Pie in the sky

“Dr Anthony is well known for the bombastic nonsense of his market-step speeches, but sometimes his “supreme confidence” is worryingly close to, shall we say, a diminished sense of reality.”

In his introduction to his address “A search for new resolve and commitment” delivered at the formal opening of the 54th meting of the OECS authority, Dr Anthony reminisced on the celebratory mood of five years ago and the lack of foresight that blinded him from anticipating the global financial and economic crisis that we now witness. He characterized his years in opposition as his “period of purgatory”, which, as all good Roman Catholics know, is the place in which souls remain until they have expiated their sins before they go to heaven, otherwise called, in Kennyspeak, the opposition benches in the House of Assembly in St Lucia – benches being a modest description of the luxurious armchairs they swing to and fro in during longwinded speeches.

During his time in purgatory, Dr Anthony went on to say, he had the opportunity to reflect on ways of “placing our people sustainably at the forefront of a modern global community.” Accordingly, he had recommitted himself to seeing that work advance, in his country and inevitably, within the OECS region, which may explain why he travels abroad so much. When Dr Anthony speaks of his own prowess, he knows no modesty; he is about to change the world by having the Caribbean lead the charge, to where we know not, with all the “great” nations of the world tagging along behind. I mean, seriously, does anyone buy this twaddle?

One of the first things anyone must do in order to ameliorate a difficult or disturbing situation or condition is to recognize the reality of that state. Anyone who believes that there is the slightest chance of the Caribbean peoples being “at the forefront of a modern global community” is either delusional and belongs in cloud-cuckoo-land, or believes his audience is too dumb to understand what he is saying. Are New York, London, Paris and Beijing about to step back in time and imitate Castries? Dr Anthony is clearly out of touch with reality, is long on rhetoric, woefully short on practicalities, and has yet to wake up and smell the coffee.

Dr Anthony is well known for the bombastic nonsense of his market-step speeches, but sometimes his “supreme confidence” is worryingly close to, shall we say, a diminished sense of reality. Does anyone, even Dr Anthony, really believe that the small islands of the Eastern Caribbean possess the “capacity for global leadership through the sheer power of their ideas and examples”?

Mark well, Dr Anthony is not here speaking of the masses; he is referring to the intellectual, moral, ethical, imaginative, inspirational giants who lead the countries of the eastern Caribbean and should, in his mind, be leading the world through the “sheer power of their ideas and examples.” Without delving further, would anyone in St Lucia like to live in a world run by Antiguans?

In all probability, the OECS Heads of Government heaved a sigh of relief when it became apparent that Dr Anthony, before going on to conquer the world, intended to “to provide encouragement and example to our colleagues in the wider region, in particular CARICOM.” Well, yes and no, I mean, have Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad ever looked to their smaller brethren for encouragement and example? And how was he going to provide encouragement and example? Simple: “by successfully operationalizing the OECS Economic Union.”

Dr Anthony went on to say, “On June 18, 2011, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the 1981 signing of the original Treaty of Basseterre. What should for us have been a momentous occasion passed quietly. Indeed, there was very little by way of public fanfare, media coverage or political comment. And this, in the very year that the OECS Economic Union was pronounced operational!”

I suppose if something is pronounced “operational”, it still needs “operationalizing”, which is, of course the perennial West Indian problem of a lack of implementation; in other words, lots of words, little action. Dr Anthony, always one to turn a blind eye to the failures of friends and colleagues, finds the reason for this lack of interest in the signing 30 years ago of a treaty in Basseterre in the diligence of his fellow leaders in grappling with present-day problems.

He put it this way, “Our preoccupation with day-to-day undertakings, grappling with pressing problems and immediate imperatives of these difficult times, we – politicians, academics, journalists, business-people and ordinary folk – have lost sight of the significant, the strategic, the heroic subject in the bigger picture: our own progress toward self-realisation as a single people.”

Dr Anthony believes, obviously, that leaders should devote more time to “significant, strategic and heroic” reminiscences of the past and dreams of the future, and not waste too much time with everyday problems. Little wonder then, that he had no idea five years ago, as he himself admitted in his address, that a global crisis was just around the corner. Marie-Antoinette, the Queen consort of Louis XVI of France, is supposed to have said, when told that the French populace had no bread to eat, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” or “Let them eat brioche” (brioche is a form of cake made of flour, butter and eggs) indicating that Marie-Antoinette understood little about the plight of the poor and cared even less.

It would seem that Dr Anthony is advocating in his speech that Caribbean leaders should spend less time tacking everyday problems that affect the lives of their fellow citizens and concentrate on “the bigger picture: our own progress toward self-realisation as a single people.” Indeed he goes on to say, “we need to overcome the frenetic engagement in daily crisis management – the urgent and frantic quenching of fires both real and imagined – in order to focus on that which is truly important and strategic to our cause. Colleagues, if we continue to neglect matters of significant, long-term importance in favour of the picayune “immediacies” of the ordinary and the mundane, then I suggest that our quest for development will come to naught.”

I think Dr Anthony will find that most people would like the fires that threaten their houses to be extinguished before they start dreaming of a mansion on a hilltop. In a lucid moment of reality, Dr. Anthony recognized that “our leaders” have failed. He added, “We need to end the cynicism that has be-devilled our efforts in the past at deepening our integration efforts. We must persuade our citizens to believe in us, to trust us as we embark on this journey to create an economic union. We must, by our example, collectively and individually, build confidence by implementing what we have agreed.”

Sometimes, Dr Anthony loses me; or perhaps I cannot believe what I am reading. He insists the “we have to commit unreservedly to the logic of collective sovereignty” and this scares me because I cannot believe he means what he says. What the blazes is “collective sovereignty”? Sometimes, one comes across statements that would embarrass a CXC examiner whilst marking essays, “Regional integration, like every other idea, begins in the mind, and will flourish as long as there is manifest commitment to its achievement.” Uh? And how about this one? “As such, a psychological renaissance needs to take place which begins with the sharing of ownership with our people. Integration cannot be the sole preserve of Governments.

Similarly, it is imperative that we see our endowment of regional resources as a common endowment, and do everything necessary and possible to ensure that our nationals, who are our collective constituency, have access and expertise sufficient to develop this endowment, equitably and fairly.” Dream on! Now far be it for me to contradict Dr Anthony, but I am pretty certain that the Caribbean is renowned for its laid-back approach to life, the carnival solutions to problems, the calypso economics approach to government. I have never, ever heard anyone refer to the Caribbean as a region of “considerable resourcefulness”, except when referring to easy living, avoiding work, and enjoying life to the full. And what’s wrong with that? Don’t stop the carnival!

Interestingly, unlike the prime minister who famously declared that the world economy was on the up and that tourist receipts would be once again flying high in six months’ time, Dr Anthony reiterated the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank forecast that “the near-term macroeconomic and financial outlook for the ECCU area remains highly uncertain”.

Well, I guess Dr Anthony tailors his remarks to his audience. Finally, Dr Anthony returns to his theme of world leadership: “The deepening and strengthening of our Union is the means through which we can make an indelible mark on the world … The OECS can point the way forward, forging alternative pathways to peace, prosperity and progress.” I suppose there’s a chance he might be right …but then again, maybe not.

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