It seems that nobody speaks anymore or cares about issues that affect the poor. Our politicians are notable for exploiting the ignorance of the simple folk by sounding concerned when they are in opposition, but there is a sudden transformation and a dramatic change of personality and different outlook as soon as they get into office. This was brought into sharp focus recently by a callous and wicked act perpetrated against hardworking citizens trying to eke out a daily living in the north of the island. I speak of the unceremonious eviction of vendors operating outside the perimeter of the JQ Mall in Rodney Bay, Gros Islet. From what I have learnt, without consultation from the authorities with the affected vendors, signs were suddenly erected stating that no vending would be allowed in the area anymore.
The vendors have been operating there for years and to my mind posed no hindrance or obstruction to persons accessing the JQ’s Mall at the point where they operated. Entrepreneurship is about recognizing an opportunity and seizing it. The vendors recognized that not all shoppers like the imported vegetables available at the large enterprises because some believe they are grown with ‘too much chemicals,’ and prefer their local stuff.
Evicted was the lone female vegetable vendor, Mildred David, a hardworking mother of seven children, four boys and three girls, who unlike some of the layabout mothers of today does not depend on irresponsible impregnators to feed her offspring, but labours in the hot merciless sun daily to feed, clothe and house her children. Mildred David is a shining example of a mother determined that her children would not suffer from the same limitations of the lack of a secondary school education that she was not privileged to have. She has inculcated a strict discipline in her children and been unswerving that they devote their time to their studies, and has been rewarded with her two eldest boys now at the Sir Arthur Lewis “A” Level College, and the younger siblings at various secondary and primary schools.
In addition there are two male coconut water vendors who would be there on a daily basis, but due to their infrequent appearance as they move from place to place, I was unable to get their personal stories. Those hardworking individuals whose industriousness should be a shining example for the rest of society, have instead been thrown out by mindless authority, have had to resort to the bushes on the other side of the road, where they complain they only sell about a quarter of what they used to sell before.
In every capital city of the world, an area is allocated for the little man to ply his wares amidst the large conglomerates. In New York City its 14th Street, in London it is Brixton, which provide an opportunity for visitors to experience authentic local flavours. Many tourists to St Lucia enjoy the experience of drinking our refreshing coconut water. Coconut water is one of the purest forms of nature’s bounty, with a unique taste that cannot be replicated when drunk fresh. Our health officials should be promoting the drinking of pure, fresh coconut water, rich in minerals, as an alternative to the sweet drinks that St Lucians consume in large quantities, which contribute to the high prevalence of diabetes in St Lucia, earning us the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of diabetes in the world. But I imagine we who create nothing of worth relevant to us in the Caribbean emerging from our institutions, will await some white medical guru from the advanced countries to proclaim the wonderful properties of coconut water. Meanwhile we lament our colonial past, but love to enjoy the pomp and ceremony and the expensive trappings colonialism has left behind for us to indulge ourselves.
The representative for Gros Islet, Lenard ‘Spider’ Mountoute, has tried to cultivate an image of a nice politician, but the treatment of the vegetable and coconut vendors outside the JQ Mall in Gros Islet, tarnishes his image and portrays him as a man who does not care about the little man. He has violated the principle that politicians are elected by all classes of people in the society, and should deal with citizens equally, and in fact should show a special empathy for those in less fortunate circumstances. Political office does not give one the authority to ride roughshod over small people and deprive persons from earning an honest living. There are urgent social problems which face countries such as St Lucia. Chief among them is the issue of unemployment. Therefore persons who use their initiative, instead of being a burden to the state, and through hard work become self-supporting by pursuing an honest livelihood should be applauded and given encouragement, rather than hounded by government fiat and arbitrarily thrown out on the streets.
Economic and social harmony cannot be realized if the political authority attends to the problems of the economic elite or large establishments and issues of the poor are ignored. It is the duty of the state to adopt a policy that is fair and equitable in order to achieve economic and social stability. Or else we will be sowing the seeds that will ultimately lead to social revolution of the type that is sweeping the Arab World and has occurred throughout history, when the people rise up against the privileged elite. It is those small things that can precipitate revolutions and change the attitude of people towards a government. It was just such a simple thing which occurred in Tunisia in recent times, a slap by a public officer of a little man, who evidently had had enough from authoritarian public servants that he set himself on fire in a public square, an act that has turned the Middle East into turmoil and now has implications for the rest of the world.
It is evident that the Minister and his acolytes on the Gros Islet Village Council, have no appreciation for the noble human quality that makes an individual pursue an honest living, instead of the parasitical ones who are always begging, and those able-bodied men with criminal minds who shy away from hard work, prowling the areas in the north, invading people’s homes and stealing their hard earned possessions. Therefore, I view the Minister’s treatment of the vendors as the most insensitive and wicked act by a government official. These vendors are human beings too with their families to support, to clothe, to feed, to house. Are they expected to take the easy route and sell drugs? Whilst we are it, let me get something off my chest. Since the elections in December 11, 2006, Spider Moutoute has never visited the residents of the community of Reduit Park where I live, to thank them for voting him into office. The roads in the area have been left in a deplorable state since the election of 2006, and have become an obstacle course to negotiate. With elections around the corner they are busy patching potholes in the back roads of Corinth which have been neglected since 2006 as well as the dangerous bridge which links the highway to Corinth. Are people so easily fooled by those last minute cosmetic gimmicks successive administrations engage in at election time?
Our politicians seem to learn no lessons from their predecessors, for their actions and pronouncements when in government evaporate into thin air and their acts reversed when the people eject them from office. What is the point of being pompous and arrogant when in office, and are given a knockout blow at election time? The shock of defeat as we have observed in our politicians is that they sink into a deep depression and suffer from what I would describe as “post-electoral defeat syndrome,” and never regain full sanity.
A perfect illustration is a one-time leader who once strode the corridors of power like a collosus, but has been reduced to uttering puerile statements instead of forceful criticism on a host of issues, and offering strong alternative solutions. I believe the dynamics of local politics would change dramatically if we had what in the public perception are two charming and personable men, Stephen King and Dr Robert Lewis contesting the elections as leaders of the two main parties. Instead the choice is between what the people feel is a piranha and a lovable bear. Meanwhile the electorate remains quiescent. The electorate have taken on a poker face, not revealing their intentions for the upcoming elections, just awaiting the day to deliver their knockout punch to the respective candidates.