On Sunday evening as I observed the nation’s prime minister delivering his pre-recorded ritual New Year message, I was reminded of Abraham Lincoln. At any rate, I recalled the famous sick joke about the revered U.S. President’s 1885 assassination while attending with his wife the play Our American Cousin, at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C.
The joke had first appeared as the caption to a New Statesman cartoon that depicted a reporter questioning the devastated newly widowed First Lady at the scene of the crime: “But apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?”
As I took in Sunday evening’s production starring our evidently well-fed, appropriately costumed prime minister, I wondered how I might approach a review of his televised performance.
Would I address the almost indiscernible slick editing? The calculated backdrop of law volumes? The prime minister’s famous chameleonic persona? His discombobulating penchant for vacillation and foolish consistency (VAT is oppressive-wonderful; the answer to our economic woes lies in subsidized construction)?
I imagined being interviewed on Monday morning by an ambitious Choice-TV news reporter. His final question: “Apart from the first half hour or so what did you think of Dr. Anthony’s 45-minute speech?”
My answer would have to be: a New Year address is normally expected to be inspirational; to give hope to the hopeless and hurting huddled masses. Sunday’s was little more than an election-time infomercial. Which is to say it was fatuous, flaccid— heartless. Altogether without substance.
At the start of a new year, following three years of excruciating belt tightening at all levels, Saint Lucians had every right to expect news that their government-imposed sacrifices had borne promised fruit.
Alas, instead of an anticipated meat-and-potatoes New Year address, something to chew on, on Sunday the nation’s citizens were served yet another basinful of bland soufflé. More buckets of empty promises, reminiscent of the prime minister’s 2011 election propaganda.
Clearly he saw no reason to mess with the formula that three years ago had delivered him from Purgatory. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
For the most part his speech was déjà vu. Warmed over stale dasheen. Doubtless with our short memories in mind, he opened with honeyed references to our “shared triumphs and tribulations” and to our proven resilience.
Particularly perplexing for me was this: “I believe we have navigated the stormy seas of 2014 well, and whereas it may not be smooth sailing ahead in this new year, we are certainly headed for calmer waters.”
Was there ever a time when this nation of ostensibly “resilient people” (passive?) was not on its knees praying for calm waters?
What to make of the following? “I remain confident in the people of this nation; we are a bright and talented people, capable beyond measure; a nation of pride, character and dignity. We have shown time and time again our ability to handle whatever adversity and whatever challenges are thrown in our way.”
If indeed we have navigated past the stormy seas, then how to explain the almost daily reports of citizens drowning in their dire circumstances? Resilience?
Long forgotten was the prime minister’s recent revelation that 72 percent of the local work force was unable to access available jobs for lack of relevant skills.
Also forgotten was Vaughan Lewis’ earlier observation that the state of a nation’s economy is reflective of its education system. Additionally, that the majority of our country’s workers cannot perform tasks universally considered menial.
I expected at any moment a repetition of what our ventriloquist prime minister had said a year ago through the rouged lips of the dame on the hill: “We are a people used to hardship.” Thankfully, viewers were spared the equivalent of salt being rubbed in their psychic wounds.
As for the shared challenges earlier mentioned, “not the least of these was the loss of some of our most iconic citizens; several of Saint Lucia’s leading lights.”
They were individuals, said the prime minister, who “mirrored the face of our nation and helped to shape us in one way or another.”
Was he passing the buck yet again? I suspect the referenced dearly departed would’ve preferred it had the prime minister left out the quoted last line immediately above—mirrored the face of our nation—crime-ridden, frustrated and suicidal as Saint Lucia has become.
As for their having “helped to shape us in one way or another,” something tells me this is one prick that Hunter Francois, never a sufferer of fools, most certainly would have kicked against. So would the abruptly “magisterial and mercurial” Boswell Williams.
Nina Compton, our recently discovered “culinary wonder,” was yet again lauded by our obviously epicurean heavyweight prime minister. Also conveniently cited was the commemoration of Nina’s father, generally considered “the father of our nation,” if not by our prime minister and fellow apostles of George F. L. Charles faith.
