Once upon a time not so long ago observers of local politics readily acknowledged him as the epitome of everything wonderful: young and married with one child, he was a former math teacher who had selflessly given up tutoring at St Mary’s College to pursue a seat in parliament. A staunch member of the Seventh Day Adventist church, he had publicly pledged to serve God before all else—including his political ambitions. More than once he had assured cynical media representatives that should there come a time when he had to choose between, say, performing parliamentary duties after 6pm on a Friday and sticking to the letter of God’s law he would unhesitatingly stand by his faith. He had in a short time established his independence of mind by his open support of United Workers Party positions in the House, despite the expressed contrary views of his St Lucia Labour Party colleagues. It was an open secret that they resented his close friendship with fellow parliamentarian Jeannine Compton, daughter of the deceased prime minister.
Then there was the discombobulating declared SLP determination to make Taiwanese ambassador Tom Chou “as uncomfortable as the law allows,” a promise first given voice by the Soufriere MP Harold Dalson, not to say the Vieux Fort north MP who repeatedly described Taiwanese aid to Saint Lucia as “dirty money.” No surprise that Kenny Anthony and his fellow opposition MPs, save one, have famously absented themselves from all official functions attended by Mr Chou.
On the one occasion that the exception failed to show up despite an earlier written promise to attend an activity hosted by the Taiwanese embassy, he quickly let it be known that his secretary was at fault: he was off-island and she had taken it for granted her boss would accept Tom Chou’s invitation and accordingly responded in the affirmative. Alas, he had returned home too late to honour the ambassador with his presence. As usual, his party colleagues simply ignored the embassy’s invitation. Small wonder that pundits on both sides of the political divide came to see him as the perfect gentleman, the model husband and father, honest and always straightforward in his private and public dealings, absolutely respectful of the guaranteed constitutional rights of citizens, forever ready to acknowledge merit.
In short, almost from the moment he entered the House via the 2006 general election, he, not the established deputy leader Philip J. Pierre, was considered the breath of fresh air Saint Lucia had been praying for—and precisely the man to pick up the baton should it fall, for whatever reason, out of Kenny Anthony’s vice-like grip.
In more recent times, however, Robert Lewis Ph.D. has sounded more and more like an electioneering village politician on the campaign trail, by which I mean to say he seems far more concerned with maintaining the status quo, toeing the line, at every opportunity echoing his heavily-burdened party leader, whether in their public pronouncements or at special meetings convened for the precise purpose of boosting flagging confidence in Kenny Anthony’s leadership. If Mario Michel, in protest against the rewriting of their party’s constitution to accommodate Anthony’s leader-for-life ambition had abruptly flown the coop, it was soon obvious by all Robert Lewis said in the aftermath that he planned to emerge as his leader’s most loyal soldier, a dubious honour that for several years belonged to the earlier mentioned Pierre, the former tourism minister and current MP for East Castries.
Consider Lewis’ December 22 televised address, at the start of which he was introduced as the “SLP’s spokesman on crime and national security”—fair warning that what Lewis was about to serve TV viewers would most likely be warmed-over entrails from earlier Labour outings. For instance, there was this: “We in the Saint Lucia Labour Party appreciate your concerns about the crime situation in our country. The Saint Lucia Labour Party understands your pain and despair [did Kenny Anthony write this?] at the gross incompetence of the Stephenson King government in dealing with crime. We assure you that we have a vision, a vision that was unfolding before the 2006 elections . . .”
Earlier in his address, Lewis underscored the fact that the present government had “failed to deliver on its mandate on crime” and the people were “annoyed and disappointed.” They had “lost all hope in the empty talk and promises of this government” and the Labour Party was “ready to continue its fight against crime.”
In the New Year, Lewis promised, his party would convene an internal retreat “to review our crime-fighting policies, to be followed by a national symposium on crime.” Indeed, the first among the SLP’s proffered eight crime-fighting policies is “a national symposium on crime.” So much for crime victims who prayed for other than failed remedies.
