Amazing, isn’t it, how time flies? Already, May is upon us. Which means Prime Minister Kenny Anthony has been in power (okay, office!) for about six months. Put another way: already he has blown one-tenth of his term; half a year of his allotted five years. And what does he have to show for it?
Many would agree that the question of foreign aid (which couldn’t be closer linked to diplomatic ties) should have been resolved by now. But noooo. During a recent appearance on a talk show the prime minister said: “We are conducting a review of our foreign policy [which] may well entail that St Lucia seeks to make new friends. Portrait some historical friends even more importantly than we have in the past.”
Now, I wonder how far this foreign policy review has come, given that one-tenth of the mandate period has already evaporated. It must be quite unsettling for the ambassadors from Brazil, Venezuela and Cuba as they sit all day on the golf course, trembling at the thought that their countries might be denied the countless benefits from diplomatic relations with St Lucia. Of course, Ambassador Tom Chou from Taiwan has no such concerns. He knows he is leaving. The government of St Lucia was informed several weeks ago of the name of his proposed replacement. Which makes the present posturing of the Prime Minister and his Minister for Foreign Affairs pretty meaningless—unless of course they have an insatiable need to be seen as the machomen who drove out the greatest foreign benefactor this country has ever known.
For those of us who know him well, there is indeed sadness in the knowledge that Ambassador Tom Chou will soon be leaving us. His stint is up; more than up. His term as Ambassador to St Lucia has far exceeded the regular three-year tour of duty. In fact, he has served his country in the best interests of St Lucia for almost five years. Yes, five!
When he first arrived here a few months after the UWP government had decided to renew diplomatic ties with Taiwan, much to the displeasure of the governments of Mainland China and the local opposition, Tom Chou inherited a sticky situation that involved unproven publicly expressed accusations of undisclosed payments to politicians that had been made months prior to his arrival.
Since his very first day in St Lucia, Ambassador Chou has been the target of virulent attacks by his self-serving detractors. But even these unpleasant moments have never distracted him from his goal of improving the lives of many in St Lucia. He will leave behind a legacy of reform and change in the fields of agriculture, education, grass-root projects and IT technology that places this country in an enviably advantageous position to benefit from economic improvements that inevitably will relieve the misery of the present depression.
Depression is not in Ambassador Tom’s vocabulary. His pleasant, optimistic demeanor has encouraged all who have worked with him through the years. His term should have ended, as I say, after three years. It was extended time and again, for unexpressed though obvious reasons. We may surmise that no country would accept being ordered to withdraw its ambassador by the leader of an opposition party, which Dr A was at the time of his infamous letter demanding Tom Chou’s removal. Then again, as someone who has worked daily with the ambassador, I am convinced his tenure was extended for the simple reason that his government was satisfied he was the best man for the job.
Ambassador Chou may not leave tomorrow. Or even the next day. But once the new ambassador has been confirmed Tom will make his exit. I can only hope those who have benefited so much from his countless efforts on their behalf will make their thoughts known before Ambassador Tom Chou, one of the most popular foreign personalities St Lucia has ever known, leaves these shores forever.
Of course, jolly old chap that he is, it comes as no surprise that our prime minister wants lots and lots of “new friends.” But “portrait old friends?” Is Dr A offering to paint them? After listening to the Throne Speech, I realize he is into all that Greco-Roman jazz. But I never imagined him to be artistically inclined. Actually, I have to admit that I did not know until now that St Lucia had ever “portraited” any historical friends.
But back to the Foreign Policy Reviewers; how often does the review committee meet? What do they talk about? How much does it cost? How much longer are they going to sit around chatting about old friends and potential new ones? I don’t see many friends (read donors) queuing up at Dr A’s doorstep.
These new friends may well be Dr A’s secret admirers, or how else are we going to attract them? Are the Foreign Policy Reviewers planning to advertise in the “personal columns” of local and international newspapers? You know, “Open minded, thrill-seeking Helen, open to all interesting offers, seeks new friends and old acquaintances, bilateral and multilateral. Willing to try anything new. Orientals with less than $32 million need not apply.” Yes, that might work.
Dr A went on to say: “It’s reasonably clear that given where the world is going, we have to develop new relations with countries in Asia; particularly India, Korea, Singapore and these countries.”
Just a small point: I am pretty sure the world has no plans to go anywhere and intends to stay exactly where it is in the solar system. If the world should decide to go anywhere, however, I am pretty sure we’ll all know soon enough. But seriously: does St Lucia’s relationship with Taiwan, obviously ongoing and unchanged, need to be put into question while the Foreign Policy Reviewers consider whether or not St Lucia should flirt with an overweight Indian temptress, a Korean dominatrix or an embarrassingly efficient, highly regimented Lion City siren (Singapura: Malay language=Lion City).
But Dr A is not only wont to wander among Greek and Roman ruins or peruse upon the charms of Oriental beauties, he also finds time in his intellectual peregrinations to roam the southern climes. He adds: “Also, the strategic geopolitical changes of Latin America cannot be ignored. The economies are beginning to move, in particular Brazil, which is now a major player in Latin America. It even has a huge potential for us. If we can get that market to open up for tourism, then almost immediately it can have very beneficial impact on St Lucia.”
