The Revolving Door of St Lucian Politics

I made a deliberate decision to keep my peace and refrain from writing prior to, during, or immediately after the general elections of 28th November, 2011.  Now, approximately three months later and past the magic 100 days after the elections, a certain disenchantment has set in, because to my mind the majority of St Lucians were deceived by the apparent transformation of our newly elected Prime Minister from the inclusiveness he promised to the exclusivity now in evidence.
At the swearing-in ceremony which took place at Government House on the 29th November, a newly minted, contrite and humble Kenny Anthony, with a Bible in hand, could not control his emotions, as his voice broke, and gave a speech promising a new dispensation which would include all St Lucians.  The emotionally charged speech contained many surprises, chief among them the announcement that he would not serve for more than three years as Prime Minister of the country.
The elections of 28th November 2011, demonstrated a maturity by the electorate of this country, and the full realization by  the people that ultimate power lies in their hands.  That the will of the people supersedes all other considerations in the expression of the people.  Therefore in the final analysis the fate of every politician lies in the hands of the people.  In an instant, the status quo is altered.  In one instant you are trotting the globe, travelling at taxpayers’ expense, with your every utterance broadcast as kernels of great knowledge and wisdom, and in the next instant you are humbled, brought down to reality with a crash, like a Christmas firework that is fired in the air and splutters to the ground and trampled on.  Yesterday you were held in high esteem and listened to respectfully, today you are held in contempt and ignored.  It is a chastening experience.
If the election of 2011 is to be taken in a historical context, it marked a turning point when the electorate came of age and came to full maturity.  There was no extreme violence or political turmoil, just a quiet determination with a decision based on the moral imperative that faced the country.  No amount of money expended at the last minute could influence the general public in their belief that there was widespread corruption by politicians who instead of pursuing things in the national interest and the needs of their constituencies, were looking purely after themselves.
However, assessing the recent actions and moves made by the present administration, which are at variance with the stated expressions of its leader, I ask,  why are persons without special reputations or outstanding skills, or entrepreneurial background, with no record of economic achievement, being appointed to manage important institutions in the country?  Why must we have persons as chairpersons and board members of vital constitutions simply because of their affiliation to the party?  From an ethical standpoint, why do we have persons well known to the general public as dishonourable men with no moral integrity being put in positions of overseeing the conduct of constitutional institutions in the country?
It is of great concern to me as a tax-paying citizen, that despite all the criticisms that were leveled against the Stephenson King administration, that the actions and pronouncements of the current leader are contradictory to those uttered when in opposition.
Case in point was Kenny Anthony’s criticism of the management of the economy, giving the impression that under his brilliant economic management, that St Lucia would be enjoying economic prosperity, excelling in its economic strides and performance, despite the debilitating economic tsunami that has destroyed the economies of some of the most powerful countries in the world and brought them on the brink of disaster.  Now we hear a different song being sung, warning St Lucians of tough times ahead, because we can no longer depend on foreign assistance because of the prolonged crisis that has hit the world’s leading economies.  If one is not politically biased, with the entire globe under siege, St Lucia performed remarkably well economically under Stephenson King, getting good grades from the IMF and World Bank.
In the global village that we live in, we read and have seen people by the thousands abandoning homes while the formerly employed in the developed countries have had to resort to food kitchens for a meal.  Whilst here in St Lucia there were no massive layoffs, and no air of doom and gloom.  Instead people went about their business with an air of optimism.
Yet in the midst of all of this and our limited financial resources, this government is now indulging in mindless, fruitless excursions overseas.  Just three days after being elected to office Kenny Anthony was jetting off to Venezuela to attend a meeting organized by the erratic and eccentric Hugo Chavez.  Chavez inane idea which I shall instead describe as insane,  is to establish a trading block to rival the United States, Canada and the more stable democratic countries of Latin America such as Brazil, and the English-speaking Caribbean.
How can Chavez compete with an organization headed by two of the leading economies and democratic countries of the world, the U.S. and Canada, when 50–74 percent of Venezuela’s oil is exported to the U.S., which is Venezuela’s biggest oil importer.  (The miracle of the world-wide web is available for all to verify). Venezuela’s Chavez is regarded as merely a fly on the elephant’s back, full of noise and bluster, by the United States.
Why would Kenny want to jeopardize the future of St Lucians looking to advance themselves academically and economically, and exploit opportunities for a better life abroad that can best be realized in free democratic countries such as Canada and the United States?  Doesn’t Kenny Anthony know what the consequences for St Lucia could be if he joins ALBA?
The next mindless foray overseas was the delegation sent to attend the 23rd Session of CARICOM in Suriname from 8th – 9th  March.  The delegation comprised Prime Minister, Kenny Anthony, Foreign Minister, Alva Baptiste, Consultant in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr Vaughan Lewis, and St Lucia’s Ambassador to CARICOM, Dr June Soomer.  Do small economies like St Lucia need to send large delegations overseas which in my simple mind I find totally unnecessary, in what could be accomplished by a Minister accompanied by a technical expert?
This meeting in Suriname was being held just when a damning report was just released to CARICOM, stating ominously that the situation in CARICOM is such that member states are unable to pay their full contributions and highlights the constraints of size of some of its member territories and stating that  “the situation is sufficiently severe to put CARICOM’s very existence in question.”  Amidst all this, Guyana, one of the major beneficiaries of the initiative, because the headquarters are based in the country, violates one of the core principles of the organization, which is the free movement of CARICOM people, imposing visa restrictions on visiting CARICOM nationals.
