Leaders Must Take The Road Less Traveled

Former Barbados Opposition Leader Mia Mottley.

On April 12 Saint Lucia is set to have a joint sitting of Parliament to discuss the issue of crime and security. The sitting has been a long time in coming and many Saint Lucians are looking for a definitive strategy from the government, which includes the opposition, on fighting crime. Equally, the country is looking for the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party and the United Workers Party government to work together on this issue.
Although for the last several weeks the rates of gun related crimes have dwindled, thanks some say to the police’s ‘Operation Restore Confidence’, St Lucians will not soon forget the blood that littered our streets throughout the month of January as police and criminals battled it out. And for some this quiet on the crime front that we are experiencing might well be the eye of the storm.
Following the passage of Hurricane Tomas in October of last year Saint Lucians came together and the political lines that divided us seemed to blur if only for a moment. Crime, I believe, can do more damage to our country than any hurricane ever could. The calls for years to not politicize crime have fallen on death ears, as almost everything in St Lucia seems to turn into a blame game.
What do we expect from our politicians on April 12? Well, we should expect them to check their political stripes at the door and remember first and foremost that they are Saint Lucians before they are red or yellow. Perhaps the National Anthem should be played or they can repeat their Oath of Office to remind them of their duty.
Though this is an election year and our leaders might be tempted to point fingers and want to underscore one another’s mistakes I urge them to instead understand and accept that both the United Workers Party and the Saint Lucia Labour Party governments have performed dismally on the crime issue and they faced the same challenges that still exist.
I recall earlier this year sitting at the funeral ceremony for banker Andrew Baptiste. He was the first murder for the year—a bullet to his head. Attending the funeral at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception were both the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister. While delivering the homily Father Jason Biscette made a passionate plea directly to our leaders.
“I see a number of politicians in church now,” he said, “tell us, show us, I beg you, that you are in fact serious about changing the culture of violence by sitting down with each other. Because you are setting the example of violence, not with guns and knives but with harsh words, and with the destruction of each other’s reputations. You are setting the example of violence and are showing our children that if this is your opponent what you do—useless, senseless, baseless criticism and counter criticism. And you expect anything better from the rest of us?”
Biscette even said he would be a mediator if the UWP and SLP leaders were to meet and discuss crime.
“Forget what two letters come before your “P” and focus on the fact that you both have “P”. You both have something in common. You both, I hope, have some goal, some vision in common which is to change the reality. Begin from that reality—that you both have something that you are aiming towards and work from there. And agree to disagree when that is necessary. Because the evil one who is leading the war against us, is having a hearty time. He looks at us and he says, yes, they know what’s wrong, but they don’t
have the testicular fortitude to do what they have to do to stop it.”
So do our leaders have the testicular fortitude? Do they have the balls to stop the hate and by extension the violence, in an election year and do what is right for Saint Lucia?
With these thoughts in mind I watched the Barbados Labour Party’s Mia Mottley as she spoke on the Appropriations Bill 2011/2012 in that country recently. Now, that lady has balls. Seemingly setting her party affiliation aside, the former Opposition Leader and current representative for St Michael North East, made a very important point about the way politicians had been carrying out the business of that country seemingly oblivious to the issues the people faced. A point that could easily be applied to Saint Lucia’s own parliamentary sittings which often turns to a blame game that is of no benefit. St Lucians hardly even pay attention to what goes on in the House of Assembly anymore.
Mottley began her presentation by stating plainly that she was not happy with the level of debate over the Bill.
“I rise in this debate cognizant that what is before this very chamber is in essence a set of figures that is to reflect the program of the government of Barbados based on estimates as to how much money will be earned and based on a program of expenditure. And while that is the immediate issue at hand one cannot help but start my contribution without reflecting on a few things that jumped home to me yesterday and today while listening to the speeches thus far,” she said. “I listened to the minister of finance and I could easily have been listening to the minister of finance on our side a few years ago. I listened to members on that side seek to justify and prescribe blame to the Barbados Labour Party and I listened to members on our side seeking to prescribe blame to the Democratic Labour Party. How many people out there are really interested in who is to blame other than it will become a relevant consideration at the point of an election? I concede that. But in terms of the ability to buy food this week, in terms of the ability to pay for the increased gas, particularly LPG, in terms of their ability to pay their rent or to recognize that they are now paying increased light bills, people are not interested in that debate that is taking place in here.”
