More Than Enough Reason to be Proud!

Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, President of the Senate Claudius Francis and Opposition Leader Stephenson King.

I’m absolutely convinced politicians are either born so arrogant as to consider themselves way wiser than their wisest fellow citizens, plain dopey, or irrevocably out to lunch.
Quite obviously they are beyond self help—which may well hint at why so many believe the only way to guarantee a vote is to dish out special favors to funders of their campaigns, not to mention borrowed bundles of dollars to “the more vulnerable” of this land where the last thought on anyone’s mind is to work hard for the money.
Established contrary rumor notwithstanding, money per se has never been the root of all evil. Far more deserving of such credit is the notion shared by many representatives of we the people that they alone know what they imagine they know, a variety of self-delusion akin to the voodoo contention that certain folks have a direct line to the maker of all things great and small.  Ironically, these same chosen people who claim to see what no one else can see fail consistently to recognize the extent to which spirits influence their thinking!
Consider William Todd Akin. Asked during a recent televised interview whether he believes abortion is justified in cases of rape, the Republican Senate candidate declared with palpable conviction that rape does not result in pregnancy.
More specifically: “It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
On the particular occasion, maybe because in the U.S. of A ‘tis the season of presidential elections, someone had quickly recognized the need for urgent damage control. With the World Wide Web echoing Akin’s words, Mitt Romney rushed in to help stem the consequent damage. “Congressman Akin’s comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable and, frankly wrong,” he said. But not so egregious as to warrant Romney’s pulling his endorsement of the candidate from Missouri!
Then there was the U.S. Senate candidate Richard Murdock’s response to the rape-pregnancy question during a debate that included two other candidates: “It is God’s intent to have pregnancies from rape. I struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Had a local reporter dared to solicit from him a related reaction to the congressmen’s comments, our own prime minister would doubtless beg to differ. Several years ago he and his government colleagues had caused an unprecedented ruckus in the House when the opposition took the position that even the unborn were constitutionally entitled to state protection from baby killers. Predictably the government had had its way. It had declared it legal for pregnancies resulting from rape to be terminated. It all depended on how the mother felt about the child in her womb. Which was of course not the same as a governmental endorsement of the pro-choice principle. Indeed, abortion in Saint Lucia remains illegal “except in certain cases . . .” dictated by the Kenny Anthony government.
I should add that prior to the debate in parliament a relative handful of protesting church representatives had walked head bowed around the city center, some carrying a presumed symbolic coffin. But then, as usual, the government had hung on to its uncorroborated view that the vast silent majority of Saint Lucians were on their side of the argument.
Besides, “everyone” knew “the church does not believe in compromise,” to quote Menissa Rambally, the Seventh Day Adventist gender affairs minister who had piloted the so-called Abortion Bill Section 166!
A digression, albeit small: As I write, the President of the Saint Lucia Senate, in his capacity as host of the radio program Straight Up, is declaring his disdain for the local press, largely because House opposition leader Stephenson King was, from the host’s perspective, let off the hook for insinuating, at the very least, a tax law was unfair and indicative of the present government’s lack of compassion for the nation’s pensioners.
Mister President had a point: I have underscored several times in the last few months the sad reality that our media have become little more than a conduits of propaganda from the press relations departments of the police, the government and other tax-funded institutions without the smallest critical comment.
I agree that more should’ve been made of King’s most recent faux pas. The press should’ve underscored the discombobulating fact that both the present prime minister and his immediate predecessor had made a habit of pretending to know nothing about laws they had either piloted in parliament or that had been in place even before Independence, without critical comment from the opposition. More reason why proof government and opposition in Saint Lucia today might legitimately be referred to as “Frick & Frack”—like Siamese twins, absolutely indistinguishable from each other. They share the same morphology. And so the people continue to suffer not only the incompetence of unconscionable politicians but also the predictable consequences of an unconcerned incompetent press.
But to return to my earlier concern: the god-like attitude of politicians, especially the variety to be found only on volcanic rocks. Earlier, I cited two United States congressmen and their shared Neanderthal attitude to rape and abortion. But in that regard what do we know about our own politicians, particularly our politicians in bras?
How they vote, our male and female politicians, has always been predictable. But does that mean they believe in the policies they enthusiastically endorse with their echoing “ayes?” It can hardly be news that Cabinet ministers dare not disagree with their prime minister. After all, they have much to lose. Their portfolios can be taken away as easily as they were handed them. Cabinet ministers are far better paid than MPs without portfolios and carry clout, if only in the public mind. The hard truth is that MPs without portfolios simply don’t count for much. No need to identify Cabinet ministers that dared to challenge their prime minister’s position and paid dearly.
