When politicians unite, should the people duck for cover?

House ladies of St Lucia: From left—Rosella King, Justice Suzie d’Auvergne, Berthia Parle, Jeannine Compton-Antoine, Dame Pearlette Louisy, Virginia Albert-Poyotte and Emma Hippolyte at the Opening of the House of Parliament. (Photo: Marius Modeste)

There was once a time when the reopening of parliament following a general election was enough to attract such numbers as would overflow the borders of Constitution Park, in the process reducing to a snail’s pace foot and vehicular traffic in nearby William Peter Boulevard. Reports following the 1997 elections clearly indicate that. Not anymore. This time around, despite a special screen ostensibly set up for the benefit of Constitution Park habitués, curious tourists and others who might otherwise have missed the day’s House proceedings, the outdoor audience was relatively sparse.
As I took in the ritual via my living room TV, I wondered what it might be that over the last several years had dampened the popular enthusiasm once associated with the event. Déjà vu, perhaps? Or could it be the size of the congregation outside the House on Thursday morning signaled the majority of Saint Lucians were now in cynical agreement with George Odlum’s once shocking declaration that “the politicians have fooled the people too many times . . . the next batch of politicians to fool the people should be hanged in Columbus Square!?”
Consider the fact that just over a month ago two of the three opposition senators sworn in on Thursday morning had been in no uncertain terms ejected from the House by an electorate obviously dissatisfied with their stewardship. Consider, too, that the other side had also chosen to circumvent the people and award senate seats to their own electoral rejects. How ironic that at the new parliament’s first sitting the government and the opposition were uncharacteristically united in their convenient betrayal of the people’s will—more proof that unity in itself is not always a good thing!
Oh, but it’s happened many times before, shout the mindless hack voices, indisputably. Why complain only now? Actually, some of us have been complaining a very long time about the now traditional betrayal of the public trust, obviously to no avail: Odlum, for one, had made his earlier-cited Columbus Square declaration nearly 38 years ago, in 1973. In any case, no amount of repetition can ever make blatant betrayal of the people’s trust acceptable. Repetition can only make such betrayal commonplace—ultimately at great cost to the people!
On the bright side: The hardly surprising appointment of Claudius Francis as Senate president suggests better days may indeed be coming, if only for the Upper House. Hopefully, he will take a look at some of the previous senate’s record and wherever possible suggest adjustments in the best interests of the people. I am here hinting at the apparently contradictory latest amendment that by my admittedly layman’s understanding renders ridiculous Section 41 of the Finance (Administration) Act. As for Senator Jimmy Fletcher, to hear him speak about his hopes for Saint Lucia is to be given reason to believe all may not yet be lost, despite the depressing, seemingly unavoidable forecasts. Hopefully, Dr Fletcher will be permitted some impact on the status quo.
And then there is the new House speaker. To say the very least, what a relief to see Foster the son, if not Foster the father, finally recognized by the Saint Lucia Labour Party. It will be interesting to watch this soft-spoken brilliant lawyer as he sets out to restore order in the notoriously rambunctious House. Who among us would not wish Peter Foster success in his new chair?
And so we come to the throne speech. It is by now hardly news that it is produced for the governor general by either the prime minister himself or on his directives by an unquestioning ghost writer. On this occasion the usually ebullient Dame Pearlette Louisy appeared wan under her chapeau blanco. As usual, she delivered her script without once faltering, yet somehow her words seemed to emanate from no deeper than her lips. The usual fire of excitement was this time missing from her eyes, so that she appeared, to say the least, preoccupied. And who can blame her? The early word following the November 28 elections was that she would be required to pack up and vacate Government House in the best interests of Julian Hunte, currently embroiled with Ernest Hilaire in bad-news West Indies cricket.
But then I’ve been informed that the prime minister had on Wednesday evening publicly confirmed his retention of Dame Pearlette’s widely appreciated services. Goodie for him, and goodie for Her Excellency for having postponed her retirement, if as rumored she had planned to return to civilian life upon Labour’s reelection. Saint Lucia loves this lady who has restored class and dignity to Government House following the historic debacle of the 1979-82 period.
It should be remembered that the current prime minister had been responsible for the transitioning of Pearlette Louisy, from renowned educator to first female governor general of Saint Lucia. Also, that on his return for the sixth or seventh time to office in 2006 Sir John Compton had rocked the nation to its volcanic core with his widely appreciated, if unexpected announcement that, damn tradition (not to mention opposition-loyalty expectations!), he had discovered no good reason to replace the Dame.
On Thursday the greater part of what the governor general read out had been heard before from the prime minister himself, the meat of it being his expressed intention to treat the House opposition, in particular, the opposition leader, with more respect than the prime minister had enjoyed when he held the position.
