Monplaisir has conceded that more could have been done to promote the event and this will be done in the future. The next Town Hall meeting is slated for Vieux Fort later this month.
We were also informed that the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and UWP leader were invited to the event, as was Mary Isaac. They all declined.
Thursday’s Town Hall meeting was aired live on Choice TV as well as on WVENT.