One local Television news anchor described it as the highly anticipated New Year’s address by the prime minister of Saint Lucia, Dr Kenny Anthony. “Highly anticipated?” I thought. By whom? After all, the citizens of this land had grown accustomed to those speeches which have little bearing on what matters most – their daily bread, their safety and the ability to have access to essential services like healthcare and even a new birth certificate. Of late both have become nightmarish and neither have been effectively addressed by any recent leader of this country. So to say that many persons are simply turned off by what politicians are saying instead of doing, would be putting in mildly. So Sunday’s New Year’s address by the PM scheduled for 8 pm was not as highly anticipated, even with all the reminders and updates and selfies by his Press Secretary on Facebook. For many though, the Grammy red-carpet took precedence over the crooning of the ‘en rouge’ prime minister. In the end there was nothing much that was said that would give Saint Lucians hope or even inspire them that at last better days are coming.
Ironically, the prime minister’s written speech started by saying: “Most times, a country turns to its leaders for inspiration and direction. It is often said that the mood of a country and the response of its citizens are largely determined by the actions of the Government of the day. And so it should be! But sometimes, the inspiration comes from the citizens themselves.” Was the prime minister flipping the script here? Well actually, the feelgood spirit the prime minister was referring to was what came after the Christmas Eve Trough.
“On December 25, 2013, Saint Lucia rediscovered its humanity,” Anthony revealed to us, without going into just when and how we had lost it. By way of politicians, you think, who continue to divide us?
“In the worst affected communities of Anse La Raye, Canaries, Piaye, Vieux Fort, Bexon, Marc, Micoud, we saw the best of our people. The “koudmen” spirit that has brought us together safely through centuries of misfortune was on display. Men and women, young and old, children of all ages, people united in a singular cause: to restore order, to reclaim lives, to renew homes, to reach out to those less fortunate. It was so inspiring to see our citizens and in particular our young people reaching out to individuals and families in distress and cleaning their communities of the mud, filth and slush deposited by the raging waters,” the PM went on. After a few more platitudes about his pride for Saint Lucians and so on he then revealed that the Government would be providing support for students 544 who had been affected as follows:
(a) $1000.00 per student to the parents of 112 Secondary School Students;
(b) $800.00 per student to the parents of 250 Primary School students; and
(c) $600.00 per student to the parents of 182 children in attendance at Infant and Special Schools.
“These grants have been made possible by the donations we received and will be paid in the next few days,” Kenny Anthony said.
He then went on about the island’s progress to date post the Christmas Eve trough and listed the donations the island had received.
It would have also been refreshing and informative if the prime minister had brought us up to date about the Virgin Atlantic aircraft situation and the mishap that occurred when it was allowed to land during the trough. Or how about the misinformation put out by NEMO regarding the Martinique Radar? But in this land of zero transparency that may have been asking for much.
But more of the same from the prime minister; “By now, it has become clear to all of us that the global financial situation has dealt a decisive and prolonged blow to the financial landscape of most countries. We have not been spared. The situation has been more acute for small vulnerable countries like ours. Our neighboring countries have been forced to make certain adjustments to their fiscal profiles in an effort to adequately deal with their situation. Tough and sometimes unpopular decisions have become necessary. “Thus far, we have been able to avoid the financial gridlock and mayhem that we have witnessed in many developed economies. Further, unquestionably this recession has been painful for many of our people. It has not been easy. Some of our citizens have lost their jobs as the private sector made adjustments to cope with the downturn. Some businesses have suffered in the process. I know that many families are engaged in a continuous battle to make ends meet.
“If our fiscal situation deteriorates any further, we will be forced to approach regional and international agencies for financial and technical assistance and they may impose further stringent measures as a condition for assistance. It is therefore incumbent on us as a nation to take further action to address our fiscal situation before it is too late,” the prime minister said.
And what exactly are the solutions to this fiscal jeopardy?
“The solution lies in reducing expenditure and improving revenue collection. This situation is not unique to Saint Lucia. Many regional and international governments are faced with the same harsh realities and are called upon to make tough but responsible decisions for the continued viability of the country. We can draw on the experiences of our neighbours, take a proactive approach and choose to take action now,” Dr Anthony said.
“Whatever adjustments we need to make will be announced after discussions with our social partners at the retreat on the economy…”
“Another retreat, another junket, another talk shop. What’s the plan of action man?” I thought.
“We have invited the business community, trade unions and other social partners to a retreat on the economy. At that retreat, we will share with our social partners the challenges which face the economy in a frank and open manner. No doubt the business community and the unions will also share their concerns with the Government. I hope that we can find common ground in the search for solutions to restore sustainable growth to our economy. It is vital that we speak from the same page,” stated the prime minister.
This retreat will be followed by a meeting between the Monetary Council of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union and OECS Public Sector Unions and Associations in mid-February at the headquarters of the Central Bank, St Kitts and Nevis. At this meeting, the Monetary Council will share with the representatives of trade unions and associations the challenges which face regional economies and the need for a shared and collective approach in the months ahead.
The prime minister then touched on fiscal adjustments and the St Jude Hospital, the introduction of laptops to Form 4 students and the NICE Programme. There was no mention of SMILES and the headache the PM’s innovation winner is causing the NSDC, or the STEP program that has sunk Saint Lucia deeper into debt servicing. There was talk of the bridges being rehabilitated post Tomas, but nothing on jobs, jobs, jobs and how we could reduce the growing unemployment rate.
Crime was on the PM’s agenda as he first expressed condolences to all those who have been victims of crime, in particular, the family and friends of those who have lost loved ones to violent crimes.
“This Government will pursue its agenda against crime relentlessly,” the PM said announcing that efforts will be made to enact the Anti-Gang Bill at the next sitting of Parliament.
“The leniency that currently prevails in the sentencing of persons with illegal firearms will be revisited. We will ensure that loopholes within our current laws are closed,” he added.
“We need to rethink our approaches to tackling crime and violence. It is vital that we follow approaches that are centered on citizen security and address the real causes of crime. We have to focus on preventative measures, implement youth crime prevention through education and other community based programmes.” No word as to how these programs will be implemented, by whom, when and with what funding.
Finally this from Kenny Anthony; “fellow citizens, our country, like much of our region, is craving capable, decisive and principled leadership, not just in politics, but across the broad spectrum of our society. Aint that telling coming from “the leader.”
According to Anthony we were once counted among the most progressive peoples of the developing world adding that we appear unwittingly, to be undoing our progress toward sustainability, self-determination and international respect. He went on to say that as such, our region is falling behind and failing its children. Our communities are laid low by all manner of dysfunction. The national psyche is languishing without purpose or direction. We are in need of renewal, morally and intellectually.
But wait for it – here’s the grand solution: “For this to happen we need to be united in a cause. Some vision, some ideal larger than ourselves, which transcends our individual differences and binds us together as a nation. “Further, for this reason we will, in the coming months, be launching an unprecedented initiative to derive, from the people and for the people of Saint Lucia, a national vision of the future of this country and its citizens. “Another talk shop, another set of documents collecting dust?” I again thought.
By that point I was already turned off as nothing had thus far inspired me and given me a shred of evidence that the positive change that some of us pray for daily is on its way anytime soon.