Fact: Politicians on assuming office conveniently forget their solemn pronouncements of transparency, accountability and ethical government, but change course immediately on taking a sip of the drug of political office.  Kenny Anthony, it seems, has quickly forgotten the deep depression he suffered in 2006 at the hands of octogenarian Sir John Compton.
For us in St Lucia, it seems changing political parties does not alter the circumstances for the citizens, but results in the same situation or worsened circumstances.
What lessons did we learn from the previous administration’s handling of issues in health, agriculture, unemployment, crime, education and housing?   Can we point to any advances in the past fourteen years, with nine years under Labour 1997 – 2006, and five years under UWP when Compton was not at the helm of the government, in improving health care for our people, crime, and providing homes?
St Lucia is not a sophisticated economy.  With a population of approximately 160,000, it would be regarded as a small provincial town in contrast to any developed country.  We have no indigenous scientists doing advanced research in any field or endeavour in our educational institutions or universities which have impacted the world.  Youngsters in their dorms at universities in the United States have developed scientific technologies that have revolutionized the world.  In our part of the world we languish at the basic level and do not go beyond.
A classic case in point is the  ‘black sigatoka’  disease that is decimating our banana industry at the moment.  While ministerial delegations are running helter skelter seeking solutions to the problem from Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, shouldn’t we as a people, with our universities, with departments of agriculture, which have been in operation for decades, turn to our own institutions to come up with solutions which are endemic to our region? Why don’t our highly qualified academics engage in research and development, rather then be engaged as pen pushers, shuffling papers around a desk and pronouncing on matters of which they are not qualified to talk and doing administrative work that ordinary level servants can perform?
What is the political economic crisis that faces us?  Do we need sophisticated charts and analysis to determine what is essential to be done in our economy?
The most successful leader from a development perspective in St Lucia’s history has been Sir John Compton.  He it is, who is responsible for transforming St Lucia into the glittering mecca that it is in the Caribbean.  He adopted a humanistic approach as the most appropriate way of understanding almost everything we do in a small economy.  Assess the economic conditions of what was needed to improve the lot of the inhabitants of a small island by looking at our economic realities.  He recognized that his main focus would be the creation of jobs, and would therefore depend on the development of tourism, agriculture, and small manufacturing, his famous tripod.  We do not have any vital mineral resources such as oil, gold, silver, copper, uranium, iron ore, among the most sought after commodities in the world.
Sir John therefore identified the north of the island as the mecca for tourism, because of the abundance of accessible beaches to the north of the island.  But there was a major obstacle, a mosquito and sandfly infested swamp.                  Against stiff resistance, he first expanded the one-track road from Castries to Gros Islet into a highway, and commissioned the draining of the Gros Islet swamp.  This has made the north of the island the most sought after and expensive real estate in the country today, spawning a magnificent yachting marina, the most palatial homes in the country, and the expansion of commercial enterprises.  On approaching the once sleepy town of Gros Islet, you are greeted by a glittering vista.
To stimulate the economy even further, he built a multitude of low and middle income housing projects, which would create employment on a vast scale for engineers, electricians, plumbers, masons, carpenters, painters, steel-benders, block making establishments, and for businesses, the importation of cement, steel and material for the roofs of houses.
There was the need for the infrastructural work of electrification, roads, drains, pipe-borne water and the use of  heavy duty equipment.  Of course there would be the subsidiary beneficiaries:  the office workers, the clerks the restaurants, the businesses that would all benefit from the increased demand of sales of furniture, lumber and household appliances.  The exponential expansion of the economy was mind-boggling.
There was an unprecedented economic boom in St Lucia at the time, while the rest of the islands lagged behind, and whose citizens look in awe at St Lucia when they come to visit.  This economic boom even spawned a song, popular in St Lucia at the time.  “Happiness con si, Happiness con sa, Happiness ka fan chou nou!”  I wonder if many recall that ditty?
The record shows that not one original housing project was ever created by the party that purports to represent the interests of the working class, during its tenure in office from 1997– 2006.
So when Kenny Anthony talks mindlessly about jobs, jobs, jobs, doesn’t he recognize that only a vigorous housing programme can effectively stimulate the economy at this juncture which would create massive employment, because of the severe housing shortages in St Lucia, that is bankrupting the ordinary worker; unable to save, because of high rentals due to this housing shortage.
The other issue I wish to address, but that is for another article, is the strangle hold of high rates of interest charged by banks in the region for borrowing.  In the prosperous United States banks pay 0.25 percent  to borrow from the Federal Government, and banks lend money to customers at 3.25 percent.  In St Lucia businesses and mortgages are at 12 percent  to 15 percent.  When will our leaders put those ruinous rates high on their agenda?
Because we are operating in a democracy, political commentators and academics have the right to critically analyze the operations and direction the government is taking.  But in St Lucia we all know that we live in an intellectual desert where those best qualified to comment on political, social, and economic issues are mute.
I will not be silent, but critically look at the performance of this administration.  I await the presentation of our budget to see if the Prime Minister will return to his old form of bluster and bombast in the House of Assembly, meant to humiliate members of the opposition when he was in power, and swivel his chair and turn his back on the members of the opposition.
The lessons from the recent elections are clear: no government is guaranteed a second term in office, for a reconstituted UWP can always be returned.
If the present government acts in an arrogant and destructive manner, and does not improve the social and economic conditions of the people, they will simply meet the same fate.  Tanto, Tanto.

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