In journalistic circles, there is, each year, a time they call “the silly season.” It’s the time when newscasts are full of tales of cats speaking French, wolves fathering children, politicians telling the truth, and other such items. In St Lucia, the silly season is Budget Time: the time of tall tales, false promises, and unrealistic assurances. Dr A’s faith in the healing properties of Brazilian tourism for St Lucia’s economic woes falls into this category.
I know Dr A is a country boy at heart. But even he should realize Brazilians will never flock to St Lucia. Brazil has the world’s greatest rain forests; they do not need to come to Babonneau to check out the Rain Forest Rides. They don’t long for the Pitons; they have the Sugar Loaf Mountain right next to Rio, with Jesus on top as a bonus. They don’t need to survey our streams and rivers; they have the mighty Amazon. Vigie Beach is not exactly in the same class as Rio’s Copacabana Beach. Carnival? Get real. Rio’s carnival makes Trinidad’s spectacle look like amateur night. So let’s not compare it to St Lucia’s annual street shuffling blocko. And even if a handful of Brazilians were determined enough to seek out St Lucia, they would have to first overfly the country by over a thousand miles, land in Miami, then turn around to fly south again to get to Hewanorra. And I have not even mentioned, sorry ladies, the Brazilian babes of all shades and hues that abound on the beaches of the world’s truly most multicultural society.
Dr A finally admitted the reason for the whole Foreign Policy Review Fiasco. “That review is looking at those issues and the China/Taiwan issue will be taken in that context. We are currently engaged in discussions with the Government of Taiwan, particularly over the nature of assistance and support that they would want to give to the country and they have said to us that they are only prepared to make available US$12 million per year; if you multiply that, it would be about EC$32 million per year. Far cry from what we think they made available to the United Workers Party.”
Do you get the feeling that Dr A is saying that the Taiwanese are lying? What a refreshingly innovative way of conducting foreign policy when requesting aid from a generous donor! It is my belief, and I may be wrong, but it would not surprise me to discover that, given the present financial crisis in the world, Taiwan has simply, but generously, been compelled to try to maintain the levels of assistance previously given to St Lucia.
As for Dr A’s claim that $32 million is “a far cry from what we believe they made available to the United Workers Party,” I challenge him to produce credible evidence to supportive of his delusional belief. He goes on to say: “So we are in discussions on these matters with them [which I do not believe!] and clearly they indicated some rules that have to change (I believe Dr A misspoke: he did not mean “they,” wanted to change any rules; he meant to say “we”, meaning himself!) – that is to say, whatever financial support is given to the country must be channelled through the consolidated funds.”
Again, I challenge Dr A to name the countries that channel aid to St Lucia through the consolidated fund. I doubt there are any; and no waffling about other funds, please – the consolidated fund.
The EU sets up special accounts that are overseen by named persons who in turned are supposed to be overseen by the National Authorizing Office–I think that’s the name – that performs at times abysmally. What, for example, has happened to the $18 million for education that I blew the whistle on a year ago? (They had not been accessed two years after they became available.) And why am I now told the sum was never $18 million (it was) but “only” $12 million? When I last asked the new Minister of Education how the money had been spent he did not know; the PS had not told him. Now there’s a foreign donation worth investigating . . . The EU, by the way, set aside a potential $66 million for St Lucia. However, this money was not automatically available. It was more or less a ceiling up to which funds could be sought for specific projects.
Now, $66 million is a lot of money, that’s true. But not on a country-by-country basis. The EU is a bundle of 27 countries; 66 divided by 27 equals 2.44 million dollars each. Japan gave aid worth one million dollars last year. The USA donated six million. Taiwan gave a whopping 32 million, according to Dr A himself, with no strings attached, except that they be used for the intended projects and nothing else. In other words, no consolidated black hole.
Dear reader, you may not suffer as I do from the beggars that now infest supermarket exits. If you give them a dollar, they want five. If you give them three, they curse you. How does Dr A have the nerve to demand more money from a nation that already donates more than any other nation to the well-being of St Lucia?
My dream is to make a movie of life during Dr A’s reign. I’ll call it “Chinese Chequers,” in honour of the country house that has been home to many intrigues in British political history. (After the Throne Speech, I know how Dr A just loves classical references.) I would have Clint Eastwood play the Ambassador, but would probably change his name to Tom Clint. I did think of inviting Arnold to play Tom, but decided to save him for the role of Rick. As Dr A, I would cast Danny Devito; yes, I know he is short and fat, while Dr A is, well, tall. But Devito could easily play a sort of stereotypical Caribbean dictator. This is how I see the final scene: Tom Clint is in his office smoking a Cuban cigar. Danny comes in.
Tom Clint: Nice to see ya, Danny.
Danny Anthony: Nice to see yuh too, Clint.
Tom: So whaddaya say about my offer, Danny?
Danny: 32 million? No way, Clint.
Clint: No way, Danny? Tell me what you want. Make my day.
Danny: Make me another offer.
Clint: Another offer, Danny?
Danny: Yeah, you cheapskate! Nobody buys me for a mere 32 million.
Clint: I’ll make you another offer, Danny . . .
Danny: (leers triumphantly) I thought you would.
Clint: It’s down to 20 million, and next time it will be ten.
Clint places his feet on his desk, blows smoke rings into the air, while Danny Anthony’s chin plummets.