In 2006, with some 42 murders recorded for the year (politicians have no interest in the cold-case murders of earlier years don’t you know), the Kenny Anthony government, conceivably in a last-ditch pre-election effort to assuage a population then as now “annoyed and disappointed with empty talk and promises” and the government’s failure to deliver on its mandate on crime, had set up a national crime symposium that was widely advertised as the panacea that would restore “the Saint Lucia we once knew and now yearn for.” In conspicuous attendance were the day’s massive minister for national security and other cabinet colleagues, including their leader the prime minister. At the head table sat Linwall James, then wearing his National Crime Commission hat, later to be renamed CAPS, and then police commissioner Ausbert Regis with several of his senior officers. The packed NIC conference room comprised what John Compton used to refer to as the nation’s “captains of commerce,” businessmen concerned for their immediate future, church dignitaries, little old ladies worried to death about “the rapists in our neighbourhood,” and the usual suspect fixtures at such occasions.
There could be no denying the frightening facts. The common complaint that had brought them together on the occasion was “crime in Saint Lucia was never worse,” an indisputable fact that the police blamed on “sophisticated criminals deported from the United States.” At question time a well-respected businessman whom the Kenny Anthony government had decorated
for his incalculable contributions to the
private sector stood up to recommend the implantation of microchips in all deportees, to enable the police to keep track of their nocturnal and other activities. Doubtless, the idea had come to him while watching The Dog Whisperer. Apparently microchips allow rich Americans to keep track of their over-pampered peripatetic pets.
The businessman’s suggestion was received with loud and sustained applause. In my own turn I underscored his obvious perspicacity for further advised that his idea be taken a step further. “Why not implant the microchips in every citizen above the age of eight?” I said. “This will not only allow parents to stay in touch with their daughters when the sun goes down
but it also help the police to spy on everyone else, including such as might be involved in white-collar crime.” The audience roared, as if indeed I had made a joke. Absolutely nothing came out of Kenny Anthony’s symposium that might have given local criminals cause for pause. Why then did Lewis imply otherwise? Indeed, better to ask why Lewis offered the symposium idea as his party’s very first blow against crime and altogether innovative?
What to make of Lewis’ second undertaking? “Seek a bipartisan approach to fighting crime by encouraging or appointing a select parliamentary committee on crime.” Did he mean to say a Labour government would on the one hand encourage a discouraged special crime committee already in existence and failing that the appointment of a new crime committee? After all, encouraging a committee and actually appointing one can hardly be the same. As for his promise to seek a bipartisan approach to crime, was the MP suggesting the present approach is partisan? If so, then who precisely is the biased dragonfly in the ointment?
The SLP offers more stale potatoes as its third crime-fighting weapon: “Institute incentives for the surrender of illegal firearms and a gun amnesty with the aim of reducing the number of guns in our streets.” I ask you, dear reader: What is it with the Labour Party and gun amnesties? And where precisely has Robert Lewis been these past several years that so much important history apparently flew past him unnoticed? In the late seventies, when Allan Louisy and George Odlum were waging their own kind of gang warfare in the House and in our streets and murder, daylight bank robberies, assaults on tourists and regular citizens alike were the order of the day, the Labour government established a gun amnesty the results of which should have taught us to forever tread carefully when dealing with criminals and their arsenals. Kenny Anthony’s gun amnesty fifteen years later had fared no better. But enough, the record is clear on the consequences—among them that what the Kenny Anthony government’s amnesty amounted to was a means by which legally to fund crime.
Nevertheless, it might be useful to ask: Where are the guns that were handed over during the 1979-2006 amnesties? Were they properly analyzed perchance some may have been involved in the several unsolved murders on the police books? Were the illegal guns handed over by their respective owners or by their mules? Did taxpayers reward the illegal gun owners equally, whether the weapons they handed over were effectively scrap metal? And what about the homemade variety? What reward did they fetch? Did the police note the identities of the criminals who profited from Kenny Anthony’s generosity? What were the tangible gains from the amnesty?
