What do our industry captains know that Kenny doesn’t?

To compare the so-called “leader of the free world” with the leader of the Saint Lucia Labour Party may well be an absurdity beyond measure. Which is not to say there aren’t certain principles equally applicable in their respective circumstances.
According to a report in the New York Times following his death last year, Czechoslovakia’s first president Vaclav Havel had, shortly after Barrack Obama’s inauguration, cautioned the new president that “limitless hope” projected onto a leader could be dangerous since “disappointment could boil over into anger and resentment.” Reportedly, Obama admitted he was “becoming acutely aware” of the possibility. As for Kenny Anthony, who knows?
In his latest dispatch from Atlanta, Georgia, published in these pages last Saturday, longtime STAR columnist Nicholas Joseph joyously observed that the government had demonstrated an “initial act of good faith” by its “immediate implementation of the STEP program”—which he described as “an extremely useful social engineering innovation . . . somewhat akin to social welfare in the developed countries, except that the SLP government makes you work for your check.”
Of course, STEP has since 1997 been synonymous with Kenny Anthony administrations—if always controversially—so hardly an “innovation.” It is by now entrenched SLP policy that certain unemployed citizens must be provided public-sector jobs. The policy was discontinued by the Stephenson King government and predictably reintroduced upon Kenny Anthony’s return to office. However, only Nick has actually declared the so-called short-term employment program “an extremely useful social engineering innovation” that bears some resemblance to social welfare. The comparison intrigued me, I must admit—enough to warrant immediate investigation.
According to the OED: “Social engineering is the application of sociological principles to specific social problems.” From another equally respected source: “Social engineering is commonly understood to mean the art of manipulating people into performing actions. The term had previously been associated with the social sciences (anthropology, archeology, political science, human behavior and so on) but its image has caught on among computer professionals.”
I was more than a little taken aback by the following definition: “Social engineering is the management of human beings—in accordance with their place and function in society.”
So, does “the extremely useful social engineering innovation” called STEP resemble, as the STAR columnist says, “social welfare”—universally defined as “governmental provision of economic assistance to persons in need?” By all accounts STEP beneficiaries need only show up at designated labor exchanges to be placed on the payroll and assigned their grassy knolls, no pesky questions asked, certainly not about eligibility. According to Henry Charles, in his time as the program’s initial manager he received from the day’s incumbent politicians the list of names to be employed, mainly as roadside grass cutters. By all that came to light following two related inquiries, how the annual $5 million government allocation that had sustained the program for several years was unaccountably spent was left to Charles’ discretion.
Welfare applicants, on the other hand, must meet certain rigid criteria—other than their unemployment status. In Ireland, for instance, applicants (including some engaged in low-income work) must secure a claim form from the Department of Social Protection, the Social Welfare Office or the Citizens Information Center. Birth, marriage and death certificates may also be required. The Department of Social Protection employs deciding officers “to accept or reject claims for social welfare payments.”
The officers are given the power to make these decisions through the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 and previous social welfare legislation. As part of the application process, there must be documentation to prove the information given officials is correct. Applicants for social welfare must meet qualifying criteria for payment. “The deciding officer must apply the law as laid out in Social Welfare Acts, statutory instruments and relevant departmental guidelines . . . If a claim is approved the deciding officer will determine the rate of payment.”
As earlier stated, low-income employed families are often eligible for social welfare! So, again I ask: Does STEP—regardless of how well intentioned—resemble, as the respected STAR columnist suggested, social welfare? Despite the program’s well-known colorful history, Kenny Anthony was remarkably upfront when he pledged during his 2011 election campaign to restore STEP “so that poor people can have some money at Christmas.”                 As discriminating as this may have sounded to some, clearly they were not so put off by the idea as to register their protests in the ballot box. The people voted for STEP and it is reasonable to assume the program was one of the reasons Kenny Anthony was returned to office last December. Under our system, the voting majority gets what the voting majority wants, and on the evidence the voting majority wanted STEP. Pointless silent minority groups complaining after the fact!
On the other hand, the majority of voters also expect Kenny Anthony to keep his campaign promise that “immediately upon taking office” he would inject $100 million into our comatose economy, in the best interests of job-creation. Those who dared to inquire during the campaign about where the promised millions might be sourced were dismissed as doomsayers and worse—as were the few who queried how the money would be invested so as to guarantee the expected returns. I can’t help wondering why our normally thorough columnist, my friend in Atlanta (an avowed SLP promoter, despite that we share the same feelings about the party leader!), forgot to say in his earlier cited piece when the prime minister plans to make good on his promise.
Oh, come on now, some might correctly point out, the government has been in office less than three months, give them some time to source the promised millions. Is that to suggest that when he made his campaign promise Kenny Anthony had no idea where the $100 million would come from? In any event, how much longer before better days are here, before he tells the nation he knows precisely the location of the Holy Grail? More importantly, what happens to the nation’s unemployed and broke in the waiting period? In particular, such as cannot be STEP-accommodated.