By Mottley’s measure Barbadians were interested “in what the government is going to do in the next year and they are interested in if we are continuing to ask people in this country to make sacrifices, what are we making them in aid of, where are you taking me so that I know that even if I am to make a sacrifice in the broader interest of this country I know my destination point, I know where I am going.”
The Opposition Member went on: “I fear Sir that as a collective, all of us, have not met that objective. And I fear in failing to meet that objective at this juncture when our buffer, our room for maneuvering is so minimal, that we do so at our peril but greater so at the peril of the confidence of the population in the class that governs them. I say so Sir cognizant that this is not a zero sum game, there is no clear winner or loser, there is no clear monopoly to information or solutions.
But what we are asking for is for a country to pull together at its most difficult period in post independence Barbados.     Whether triggered by international economic factors or domestic policy considerations by whichever government. Those with surpluses, those with deficits, it matters not, but what matters is where we take the country and what we ask of each other in taking the country to that destination. I therefore pray that in the remaining days ahead of us that we will come in to connection with the reality of the expectations of those whom we represent. They are aware of the acute nature of circumstances . . .
“They are aware that something is amiss, they know that they are carrying home less money, and they are having less money to meet increased costs. They know if they are small businesses that they are struggling to keep their heads above water because much of the disposable income that our citizens would have otherwise had in order to get a manicure, pedicure or go to the hairdresser, in order to buy things that you would normally buy for your children, in order to let them go to the movies with their friends  . . . . they know they cannot do that with the ease they did before. They know they have to start to grow vegetables in their back yards because they don’t have the option of being able to buy vegetables in the supermarket at high cost.
“So what is our response?” Mottley asked her colleagues. “When our car breaks down we go to a mechanic! Equally, if we are feeling poorly, if our stomachs are hurting, and the remedies that we have inherited are no longer working we go to the doctor. If there is a problem in the country in relation to how the society and the economy is evolving, households, workers, everyone, they expect that we who occupy the chambers of the legislature and the government are equal to the task of fixing it. If there is one message in this debate that is as clear as punch, it is that there must be a fresh guard. Not a fresh guard for the Barbados Labour Party or the Democratic Labour Party but a fresh guard for the government of Barbados and the development policies that we have been adhering to since independence. Not a fresh guard for the minister of finance or the shadow
minister of finance but a fresh guard for a country that can no longer depend on significant import duties . . .
“There are difficult decisions,” she said. “I ask the government in all sincerity to establish a framework for a national dialogue. Politicians are afraid to be the ones to put out there anything that will lead to the dislocation of any particular group. But the bald reality is that if we don’t adjust and restructure we are all going to go down the slippery slopes. I don’t know when but I know for sure we will go. I believe that the prime minister has a unique opportunity. One cast on his shoulders by history but one from which I believe he should have the courage to confront fully. It is not a case of anybody expecting that there is a monopoly of information on any one side or in any one group.”
In Barbados Mottley’s contribution to the national debate was lauded. An article in The Bajan Reporter stated: “Those who were waiting for tribal politics and vilification of the Minister of Finance and the DLP would have felt let-down, but those who wish Barbados well and want it to succeed, must still be smiling.”
Don’t our politicians wish St Lucia well? In fact, shouldn’t our politicians wish Saint Lucia well? Isn’t it clear that no one benefits from a high crime rate in the
end? Is it not clear that in fact none of us are safe from crime?
When they meet on April 12, I would hope our politicians would take the high road that Barbados’ Mia Mottley has taken. And as we later proceed to the budget debate of 2011-2012 in St Lucia I hope that the media could write and report on the stately and mature contributions made in our House of Assembly. I am sure most St Lucians will be watching with cautious optimism.
As I write, already the Joint Sitting of Parliament has been tainted by talk of who came up with the idea in the first place. The SLP PRO can be heard over the news accusing the government of hijacking the idea which the Labour Party says was first proposed by Labour MP Robert Lewis. The government has in turn responded by press release accusing the Labour Party of narrow political interest.
It seems our politicians appear bent on walking the path to nowhere.

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