SLP Faces Governing Reality!

The “En Rouge” euphoria that swept the St Lucia Labour Party to victory at the November 28, 2011 general election has been overtaken by the practicality and reality of governance.  It is clear that the advent of 24/7 television availability and the rapid pace at which information is transmitted places greater urgency on governments to act promptly.             In an era of instant messages, e-mails, texting, tweeting and Facebook, the turtle’s-pace decision-making caused by the bureaucracy of government’s policy-making machinery seems far removed from this microwave generation. So it is not strange that with only 67 days into a new administration, some people are beginning to question the speed at which the government is moving. A quiet restlessness is in the atmosphere. Is this an early sign of buyer’s remorse? Or just another case of  impatience with governance?
The promised reconstruction and cleaning up will be no walk in the park. As I write the St. Lucia Teachers Union has given the government notice of an explosive situation at the Department of Education. The union has made clear its position where the permanent secretary is concerned. There is also the matter of police commissioner Ausbert Regis that must soon be settled, not to mention the rebuilding of the country’s image abroad.                 On a more positive note: I am reliably informed that a mere two weeks after he became Infrastructure Minister, Philip J Pierre, predictably, had already initiated physical works on the devastated Barre de L’isle.
The electorate no doubt understands that the government requires time to make sound, informed and principled decisions. How long will depend on proof of the government’s efforts. The Kenny Anthony administration has demonstrated its early commitment not to sink by its Blue Print for Growth. Its readiness to govern from day one is evident by the immediate implementation of the STEP Program upon assumption of office. This was an initial act of good faith. Different folks play different strokes on STEP, but the bottom line is that STEP is an extremely useful social engineering innovation, somewhat akin to social welfare in the developed countries, except that the SLP government makes you work for your check.
The imposition of a tax amnesty is yet another good sign that the government is thinking about ways to rebound the economy and induce confidence in the business sector. The Office of Private Sector Relations (OPSR), an original SLP instrument, must be revitalized and given new life.
The indisputable fact is that there is no quick fix to the myriad of problems this government has inherited. Six weeks into a new year, the island had already recorded its 7th homicide. There is need for a partnership between the private sector and the state for the installation of CCTVs on all major business places in downtown Castries. Government and the business sector can join hands in covering the cost of monitoring, while duty-free concessions are given to businesses that purchase the necessary surveillance equipment. (It’s only fair to acknowledge the previous government inherited in 2006 an unprecedented crime rate—more sobering truth that crime is no respecter of governments and should not be politicized for political gain!)
The problems of the police force are decades old. Administrations past and present have failed to deal successfully with the nagging issues. Former Prime Minister John Compton had famously said too many police officers were “using their uniforms as cover for criminal behavior.”                 After multiple terms in office, he handed the SLP a disorganized and poorly administered police force that became even more fragmented during the 1979-82 period. This new SLP administration now has another opportunity to restructure and reorganize a Force capable of serving and protecting the nation.
Simultaneously, the new government must move with laser-like focus to make good on its promises of “jobs, jobs, jobs.” We expect during the upcoming budget presentation some time in April that the PM will outline a fiscal package that includes financial allocations in keeping with his campaign promise of injecting $100 million into the economy. The creation of new jobs is as much a major challenge to this administration as it was to its immediate predecessor. Prolonged global recession means our trading partners are still sorting out ways to generate growth in their own economies. But the forecast may not be all bleak. Last week the US economy created more than 250,000 new jobs and unemployment fell from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent. It remains to be seen if Saint Lucia benefits from such news.
In these challenging and uncertain economic times, the government must think completely out of the box to find imaginative and innovative ways to reignite economic growth. It must contribute to a business climate that creates confidence. Government will have to find ways to achieve more with less, by streamlining government services and making them more efficient and more effective. The era of a bloated public service must come to an end. Filling overseas missions with square-peg-in-round-hole party loyalists must be a thing of the past.
The new SLP administration must give a new mandate to our diplomats and overseas missions to transform these entities into agents of job creation for the homeland. In this regard the appointment of the talented Dr Vaughan Lewis as Adviser on External Affairs is a magnificent move by the new Labour government. Dr Lewis must chair a governmental-private sector task force, advising all interested overseas-based St Lucian organizations, to promote trade and help advertise St Lucia in their respective locations.
The focus must be on getting St Lucian goods into new overseas markets and an effective well-trained small force to keep St Lucia’s interests on the front burner at the United Nations. It is clear that to date those grassroots organizations in the United States have proven to be more successful in mobilizing St Lucians than any of its overseas missions, where unqualified party hacks have been traditionally sent to lime and retire in style. The recently removed UWP government took the cake on that score, rewarding several UWP square-pegs with lavish jobs in Washington, New York, London, Cuba, Canada, etc, all on the backs of our poor, struggling taxpayers. Presumably the new government will not follow suit!
Finally, the government must innovatively and intelligently use the bully pulpit to effectively mobilize the country for the sacrifices that are required for genuine development. St Lucians of all persuasions must be called upon to participate in the process. For my part, I will be as vigilant as ever, with my take no prisoners attitude in my analysis of the issues, though the heavens fall. All hands must be on deck. There is a lot of mud to wet-up and rake away. The election campaign is over. It is time to govern!

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