Is private sector doomed?

Rick Wayne

We have met the enemy,” said Pogo, the level-headed, pure-hearted possum, “and the enemy is us!” A month or so ago, via this column, I appealed to our current and wannabe prime ministers to quit wasting valuable time and scarce taxpayers’ money on selfish political pursuits and instead focus their limited talents on a united effort at discovering a way to save Saint Lucia from the killer effects of the worst recession the world has ever experienced. Reader response was immediate. Alas, many saw the piece as a long overdue attack on the current administration. And then, inevitably, there were the mindlessly gleeful schadenfreude suckers—a large number being fellow business people in distress—for whom the piece represented confirmation that their prayers had been answered and that I, too, was this close to bankruptcy. Forgive them, father . . .

It will come as no surprise that there has been not the slightest official reaction to my published appeal, not from the prime minister and certainly not from the leader of the opposition, for whom no price is to high if it somehow delivers the prime minister’s chair. I venture to say the attitude is not unique to Kenny Anthony. Chaos, after all, is like oxygen to wannabe prime ministers and their blinkered followers. On the other hand, perhaps I should have anticipated the silent treatment from both the prime minister and the opposition. After all, they should not be expected to supply answers when they have none. Besides, they are unaccustomed to being asked in advance of elections how they plan to resuscitate the comatose private sector and the related thousands of jobs consequently in jeopardy. In their own selfish interests, our job-chasing leaders remain preoccupied with the senseless tarring and feathering of each other. Meanwhile, by participating in the suicidal activities, their similarly shortsighted respective followers unwittingly encourage both the prime minister and his opponent to ignore the wall-to-wall cries of a dying nation. Oh, but Mother Nature has a way of dealing with eyes that refuse to see and ears that hear only convenient truths. When for selfish reasons we do nothing to help ourselves, when we spit on the natural order of things, Nature always steps in to clean up the consequent mess—whether with hurricanes, tsunamis or economic earthquakes. No one is spared. If the government (and here I include the House opposition) will not, or cannot do what must be done in the best interests of our country, and if the people refuse to acknowledge that solutions will not come from the same people who created their problems, well, then, sure as night follows day the price will be paid!

Three years ago, after the prime minister, under heavy opposition duress, delivered to angry and threatening public servants money that was obviously not readily available, the prime minister revealed there was just two million dollars in the public kitty. The announcement was generally received by the helplessly schadenfreude crowd as a joke at the prime ministers expense—as if indeed he had just declared personal bankruptcy. It didn’t stop there: the opposition insisted that more money be spent bringing the derelict Daher Building up to scratch, since the government had, wisely or unwisely, purchased it. As if there was even the smallest chance two wrongs might for once add up to right. It didn’t make things easier for the government when news leaked that it was paying astronomical rent for unoccupied luxury offices at the Baywalk Mall, a situation made still worse by a garrulous minister’s related statements.

As if bent on creating for itself the worst public image imaginable, the government remained silent in the face of swirling allegations it had forked out still more scarce millions for offices next door to Government Buildings, despite having no plans any time soon to occupy the premises.

Meanwhile, our country continues to depend on tourism, evidently oblivious of the horrifying reality that holidaying in the Caribbean is more and more becoming a luxury beyond the pockets of recession-afflicted Americans and their British cousins. Like the proverbial ostrich, we keep our heads buried in the sands of self-delusion, self convinced that recovery is around the corner and really there is no need to change our lifestyle—by which I mean to say, our penchant for living way beyond our means. So what if the whole world is complaining about gas prices? We have the solution. And it is simply to force the government to subsidize the fuel for our gas-guzzlers. We choose to take our cues from equally suicidal brothers and sisters in the other cash-strapped islands, rather than from better-off Americans and Europeans who have parked their vehicles in favor of public transport or car-pool to work. With elections around the corner, neither the day’s government nor the government-in-waiting has had the courage to encourage our people to help themselves, beginning with a change in our consumption habits. It has evidently not yet occurred to the majority that even when the government picks up the tab for our profligacy it is we the people who are actually paying through the nose.

And now the government is reduced to squeezing stones for blood. Inland Revenue, the Customs and other such agencies are working overtime, blackmailing desperate citizens—mainly private-sector operators—with or-else demands. I am informed the broke government has decided on fixed sums to be monthly bled from the dried-up private sector, an initiative invented by the previous administration, with monetary rewards for the tax collectors. Obviously, this can only accelerate the death rate of barely alive local businesses, with obvious consequences for the whole country—reminiscent of the killers of the golden goose.

The latest word is that the OECS has shut down its consulate in Ottawa. To which I say, about time. As necessary as some might suggest are these overseas agencies to our people in Canada, the USA and the UK, they have finally proven luxuries we could not afford even in better times and certainly cannot afford in the present circumstances. Can we expect any time soon to hear from the foreign affairs minister on the workings of our overseas embassies? What do they cost the local taxpayer? What do our overseas brothers and sisters contribute toward their upkeep, considering the consulates exist to serve them, at any rate, primarily?

The horror details of the previous government’s acquisition of the Helenites building in New York remain for the most part an expensive secret. Ditto the purchases of luxury real estate and expensive vehicles for the comfort of our overseas ambassadors, nearly all of them with abruptly acquired millionaire palates.

As I say, when we refuse to do for ourselves nature helps out—at deadly cost both to guilty and their mindless enablers. If we will not voluntarily change direction even at this late date, then we can count on more closures overseas. We are no less immune to the devastating effects of this unending world recession than are the rich nations. In the United States and Britain schools are shutting down, sports programs are overnight disappearing, public parks are locking up their gates, school buses are being taken off the roads, teachers are sent home by the hundreds—all for lack of funds.

Some 14 million Americans are unemployed, with no let-up in sight. In Britain, 2.43 million are on the dole. In Germany, public servants have agreed to ten percent pay cuts in their desperate effort to retain their jobs . . . but then, already our politicians know all of that, even as they carry on as if this were still the era of green-gold—and no fit time to stop de carnival. Did the government actually subsidize a recent march to the tune of $50,000? If so, then all I can say after the fact is that the old and destitute in Constitution Park might have put that money to better use.

We are on the brink, dear deluded brothers and sisters. Either we help ourselves by helping each other see some light at the end of the darkest tunnel we’ve ever encountered as a people—or else!

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