As I told Ronald “Boo” Hinkson and Adrian Augier last Sunday, I cannot think of many things capable of attracting me away from home on a Sunday. Other than church, that is. Or perhaps a precedential national event. It was with some trepredation, then, that I accepted the National Vision Commission’s invitation to join its dialogue with the media. I actually arrived at the venue bang on time: 3 pm.The National Vision Commission was established last year by a Cabinet memorandum with a mandate to mount a National Dialogue by engageing a broad spectrum of Saint Lucian society; the articulation of a National Vision—an expression of a future Saint Lucia. That’s the official line, as presented by the group’s PR man Vincent Small.
The Commission had chosen the media as its first point of contact in canvassing the views and opinions of citizens, on a Saint Lucia of tomorrow.
In explaining the commission’s function, Environmentalist and Commission member Bishnu Tulsie said: “Every year there is a call from the government for various agencies to submit proposals for the budget. Submissions go to the ministry of finance, the ministry of economic planning, followed by discussions among the ministry of finance and the various sectors, and then a budget comes out that’s presented to parliament and passed. Then a year goes by and the process repeats itself.” There is next to no involvement of the people, said Tulsie and little accountability.
During the first open dialogue, moderated by Stephen King and Media Association Prez Clinton Reynolds, journalist Jerry George expressed a measure of cynicism. “Seventeen years ago,” he said, “the CARICOM secretariat did something like this. The outcome was two or three volumes of information collected. You ask most citizens about this vision of CARICOM and they will tell you ministers gather, eat a lot, spend a lot of the people’s money, then go home with nothing for the people. So, this is the fear I have: that we will talk and talk and the same people who should see the process through will stymie it. We call these people politicians.”
What very often happened, George went on, is that “as soon as a new party comes in after an election they shelve the plans of their predecessor.”
Dr. King challenged the media to hold politicians and their systems accountable. “This will only work if the people demand answers. We are the ones to fix things that are not working.”
RSL’s Keisha St. Helene shared George’s concern. Voice editor Guy Ellis was less pessimistic. “I like what I see here today, a grouping of people closer to the ground,” he said. “The political situation is the most worrying aspect of life in Saint Lucia and I am just wondering whether we in the media would be right in expecting that when this commission makes its recommendations they will be acted upon speedily.” He referenced the constitutional reform document that is yet to be tabled before parliament over three years after it was submitted to the government.
King shot back: “What is the media doing to educate people about what is in that report?”
Film producer Dale Eliott spoke of the inaccessibility of elected officials. “It seems we are expected every morning to chase after politicians for information. How do we hold them accountable if we can’t find them?”
RSL’s Shelton Daniel: “You do that by overlooking them. You see this thing about wanting to have politicians account for themselves? It’s like appealing to the very same court that convicted you in the first place.”
Said Shelton; “I want to see some political growth and maturity in our country . . . instead of politicians playing to a gallery of largely uneducated, unsophisticated people. Politicians are people we pick out from the general pool of who we are as a people and put them up on our shoulders, so to speak, in the hope that from that vantage they can see further than we can.”
If the people, as well as the media, don’t ask the right questions of the politicians then the politicians will continue to play to what they imagine we want. “We still have a very disappointing caliber of politician because we still have a very deficient caliber of citizen, including those in the media. We are too plugged into the politician. We seem to believe our news and our talk shows cannot go on without politicians.”
The audience was asked to address the one thing they loved best about Saint Lucia. For many it was “the natural beauty of our country, the warmth of the people.” Reynolds and Ellis concurred: what they loved best is the resolve of Saint Lucians to come together in the face of adversity.
Not STAR publisher Rick Wayne: “There is no one special thing I like about Saint Lucia. I hate that everything wrong is being done to Saint Lucia. And let no one dare tell me how to show my love for Saint Lucia. I alone decide that. And my way is by taking on those hypocrites who seem to be saying I can love this country only by saying how wonderful everything is in Saint Lucia when that’s far from true.”
Skeeta Carasco, who moderated this segment, almost echoed her close relative Rick Wayne. If we want a better Saint Lucia, she said, then we’ll do well not to leave everything to the government.
The group was then charged with coming up with one thing they would change about Saint Lucia. For Elliott it was the Constitution. This writer opined that the country was over-governed by ineffective people, and that must change. I firmly believe constituency votes alone do not qualify a candidate to operate a ministry.
“I would change the people and their attitudes,” said Rick Wayne. “I would like people to stop laughing even when the joke is on them. I would like Saint Lucians to get angry once in a while and stop pretending everything is wonderful.”
Luscious Doxerie Jr. of Rise Saint Lucia called for a more solution-based media rather than one that exists only to pass on information; Keisha St. Helen wanted change in the way we’ve been socialized.
Before the end of Sunday’s exercise there were group sessions aimed at coming up with news stories and PSA’s about the proceedings.
Adrian Augier had the final word: “This meeting can turn out to be the same old crap if you want it to be. Or it can be something different. It is really up to you guys if you want to write discouraging stories; you can shoot this effort down; or you can make this something different—something new, and give this process a chance.
We cannot continue to complain about the Saint Lucia we live in unless we ourselves try to create some kind of change.”
Referencing a STAR article by Wayne about a woman, her 12-year-old daughter and her daughter’s 3-month-old baby, whose home was “a very large wood box,” Augier said: “You don’t have to put the focus on the politicians and the public officials. You can make the plight of the subject of your story speak volumes. You can raise questions. What better way to create interest in health, education and social issues? You can take the very people that you would normally hold accountable and make them irrelevant just by dealing with the facts; the statistics; the angst. Deal with the reality of that woman in a box.”
The members of the Commission, according to Augier, come from different backgrounds, with a wealth of information and experience. They stand ready to be engaged by the media, he promised. Commission members present Sunday, besides Augier (chairman), were youth leader Skeeta Carasco, Merle St. Clair Auguste (deputy principal SALCC), Ronald “Boo” Hinkson (musician and philanthropist), Dr. Stephen King (pathologist and Senator), Bishnu Tulsie (environmentalist), Brenda Duncan (accountant) and Fortuna Husbands Anthony (educator). Oh, I almost forgot to mention I thoroughly enjoyed my time with fellow journalists and the NVC!