More fat remained to be served in the name of the “continued exploits of our people, our personalities” (a pleonasm?). Also paid tribute were Levern Spencer, Team Saint Lucia, and our other representatives at swim meets, volleyball, football, and track and field at the regional level.
The prime minister seemed less appreciative of our athletes’ demonstrated talents and their exemplary discipline than of the benefits reportedly derived from the “world-class facilities” provided by his government from the proceeds of come-one-come-all night-and-day gambling.
For the umpteenth time his audience was reminded of the road reconstruction undertaken by the government since taking office, in the wake of Tomas and the Christmas 2013 trough, scars from which were “fast disappearing.”
Although hardly news, it was nevertheless good to hear yet again that the number of stay-over visitor arrivals had increased by a record-breaking six percent, and total airlift by five percent, for which the prime minister credited Team Theophilus. Hopefully all of that will have resulted in record amounts of stay-over dollars.
There was good news as far as hotel rooms were concerned—despite that the experts have repeatedly advised that our tourism problems were less a consequence of room shortages than our apparent reluctance to deliver value for money.
Of the four hotels that were “in distress” when his government assumed office, the prime minister crowed, “one was sold and three emerged from receivership,” more thanks to “the enabling environment” provided by Team Theophilus.
What would be a Kenny Anthony New Year address without great expectations? He anticipated in 2015 to see the commencement of work on a new Wellness Center for Anse la Raye/Canaries. Also the commissioning of a new facility “to be called the Owen King EU Hospital in honor of another distinguished son, and also in recognition of the generosity of the European Union to our country.”
As for that “sore point” St. Jude Hospital, the prime minister was pleased to report his eyes had seen “light at the end of the tunnel,” thanks to assistance from Tom Chou and his fellow countrymen and from the government of Mexico.
Of course there remained the brobdingnagian problem that is the cost of health care. In pursuit of a cure, the prime minister had written to the Leader of the Opposition and “suggested we establish a joint parliamentary committee under the chairmanship of former prime minister Stephenson King.”
He had also “suggested” as secretary to the committee Dr. Stephen King, whom the prime minister had handpicked last year to serve on his arcane Vision Commission.
I cannot help wondering what the prime minister expects of his immediate predecessor, who had been for several years responsible for the wellness of the nation, both as health minister and as prime minister. What might the former finance minister Stephenson King now advise that in all his time at the levers of power was not considered worthy of implementation?
As for the ever-optimistic doctor, he has been campaigning for health reform, with little success, since 1997. Perhaps his new position as Stephenson King’s secretary will afford him the necessary clout to accentuate the positive.
Said the nation’s leading politician on Sunday: “We need to protect the issue of access to health care from the whirlwinds of political warfare and competition.” If only he could see the need also to protect the issue from the egregious pettiness of ostensibly honorable gentlemen.
Also on the prime minister’s list of great expectations was “a strong year for agriculture.” Said the man many farmers blame—unfairly, perhaps—for the demise of green gold (Kenny chway fig!): “Our banana producers . . . have begun to see a gradual but steady increase in production . . . We must applaud the hard-working farmers who remain committed to the soil and the development of the sector.” (The record shows the number of “hard-working farmers” is less than half what it used to be, the majority having fallen for the promoted promises of tourism or under the wheels of the unconscionable WTO’s Mack trucks!)
We need not revisit the fabulous City of Free Laptops. Already its wonders have been flogged to death. Ditto the schools renovation program. Or the prospect of geothermal energy—still a daydream after 40 years of start-stop explorations.
The government’s expert on lubricants for diplomatic intercourse, aka our Minister for External Affairs, received high commendation from his boss. Alva Baptiste had persuaded ALBA to cough up grants totalling some $69 million for the construction of bridges and for prolonging the life of NICE.
Alas, despite that “the economy showed some signs of strength in our leading sector, tourism . . . the momentum towards a return to growth continues to be undermined by weaknesses in the construction and manufacturing sectors.”
Nothing new here. As usual, no realistic solutions were proffered, despite the establishment last year of the earlier mentioned Vision Commission.
Said the prime minister seemingly near to tears: Even though inflation was now “trending downwards on account of lower fuel prices,” it really was “unfortunate that we did not succeed in reducing the fiscal deficit even further.”
