While Rome burns . . .

What’s wrong with this picture? Opposition Leader Kenny Anthony commenting on St Lucia’s high murder rate while Dr Ubaldus Raymond looks on.

It is mid-afternoon on a recent Sunday, and Philip J. Pierre is whistling in the dark. He, like everyone else in the tiny, over-heated backroom of a George Charles Boulevard warehouse, is in the red of de partee. Normally dull and dingy, the room is on the occasion well lit. Certainly it is bright enough for the purposes of two video-cam operators whose recordings of the Castries East Constituency 23rd Annual Conference will by nightfall be accessible on YouTube.

Seated center stage at a table also suitably dressed up is Kenny Anthony, his face buried in hands the size of baseball mittens. Two or three feet back of him is a battered and pensive Julian Hunte, his open right hand seemingly glued to his bowed forehead. Once a fawned over United Workers Party front-liner and heir apparent to his marital brother John Compton’s throne, Hunte had in 1982—reportedly at great personal expense, monetary and otherwise—famously rescued from oblivion the then suicide-prone Labour Party, yet could not save himself from the Brutus daggers that in 1996 had gutted him in favor of a then sexier, more commercial model with a real PhD.

Also in conspicuous attendance is Hunte’s fellow leadership-war veteran Tom Walcott, the declared political “good boy” and AIP Robert Lewis, Ubaldus Raymond—who, sadly, may soon be forced to pay for a crime he did not himself commit. And Lorne Theophilus, by all appearances a fish out of water. Suffice it to say that before he deserted the United Workers Party to join the more accommodating ladies and gentlemen in red, the Kenny Anthony government had fought tooth and nail to jail him without bail on charges later abandoned by his accuser.

Before Pierre mounted the speaker’s lectern, three or four lesser acts had sought further to titillate the gathering. The first observed that while the date of the next elections was unknown even to their oracular leader-for-life, it was nevertheless inescapably true that their near-five-year stint in political purgatory was at an end: another four months—max! Though they jumped high or low, he added, there was nothing the incumbents could do to avert disaster at the polls. Someone cited Kofi Annan, for his take on “good governance.” Alas, the quote attributed to the former UN secretary general was neither as relevant nor as potent as was Sir Louis Blom-Cooper’s version: “Good governance, which can be sustained only by training and education in public administration, is the key to the future stability and development of the territories of the Eastern Caribbean!” In a report following his 1998 Kenny Anthony-initiated inquiry into a trio of events in local public administration, Blom-Cooper had also written the following: “I have discerned in Saint Lucia a culture of studied indifference or, at the very least, inattention to the practice, even the concept, of public accountability—a cultural climate in which administrative torpor is often the consequence, and malpractice in government, including corruption, can thrive . . .” Before Pierre opened his mouth to speak, he joined in a sing-along of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song.’ Like hysterical holy rollers at a gathering of psyched-up Pentecostals, some in the audience jumped up and down and screamed like banshees at the line “none but ourselves can free our minds.”

A pleased Pierre shadow boxed to the beat, while at the table an expressionless Kenny Anthony silently mouthed the lyrics. Then Pierre got down to business. For several minutes, he railed at unidentified victimizers of his party brethren whose only sin was that “they voted Labour in the last elections.” He prated on some more about the lousy condition of the road immediately outside the day’s venue and assured everyone present that the streets and footpaths of Castries East would’ve been in fine fetter if only Labour had not lost the 2006 elections.

Predictably, there were the not-so-subtle suggestions of corruption on the part of the present administration, especially on the part of a certain unnamed Rodney Bay carpetbagger who in 2006 had suddenly discovered an interest in Castries East.

The party’s leader-for-life, when he took his star turn at the mikes, appeared subdued. Or just bored. As they say, repetition kills the soul. He had heard himself say more than a million times before what on the particular Sunday afternoon he was about to present as fresh ideas to the sisters and brothers of Castries East. He acknowledged the chaotic state of the world economy, cited several once-prosperous first-world countries now on their broke knees. He talked about busted banks and once thriving hotels that were now in deep trouble or had not been able to get past mid-construction stage.

Presumably, he had in mind a particular hotel development from his time as prime minister, now abandoned and threatening the once pristine Praslin environment.

Paradoxically, he expressed surprise that “in all the time Chastanet has been tourism minister not a single room has been added to the number in Saint Lucia.” With his straightest face, he said the industry would be booming if only Pierre was tourism minister. He forgot about the sorry stories of Paradis and the hotel formerly known as Hyatt and the absolutely misleading House resolution it begat. Instead, he repeated his earlier voiced politician’s promise to inject $100 million dollars into the economy upon being returned to the prime minister’s chair and in a position to deliver “jobs, jobs, jobs”—regardless of the world recession that simply won’t go away.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the Rock of Sages, a similar if somewhat more populated version of the Marchand revue was underway. As if to underscore the difference between the red-suited Saint Lucians and themselves, the actors had decked out their bodies and their cars and their stage and their lectern in ripe-banana yellow. They sang silly songs way off key, made promises and proffered advice to their opponents on post-election visas.

As is now the norm, Richard Frederick stole the show, despite that he is no longer a Cabinet minister and was not among the day’s scheduled performers. In the frenzy that accompanied him on his way to the stage, he dropped his precious BlackBerry—only to have it returned to him a short time later by one of the attendant thousands of fans hoarse from shouting Richard! Richard! Richard! A miracle in itself!

Suffice it to say that there was no attempted analysis of the nation’s predicament; no word on how current jobs might be retained, let alone the promised ones delivered. There was no word about possible cuts in government expenditure; no plan for the immediate future that made any sense. Then again, politics, as with regular business, is a supply-and-demand activity. Pointless throwing pearls at swine with an insatiable appetite for stale slop.

In the real world, however, reality remains undeniable. The irreducible fact is that the mighty have fallen hard, perhaps never again to rise. Not only is the once great America at a loss how to rescue itself from demons of its own device, the situation in the UK and the rest of Europe is not the least bit encouraging. Consider the sickening statistics: six million Americans unemployed; 16 million of their children in abject poverty. Britain, in the meantime, has hit its highest unemployment level in 17 years. Youth unemployment, too, has reached an all-time high in the UK. All over the world, chaos reigns. From Wall Street to the streets of Beijing, the people are revolting against what they refer to as “the system.”

Meanwhile in Saint Lucia the off-season carnival continues unabated, despite warnings that soon it will be next to impossible—if only because of killer interest rates!—to free our minds via the usual panacea of official borrowing, borrowing and more borrowing. While our porcine politicians in their respective war colors trample each other en route to the near empty national trough, our deprived, disillusioned and desperate young have started taking what they see as their only way out—via a one-way ticket!

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