On February 22nd’s Independence Day, Saint Lucia celebrates its 40th year as a nation state.This year’s Independence Day is, of course, one for special celebration and cheer. Over four decades Saint Lucia has established and grown a unique identity for the people who call this Caribbean island home. Yet, like any anniversary, this year’s Independence Day is also one for deep consideration, especially as it’s a decennial.
In reflecting on the nation of Saint Lucia in 2019, there are many tools and resources available when it comes to measuring the success of the country since independence, its greatest strengths, and the hurdles ahead that it must clear to grow further. So how does Saint Lucia rank right now among the nations of the world? And what does this tell us about the future of the country going forward beyond February 22nd?
How Progress is Measured
When it comes to defining the success of a nation, a clear distinction must be made between the profitability seen in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) alone, and other factors that collectively make up a nation’s life, and the value of being a part of it.
After all, while the United States and China may be the world’s two biggest economies, the civil freedoms and right to participate in the private sector, as enjoyed by the average American, are markedly different from the restrictions of personal rights and private business that the average Chinese resident faces daily.
By this same measure, while none of the Nordic nations of Denmark, Norway and Sweden rival the US or China, they regularly top the table of civil and social indexes when it comes to measuring the quality of life and society that their average citizens can experience.
Saint Lucia by the Numbers
According to the Social Progress Index — a widely recognised yardstick for a comprehensive and diverse measurement of nations globally — Saint Lucia ranks 71st out of 146 nations, with good scores for nutrition and basic medical care, water and sanitation, and access to electricity, and also ranking highly in the rate of mobile telephone subscriptions and political rights. While any cursory read of STAR Businessweek articles of 2018 alone would show there remains much progress to be made in health, energy, and communications, the foundations of a successful nation are evidenced here.
Within Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index that measures public sector health, Saint Lucia has ranked 50 out of the 180 nations measured across the world. Any fair observer would identify value in improving this ranking, but this also comes at a time when Transparency International is recognising new threats to nations at the very top of the index.
If Castries can maintain a strong and steady approach to reforms and optimisation of processes, there will be ample room for optimism. This is affirmed by the World Bank Governance Indicators which show Saint Lucia scoring regularly in the mid 70s and 80s (out of 100) when it comes to the strength of its government processes and rule of law. By no means will all Saint Lucians agree with all decisions made by the government of the day or those in the legal sector but the cornerstones of these systems are strong, and that bodes well for greater growth and enhancement of processes in the future.
Beyond indicators and data alone, independence is also, at its core, a question of identity. As well as Saint Lucia reaching 40 years of independence, neighbouring nations have also been in a celebratory mood lately.
The Neighbours’ Parties
Dominica celebrated 40 years of independence last November. In his Independence Day address to the nation, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit encapsulated the enduring faith in God that Dominicans have always held, while heralding the practical progress they have made in the social arena, citing the victories against what Skerrit notably called “the war on homelessness and helplessness”.
In complement to Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is set to celebrate 50 years of independence this October. 2019 will also be the 10-year anniversary of the 2009 republican referendum when citizens were asked to vote on whether the nation would replace Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state, and elect a president. The country will be reflecting not only on its years since independence, but on what may make it more independent still.
Just as Saint Lucia’s independence comes with acknowledgement of strengths acquired, and of the challenges the nation will face ahead, so too do neighbouring nations undertake the same. In a notable speech in 2017 during Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ thirty eighth independence anniversary, Prime Minister Ralph E. Gonsalves referenced the changing dynamics of the Caribbean and the wider world requiring new consideration on what it means to be a citizen, and the value of holding citizenship.
He called it “the highest office in the land” and stated, “This fundamental truth” would stop his government “from joining any bandwagon, however tempting its lure of easy money, which urges us to sell our citizenship and our passport.” While Prime Minister Gonsalves surely won some fans for his views in declaring, “Our citizenship is not for sale; it is not a commodity for trade or commerce,” presently his nation is the only one out of the six member nations of the OECS to not offer a Citizenship by Investment Programme. The opposition New Democratic Party has committed to introduce such a scheme should it win office at the next election in 2020.
An Independent Nation, A Shared Future
The experiences of surrounding nations affirms the reality that independence celebrations are never just tributes to civic life alone, but can also be highly political. It is something Saint Lucians will reflect on in the weeks and months ahead. While there is much to cheer about in the history and achievements of Saint Lucians, there’s no escaping the reality that youth employment here remains high, the health care system has been embattled, crime is reaching unprecedented levels, and controversy continues surrounding the future of Citizenship by Investment Programmes.
Yet though independence is a celebration of an individual nation, it is also a celebration of the people who form the country. Challenges that exist will not all be solved by February 22nd, but a greater sense of shared identity and community will speed progress in addressing them.
That’s something to toast to, cheer for, and celebrate, this month and beyond.