(An idea occurs to me: Considering the scores of currently unemployed young secretaries, receptionists, hotel personnel, waitresses, cashiers and so on, who do not benefit from the program, why has the government not considered a special STEP for them? Couldn’t such people be hired to help clear up the notorious backlogs at the registry and other government departments after regular staffers have gone home? Not only would these young citizens appreciate another opportunity to earn some much-needed dollars from the public purse, but thousands of long disgruntled people who’ve been waiting months for passports, birth certificates and so on would have good cause to celebrate. Meanwhile, there are the grotesque banana cemeteries . . . !)
There are those who seem truly to believe the government has a bag of tricks labeled Budget Surprises, from which the prime minister will pull out a multi-million-dollar rabbit come April, month of all fools. And for all I know, their faith may be well placed.
There are unsubstantiated reports, even as I write, that the prime minister has been consulting behind the scenes with business community honchos. It is my fervent hope that the aim is to learn from them how best to invest the afore-mentioned promised panacea—not where it might be found. In the meantime, I’ll bite my tongue and not comment on the business community’s ability to provide ideas by which the prime minister might rescue us. If the physician knew how to heal himself, I suspect he wouldn’t be wasting time and scarce money on calls to his doctor.    Then again, what do I know, not being a UWI economist—or a believer in evidence not seen?
The following questions need be asked: What useful ideas might possibly reside in the heads of Saint Lucia’s captains of industry? Whatever such ideas might be, why have the captains not put them to work in the national interest? What might the prime minister do for local business that he alone can do? Was his pledge to invest $100 million in the best interests of business and job creation based on research? Surely this was not just another election promise, as hollow as John Compton’s 7,000 jobs promise turned out to be. Certainly, Kenny Anthony knew during his election campaign where he would source that life-saving $100 million that would deliver jobs-jobs-jobs—a source that either was denied Stephenson King or beyond his ostensibly barely educated imagination.
Local jobs have customarily resulted from construction, whether of hotels or homes or government buildings, tourism and the banana industry. Oh, and the nearly always recruiting public service.
Even before the current administration was sent into opposition in 2006, it was clear to ordinary eyes that hotel construction was in serious trouble—as was general construction almost everywhere else in the world.    A number of highly boosted (by self-serving local politicians!) projects—some that required the then-and-now prime minister going to play football in Ireland—had been put on hold. The much ballyhooed Paradis was already well on its way to hell, even as tourism figures plummeted—or rose, thanks only to killer discounts. (Believe it, even when local hotels are teeming with snowbirds there is no guarantee of commensurate benefit to the Saint Lucian economy.)
And speaking of “the banana industry,” I am reliably informed that it may be too late to rescue it from the Sigatoka plague, that the only remedy may be to allow nature to take its course and then to start all over again. Further, that it will possibly be another two years or so before we can start talking again about a banana industry.
Even more disturbing is the news that the professional banana farmer is a seriously endangered species and that their number has dwindled from over three thousand to maybe just four hundred.
Alas, notoriously, we prefer to feign prosperity rather than acknowledge harsh reality. Thanks to our genetic schadenfreude, we enjoy nothing better than the sight of our next-door neighbor catchin’ his royal, no matter that we are in this mess together, hopelessly oblivious as we are of the fact that before too long the unchallenged wolf that devoured our neighbor and his children will be at our own unprotected jugulars.
It is in Saint Lucia better to be a convicted drug baron or an exposed rapist than be forced to declare bankruptcy—as if indeed a failed business, for whatever reasons, were equal to a failed life. (Predictably, a vengeful caller to Wednesday evening’s Hot Button Issue was more interested in the politics surrounding the Labor Code than in the far-reaching plight of Saint Lucian manufacturers. Indeed the caller seemed convinced that somehow local manufacturers had prevented the Code from reaching parliament, therefore deserved whatever misfortunes befallen them, regardless of consequences to the local economy. No one remembered that the House had passed the Code in 2006 and that the day’s government had failed to do what was necessary to make it the law of the land.)
While countries far better off than we will ever be make every effort to reduce public expenditure, we appear hell-bent on doing the precise opposite, in whatever self-serving guise. We applaud costly and largely unnecessary government programs on the basis of party loyalty, seemingly unconcerned that it is taxpayers who must foot the bill. And lest we forget, only a relatively small section of the population is taxable in any event.
Whether out of ignorance or on the basis of political expedience, we refuse to acknowledge the fact that there really is no such thing as a free lunch. If only we were half as generous to deserving charities not umbilically connected to politics.
We actually applaud when party brethren already employed are nevertheless placed on the public payroll, while the more deserving are left to survive the best way they can. Twisted as is the thinking, it is also we kolcha!
On a much happier note: Once again I commend the government on its tax amnesty, despite so far unconfirmed reports that some of the “new” arrangements were already in place before the 2011 elections.
Nevertheless, the deal is that only after taxpayers have paid outstanding debts to Inland Revenue will the penalties-interest be
written off. It remains to be seen how many in these horrific economic times can pay what they owe the government.
By the way, it would go a long way if the government set an example by paying its own private-sector debts!

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