With the advent of every new year universally people seek to abandon bad and negative habits and proceed on a path of positive endeavour. Among the things persons resolve to do are quit smoking, the deadly sin of gluttony, excessive drinking, reckless carnality, that all contribute to the dissipation of our creative energies and are a danger to our health. In the case of nations, progressive governments embark on a path that contributes to improved national development, curtail wasteful expenditure and re-evaluate the implementation of projects whose objectives are not being realized.
In this spirit of renewal and re-orientation, I submit an objective judgement of an issue in our political arena that has bothered me for some time now by its absurdity, on which we have all remained silent. I do not make mindless criticism for its own sake, but that which is positive and objective. One would think that with two Nobel Laureates, Derek Walcott and Sir Arthur Lewis, emerging from a tiny space like St Lucia, that we as St Lucians would seek to emulate by just skirting the levels of their exemplary achievements by demonstrating some greater level intelligence.
Instead we have earned the dubious designation of being lumped among the dumbest people in the world by a study which appalled and offended our sensibilities. The fact remains that we are a gullible people, easily conned, exceedingly tolerant, who would sell our patrimony for a mess of pottage, because we stand up for nothing and we are afraid to speak out or call a spade, a spade.
We have for a period of four years been subject to a barrage of pronouncements from a group of self-promoters in the Untied States calling themselves the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM). Last week we were subject to yet another inane press release from the LPM proposing that salaries for parliamentarians and ministers in St Lucia should be reverted to 1997 levels. These altruistic gentlemen would have us believe that if St Lucians were dumb enough to vote them into office they would accept in 2011, salaries which were applicable in St Lucia fourteen years ago. If one examines the estimates of expenditure for that period, one would discover that a Prime Minister’s annual basic salary was $85,702.00, which works out to $7,141.00 per month. An executive of any corporate entity in St Lucia today would not work for such a salary.
In all these asinine suggestions the LPM is aided and abetted by our local media which dutifully reports every lame press release and inane ramblings of the LPM, lecturing the government on a range of issues, and even dismissing the main opposition party in the country, and presenting themselves as the real alternative party to manage the affairs of the country.
These gentlemen in New York are basking in an attention and significance that has been ascribed to them by our media as serious contenders in the politics of St Lucia, that they are not. It is time we in St Lucia treat those farcical groups with the contempt they deserve. I declare that these men display a naivete and a distinct lack of knowledge of the rudimentary principles or knowledge of political science or elective politics.
Politics is not an activity that can be conducted by remote control from some safe haven overseas, while the people you purport to want to represent are catching their royals at home. First of all any serious political aspirant should educate himself on the entrenched cultural and social attitudes of the people they wish to represent. It is preposterous to think that anyone can stay from a distance away, and be considered a serious contender in local politics. The cultural traits and orientation of the St Lucian electorate make it an exercise in futility to get citizens to vote for anyone residing in a foreign capital.
The cultural and historical orientation of our people is such that the people who want to represent them must be around to identify and feel their problems, experience their pain and their suffering. The people form an attachment to the political aspirant who identifies with their deprivations and can articulate those needs and offer solutions.
Historically therefore, when one examines the record of political representation in St Lucia, the people tend to choose those persons who they consider to have a superior intellect to themselves and have acquired knowledge and skills which are held in high esteem by ordinary people. That is why our politics has and continues to be dominated by lawyers, doctors, other professionals and community and worker activists such as trade unionists.
There is also the strong consideration by the rank and file of the general electorate that these men, trained overseas, have made sacrifices by returning to their homeland when they could have pursued lucrative careers elsewhere. Our political landscape is littered with such men who dominated our politics for decades such as Sir John Compton who studied at the London School of Economics in the 1950s, still the premier institution in the world for the study of economics, which today only the brightest can enter. With that impressive education Sir John could have stayed in Europe instead of returning to the back water of St Lucia. His historical fight for the sugar-cane workers is well documented. The Mason brothers, Carl La Corbiniere, Henry Giraudy, Dr Vincent Monrose, Hunter Francois, Sir George Charles, Kenneth Foster, a man of international repute as a criminal lawyer; George Odlum who could have had an impressive career in the Commonwealth Secretariat or the United Nations for his brilliant oratory and erudition, and even down to our former Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, who could be lecturing at some international university. All these men, too numerous to mention could have retreated to safe havens with distinguished jobs overseas, but chose to wade in the trenches with mud on their boots as they commiserated with the poor and the wretched of St Lucia, and enlightened them. All these men made significant contribution to the political, social, educational and economic development of St. Lucia.
I recall an address given by the late George Odlum on the market steps, which illustrated the categorical imperative that anyone wishing to participate in local politics must be on the ground, in the tenches with the people. From their safe perches in New York, members of the LPM complain about crime in St Lucia. Do they experience the fear St Lucians feel? Do they experience the daily struggle of the lives of St Lucians living in St Lucia? The cost of goods on supermarket shelves; the cost of gasoline at the pumps, the cost of purchasing an automobile in St Lucia; the availability of health care and of dealing with certain fatal diseases for which we do not have the facilities? Any commodity purchased in St Lucia costs triple what it does in the US.
George Odlum asked Dr Vaughan Lewis, an esteemed academic, who despite his political aspirations never developed a symbiotic relationship with the ordinary people of St Lucia, the following question, taken from the famous spiritual hymn which before had asked “Were you there when they crucified the Lord? Were you there? Were you there when they nailed him to the cross? Were you there?”
In dramatic tones George would used the biblical sentiments in rhetorical terms to ask Dr Lewis, “Were you there when we led the people of St Lucia in the fight for better jobs for St Lucians? Were you there when we marched on the streets of Castries and in the valleys with the banana farmers? Were you there?” George listed a number of issues raised by the Forum and his battles in the SLP for the people of St Lucia. George understood the cultural beliefs that informed the thinking of St Lucians which determine their outlook in politics. Today Dr Vaughan Lewis is a failed politician, despite his impressive academic credentials, because he failed to establish a bond with the people. The lesson to be derived from this is that to be a successful politician you must develop a social relationship with the people of the country.
There is nothing that is reflected in the lives of the members of the LPM which demonstrates that they are capable of improving the lives of St Lucians. After living and working in the United States for decades, the bastion of business enterprise and ideas, these men have shown no entrepreneurial foresight or ingenuity, in taking advantage of opportunities available at the earlier stage of St Lucia’s development, to establish business enterprises, purchase land capital which could provide an economic foundation for themselves in St Lucia and create employment for St Lucians. Ideally anyone wanting to participate in St Lucian politics should be one of independent means.
With elections due in eleven months time, shouldn’t the members of the LPM be giving up their safe perches in the US, relocate to St Lucia, and be engaged in work on the ground, spreading their message, and introducing us to the seventeen non-existent candidates that they claim they have to contest the elections? I will assert that these men for the extensive period they have lived in the United States must be in possession of American passports and are declared US citizens. How do they propose to deal with that particular obstacle of dual citizenship which precludes them from participating in elective politics in St. Lucia.
Gentlemen, the game is up. In no other jurisdiction in the Caribbean would such farce or pappyshow be encouraged or tolerated. They would be laughed off the stage. I have made an objective judgement which these gentlemen should heed and act accordingly. It is time they are relegated to the dustbin of St Lucia’s political history.