“My government believes the time has come to make peace with our past,” read the governor general. The prime minister had invited her to “reactivate Part Two, in particular, Section 15 of the National Honors and Awards Act, to begin the process of identifying and honoring our heroes and heroines: those exceptional persons who sacrificed in the great cause of securing the rights and freedoms for our people, who helped to shape the development of our nation, and whose lives of service helped define our national soul and spirit.”
Did the governor general and the prime minister refer to citizens other than politicians living or dead? Dame Pearlette went on: “As much as we honor those who contributed to shaping our nation, we must look to the future to correct the aberrations in our political system. It is time to end some of the unnecessary rancor, pettiness and divisiveness that has characterized our political culture.”
Some of the unnecessary rancor, pettiness and divisivenesss? Is rancor ever necessary? What about pettiness and divisiveness? According to the governor general, echoing the prime minister, her government “plans to start with our political parties, with the relationship between the governing party and the opposition party.”
She cited Disraeli, who famously had pointed out that “no government can be long secure without a formidable opposition.” Quite obviously Disraeli spoke with reference to another place. For indeed in Saint Lucia, as in other regions of the Caribbean, the exact opposite has proven true: without a formidable opposition mediocre governments thrive—evinced by the reign of John Compton from 1964 to 1979, and by the Bird dynasty in Antigua. We need not consider Africa’s sorry situation, or the Arab Spring!
In all events, the government claims to believe “we should make a start to redress the wrongs of the past by according the leader of the opposition the full rights and privileges the office requires, to enable the holder to perform his or her constitutional duties and functions.”
To recall Ronald Reagan: Here we go again. The suggestion here is that the newly elected government plans now to accord the leader of the opposition privileges previously unavailable to him, including a vehicle for official functions, and personal security, “as of right and not the whim of the political directorate.”
The indisputable truth is that the privileges to which the governor general alluded had always existed. Alas, only in 2001—when the present prime minister headed the day’s government—were the privileges, where they apply to former prime ministers and serving leaders of the opposition, made conditional. Ironically, it was the Stephenson King government that restored the privileges unconditionally.
According to Cabinet Conclusion No. 14 of 2007: “Cabinet reexamined Conclusion No. 331 of 22 March 2001 and agreed to delete the following from paragraph 1: ‘The privileges to which these persons become entitled shall cease to exist if and whenever they declare their candidature for general elections.’ ”
What then to make of the government’s recent declaration that “henceforth the opposition leader will be entitled to a diplomatic passport as of right and not as of favor?” The leader of the opposition was always entitled to such privilege as a matter of right—until 2001, when leaders of the opposition were required to hand over their diplomatic passport “whenever they declare their candidature for general elections.”
Conceivably, the present prime minister, when he became leader of the opposition in 2006, relinquished his diplomatic passport in accordance with his own dictum. Did he, following the readjustment by the King government in 2007, request the new diplomatic passport to which he was consequently entitled? Alas, I am not positioned to answer. However, I am here reminded of the line from Macbeth about “bloody instructions which, being taught, return to plague the inventor.”
I, for one, am determined, history be damned, to take the prime minister at his word when he promises to redress the wrongs of the past—whether or not wrongs committed by him—in the best interests of our country. Politicians are notorious for forgiving each other’s sins in their own narrow interests, even at obvious risk to the nation. Even as I wonder who will determine right and wrong, I expect that when next they address the so-called “wrongs of the past” the prime minister and the leader of the opposition will call on the supporters of their respective parties to abandon their mindless war that for too long has “characterized our political system.”
Alas, space restrictions force me to end this piece prematurely. I will address the other promises contained in the governor general’s throne speech next week. If it matters at all, I believe they are well intentioned, late as they are in coming—and despite an unshakable mental picture of the current prime minister as he delivered
his final diatribe in the House as leader of the opposition.
I was taken aback upon realizing the governor general’s reference to Disraeli was curiously edited. What the Englishman actually said was this: “No government can for long be secure without a formidable opposition. It reduces their supporters to that tractable number which can be managed by the joint influences of fruition and hope. It offers vengeance to the discontented and distinction to the ambitious, and employs the energies of aspiring spirits, who, otherwise may prove traitors in a division of assassins in a debate!”
This might be a good time again to consider the earlier underscored united circumvention of the people’s will, expressed on November 28, 2011!

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