Who will save us?

Kenny Anthony

St Lucia’s Prime Minister Kenny Anthony.

I’ve been around long enough to have known the governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank when he was merely a top-tier public official obviously destined for superstardom.  At the time he was John Compton’s director of finance, one of the premier’s two most trusted advisors, the other whiz kid being none other than Ausbert d’Auvergne, Compton’s finance secretary and monarch of all he surveyed, the public service in particular.

No surprise if the talented twin pillars that comprised the then premier’s brain trust seldom stood together. That’s precisely how the Compton I knew would’ve wanted it, for reasons idiosyncratic that I need not go into here. Suffice it to say that on at least one occasion I’d had cause to write about who was receiving what tax-free salary and other special perks—and what was the other guy’s reaction, expressed, needless to say, with attached pre-conditions.

Unlike Ausbert, Dwight seldom entertained media inquisitions; he seemed to go out of his way to avoid journalists. Which is not to suggest he had ever been less than affable in my presence. I always knew him to be gregarious, the perfect gentleman at all times, generous with his time—provided there was no risk of discovering his name in the next day’s headlines.

I recall being quite surprised to learn he had agreed to address the newborn local media association, when its president was Ras Earl Bousquet. But then Earl had always been well connected. Afterward, Venner had stuck around for almost an hour to partake of donated beverages and to small-talk. Did I mention that he had always been extremely cautious about what he says, where he says it—and when? Which may or may not be why he and his earlier-mentioned frenemy are where they are today!

Last Friday Dwight Venner decided it was the  right time to address the Saint Lucia Chamber of Commerce on the country’s economic horoscope. For reasons doubtless calculated he preferred to describe the event as “a conversation,” maybe in anticipation of an exchange of ideas. The audience comprised mainly people normally engaged in local business. That is to say, when there is local business in which to engage.

Presumably the commerce minister and her government colleagues were otherwise occupied. Maybe they had not received an invitation, or were invited but had other more important earlier commitments. Perhaps they were at sea, making certain the fish behaved while Matt Damon and his entourage were in town. To be present at a discussion centered on how the local economy is doing must’ve seemed to the prime minister an unnecessary provocation, a childish waste of precious time, time that might be better spent wrestling with his Budget advisors. In all events the only ostensible government-related attendee was a senator far better known for her business adventures and her generosity toward a particular politician.

Would it have come as news to the senator when Venner prophesied, reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah, the continued existence of the OECS depended on how quickly its citizens quit worshipping lesser gods and acknowledged their leaders, not money, was their main problem?

What might the businesswoman in the senator’s soul have been contemplating while the ECCB’s head honcho proffered the following advice: “Current circumstances pose a very real threat to our actual existence as independent nations and require major approaches to changes in the way we think and solve our problems at all levels.”

Did she concur when Venner identified as one of the region’s killer traditions the fact that to win elections candidates must make promises that “far outweigh their ability to deliver?”

What was the impact on her nervous system when Venner boldly acknowledged “somebody went off the rocks somewhere and now we are having to put Humpty Dumpty together again, without much time?”

Did the businesswoman-senator have any idea who that “somebody” might be? Or when Humpty Dumpy had had his great fall on the rocks? Could it have been in 1997? Or in 2001? Or had the accident occurred that unforgettable evening in 1979 when Castries abruptly turned into Plywood City? The current prime minister had witnessed with his own eyes the unforgettable transmogrification. Some later suggested he had stood on the sidelines in the concealing semi-darkness while the stone throwers fired their missiles and Rome burned!

Or had that regrettable mishap on the rocks occurred between 2006 and 2011? More importantly, is our once upon a time alleged Plywood City traffic director turned driver the man to put Humpty Dumpty back together again?

Our businesswoman-senator had rubberstamped the success formula the prime minister presented last April, with its over-optimistic reliance on tourism’s imminent resurrection and an envisaged fantastical construction boom that would result from debt-financed government concessions to new-home builders. We can only speculate about what may have gone through her mind when Venner implied that when it came to private sector business the finance minister was absolutely clueless, that “what in fact pushes the economy is not construction but foreign exchange!”

With all her demonstrated faith in her leader, did she consider even for a moment that Venner might be on the money, that in po-ass backwaters like Saint Lucia with an almost non-existent tax base it takes foreign cash to make the local mare fly? Or was she secretly thankful to Venner who obviously knew the difference between public and private sector fruit?

By his own open admission the ECCB governor had been close to what now threatens our very existence. If only he had said in 2007, “when the crisis began,” what he was now saying about tourism and construction and foreign exchange, what miseries he might’ve
spared this nation? Or
even in 2009 when, at Venner’s own telling, the
crisis really started “biting into the Currency Union.”

Poor hapless Stephenson King, no, poor gullible Saint Lucia, how we might’ve benefited from what Venner knew at least seven years ago but had chosen to keep to himself! Consequently, the people were coerced into forking out public sector wage increases of over 14 percent, which the prime minister recently cited as one of the main contributors to our apparently irrevocable fiscal problems.

And so, now that the OECS horses bolted, our loser stable keepers had decided to come together this week for yet another conversation, this time including the governor of the ECCB, that certainly is at least 50 years too late, if we consider the ignored dire warnings about wastage, state-endorsed corruption, blatant nepotism and
limitless arrogance issued
by Sir Arthur Lewis at time of the federation that failed, through the banana-days of John Compton and Eugenia Charles.

Indeed Kenny Anthony, Keith Mitchell, Ralph Gonsalves and their drowning-in-the-red comrades, had all talked the obligatory talk about what awaited us down the road if we (?) refused to curb our (their?) profligate ways.

If only they had also walked the walk. If only they had understood while pursuing their UWI degrees that the thinking that created the now entrenched OECS problems never stood a chance of solving them.

Oh, but I, for one, refuse to believe all is lost. Not when Dwight Venner has made it clear that leadership is our main problem, not money.

Notwithstanding the IMF’s slimy green monster at our door, the ball remains where it has always been, in the people’s court!

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