Of course there was the obvious scapegoat: “Our failure to secure agreement among all parties to contain and reduce the cost of the public service.” Presumably, until “all parties” have agreed, the situation will be permitted to grow worse.
Unemployment remained “a stubborn problem,” despite that nearly a hundred citizens had found work with a cruise line, despite “better than expected performance in tourism.”
Vague, you say? Play me a party song, particularly one scored by a lawyer, that amounted to more than hints and allegations, innuendo and—to borrow from Philip J. Pierre who inherited the term from the deceased seldom original George Odlum—“flashing mirrors.”
Finally, an acknowledgement of undeniable truth: despite his self-advertised “efforts and successes,” the effect on unemployment had been insignificant. The situation was likely to grow even more problematic “until we see a return to investment and growth in our economy.”
So much for the VAT panacea and an anticipated “construction boom” that was expected to do for the present comatose economy what construction at the time of Cricket World Cup had done the day’s economy.
Nevertheless, “barring unforeseen events or developments,” he continues to expect in 2015 a return to “trajectory growth”—as he had in April 2012, when he predicted the world economy would normalize eighteen months after his reelection and automatically provide the shot in the arm that would restore tourism.
If to some he sounded like a backwater soothsayer, he let it be known his optimism was “anchored on the strengthening of the global economy, particularly our principal tourism market the United States of America.”
As for the fact that over the last three years Saint Lucia had slipped from 27 to 100 on the World Bank’s List of Best Countries to do Business in the Caribbean, the prime minister blamed that on our penchant for inventing problems. He said the nation had become “sclerotic, bureaucratic and inefficient.” We were “mired in red tape.” We were scared of “innovation” (unlike the Chamber’s champion George Benson!), clinging to what we know best.
On the other hand the World Bank in its report had blamed present government. It “had made trading across borders more difficult by introducing a new export document.”
The government had also made tax compliance “more time consuming for companies by fully implementing new consumption tax legislation.”
The prime minister proposed in the next few weeks to create “a unit whose sole purpose would be to cut red tape across ministries and agencies of the government to drive reform.”
He also planned “to redesign the reform process to allow key reforms to be implemented through a specific unit to allow for the integration of outcomes, procurement of technical skills, and more definitive time frames for completion.”
Obviously the prime minister’s Vision Commission has its work cut out!
With verifiable facts at a premium, who would blame the prime minister for resorting, as they say, to dazzling bullshit? Doubtless, Da Jade will in due course separate the wheat from the chaff.
As would any good speechmaker, the prime minister saved the best for last. Alas, he offered only a hint of it and saved the real thing for another time. While the police had been doing good social work here and there, the prime minister reminded his audience on Sunday, there was “unfortunately one matter that must be brought to a conclusion in the days ahead: the allegations of extra-judicial killings against certain members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force during 2009-2011.”
Once again giving the lie to his recently invisible justice minister who had persistently denied related STAR revelations, the prime minister confirmed on Sunday receipt of the long-awaited report from IMPACS.
“I confirm as well that the Cabinet of Ministers is deliberating on the contents [sic] and implications of the report,” the prime minister said. “This address is not the occasion to share the findings with you but I intend to do so in a separate address in early February.”
For once the prime minister had chosen his words with meticulous care. He confirmed the IMPACS report was in the government’s hands but refrained from saying when it got there. He and his ministers were “deliberating . . . on the implications of the report.”
Again he did not say when those deliberations started and what might be the implications of releasing the report to the media. Was the DPP invited to sit in on those deliberations?
It is hardly classified information that in the heat of the 2011 elections there was much loose talk about how then Prime Minister Stephenson King and his Cabinet had chosen to bring crime under control.
The picture painted by the day’s opposition was far from pretty. Should the IMPACS report now validate the pre-election rumors, what then might be the “implications?”
Already some are not so quietly suggesting the present opposition, comprising members of the previous government, may have good reason to avoid comment on the IMPACS aspect of the prime minister’s New Year message.
Others consider the IMPACS report the most effective weapon in the prime minister’s election arsenal. Come to think about it, how far-fetched might it be to suggest the prime minister’s New Year message was, as they say, all about da bomb? Which would explain the altogether different impact of IMPACS on the regular and political populations—not necessarily excluding incumbents!