Can anyone recall an address by a local politician (save for Sarah Flood-Beaubrun), in or outside the House, that suggested a special affinity with women, whether related to healthcare, on-the-job relations, spousal neglect, sexual discrimination, battered wives and so on? Have we ever heard from a parliamentarian on the disgraceful commonplace of pregnant ten- and eleven-year-olds? Has there been a useful word from our female health minister on the issue of VAT-rated medicine? (Please spare me any reference to NICE and her altruistic sisters!)
The evidence suggests Flavia Cherry is the only political activist who cares about uninvestigated rapes, abuse of young girls, incestuous fathers, serial rapists real and imagined, and so on. (It should also be pointed out that even Ms Cherry seems to be particularly careful about her choice of rapists and their victims to be spotlighted!)
Alas, the general public has caught the chicken’s disease that prevents our politicians from moving our country forward. Regular citizens, including those not desperately in need of STEP and the government’s other goodie carts, are too scared to express a viewpoint remotely contrary to the prime minister’s thinking.
And now, like his predecessors, Kenny Anthony has decided that what he did not hear and see with his own ears and eyes never happened. Silence, whether because of earplugs or palpable fear of victimization, translates into wall-to-wall endorsement. As if to drive home a point, this is what the prime minister said this week, while being interviewed by Andre Paul on the hot-button issue of VAT: “I am really happy to be here to help clarify and explain [the value added tax], because it is obvious that there is a lot of misinformation and some of it is understandable.”
He claimed also to “share concerns with people and to say to them that they must never ever think I am not listening . . . but at the same time it is helpful to clarify. I have always said there will be imperfections with the implementation of VAT and we have to have the courage to make adjustments. But of course the time of these adjustments would be a critical factor. It is a period that we have to scrutinize and assess carefully and it is a period that we have to be careful how we exercise our judgment. The point is that we have to have an open mind and if necessary make those adjustments down the road.”
As difficult as it was to discern when, by “we,” the prime minister referred to his government or to the payers of VAT, the irreducible truth is that the “imperfections” he conveniently takes for granted were always avoidable. Remember that VAT has been in the Saint Lucian atmosphere since 2000 or so. If during the last five years, when he led the opposition, the current prime minister had decided VAT was “inevitable,” surely he had sufficient time to consult with the leaders of the other islands who had already experienced the value added tax. Surely, by consulting in our best interests with the governments of Barbados, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and so on, our prime minister might have discovered the cited “imperfections” and avoided them when it came time to implement VAT. If he consulted them, then what did the cited governments tell our prime minister? If he never bothered, then why not?
In any event, waiting for the anticipated, doubtless inevitable imperfections to appear will prove costly to consumers and business houses—even as the government profits by the same imperfections, and for as long as the prime minister decides.
When Andre Paul asked him why he had chosen to impose the VAT rate of 15 percent and not a smaller amount, the prime minister said the answer was “very simple”: VAT was “a replacement tax, not a new tax” and had to be at a level that guaranteed government the same revenue collected before its implementation. Besides, we had no choice but to get in step with the rest of Caricom. (Wasn’t VAT designed to guarantee the government more lucrative collections?)
Finally, with clearly distressed callers questioning him about a number of VAT-rated items, including medical supplies, the prime minister—having done precisely what he had always insisted would be done regardless of protest—said: “It is very good that the people of Saint Lucia are engaged in public discussion on VAT. I am very proud of Saint Lucians. Everywhere that VAT is introduced, there has always been debate, there is always disagreement, there is always anxiety. And we’ve had our fair share here. But the message I get from Saint Lucians is ‘Look, we had no choice. At some point we had to do it. There are issues we have to deal with the issues. But the debate is not about the necessity of the measure.’ And for that I am exceedingly grateful and I want to thank the people of Saint Lucia.”
Imagine that: our prime minister is especially proud of us for having passively accepted, on his dictated terms, a tax system that in opposition he had denounced as “anti-poor, anti-worker and oppressive.” But then, had he not also introduced the so-called ID law under which the 2001 general elections were conducted, only to later declare it during the 2006 campaign “unconstitutional” and deserving of public protest, including civil disobedience and other disorderly conduct?
We need not discuss the environmental levy that when Kenny Anthony enacted it was wonderful, in the best interests of the nation and, as always, inevitable. Shortly before and after the 2011 elections that same law had abruptly become, by Anthony’s expert measure, “unconstitutional” —leaving Saint Lucia vulnerable to all kinds of legal problems.
I suspect the Saint Lucian of whom our prime minister is most proud resides in his gilded, full-length shaving mirror!

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