The Labour Party’s other ideas for bringing crime to more tolerable levels include providing the police with unspecified “requisite resources” to enhance the department’s intelligence-gathering capacity,
better behaved government leaders working to alleviate some of the social and economic conditions that encourage crime. Oh,
and by providing leadership that does not condone illegality and lawbreaking within its ranks.
For how much longer will be concerned only with the mote in the other guy’s eye? It will serve no useful purpose to restate here the number of murders committed during Kenny Anthony’s two terms in office. If today’s gunmen believe they can get away with murder, chances are they were so persuaded by the murders of Michael ‘Gaboo’ Alexander and several other earlier killings, all of them unresolved. It would do nothing to lower the present score for gun fatalities if I were to refer to murders committed in the 80s and 90s, still unaccounted for, long forgotten. We need answers, not more useless finger pointing.
As already stated several times, among the shortcomings shared by successive administrations is their proven inability to make an appreciable dent on crime. Compton failed us, despite his declared war on crime that permitted armed-to-the-teeth SSU personnel to bust without warrants into homes occupied mainly by our most deprived citizens. Hanging, though commonplace in his time, was evidently no deterrent to murder. Some who escaped Compton’s hangman were dispatched by his SSU on one pretext or another. But still we murder and rape and rob.
Kenny Anthony deserves congratulations for relocating our prison and treating the nation’s criminals as human beings. That Bordelais, now on the verge of becoming what was once referred to as our “black hole of Calcutta” is proof that crime continues unabated, regardless of government. What to do? At the risk of repeating myself, I say our police and government will continue to have negligible impact on crime if they ignore the lessons of history and instead continue to place their trust in the failed medicines that Dr Robert Lewis recently prescribed for the nation in the name of his party, albeit in shiny wrapping. We’ve got to come together against the killers and other lawbreakers, by which I mean to say both sides of the House must sit down and together acknowledge the failure of the crime-fighting endeavors undertaken by their respective administrations. The latest numbing crime figures are indisputable proof of that inconvenient truth.
If a united-against-crime House can acknowledge what we all know to be true despite our convenient denials, they just might decide to quit attacking each other on the issue of crime and instead focus their combined effort on crime itself. If as we say crime is our nation’s number-one problem, then it stands to reason it cannot be treated as if it were number five. Effective treatment of our premier social problem will demand tough sacrifices. We must be prepared to give in to the demands of crime fighting. Our political parties must all preach the same anti-crime gospel to their followers, in and outside the House. All parties must openly acknowledge their mistakes, instead of attempting to score off the other’s shortcomings. Government must undertake a campaign by which to recruit all Saint Lucians at home and abroad in the war on crime. (A lot more on that later!)
The church must enlist, as must every other local institution. The population must quickly be taught that law breaking is law breaking, no ifs or buts. The dumping of garbage in our streets by citizens must stop; the practice is illegal. Personal calls from office phones at our employers’ expense amounts to theft, no different from employees paying personal bills out of a store’s cash register. It is criminal behavior. We must quit throwing out of moving transit vans every conceivable variety of fast-food-related trash. Urinating in the street is similarly illegal, as is selling liquor to kids
less than 18 years old. To share liquor with children is illegal, again criminal behavior. If we all insist on correct behavior for ourselves and our children, if we take responsibility for what our children do and for what criminal bartenders and other pushers of drugs do to them, if we notify the police, we’ll be doing our bit to restore the environment we so often talk about but with no hope of ever again enjoying it.
And lest I be pointedly reminded, we must all become intolerant of behavior in office not supported by the Constitution of Saint Lucia. If the end always justifies the means, however illegal, then why seek to punish those who would blame their criminality on unemployment and
the need to feed and clothe their children? If we condone proven aberrant behavior on the part of our elected officials, whether related to Tuxedo Villas or Rochamel, how then can we legitimately complain when friends and relatives of assumed lesser mortals condone their illegal behavior? We must not only talk the talk of equality before the law, we must also walk the walk.
Crime may not be our business but it certainly is our responsibility. Let us all, as a nation united against crime, decide now to quit contributing to the business of criminals. Let us instead pledge to shut them down. It can be done, it must be done—or we’re done for!