Eleven-year old Anlisha Mayers and her entire household were among those who perished in the 2011 Morne Sion bus tragedy that claimed the lives of seventeen men, women and children. On Thursday November 10, 2011 what has since been described by many as “a freak accident” in Morne Sion, Choiseul occurred amidst a heated general election campaign here. This week, Anlisha’s father, one of five men who lost children in the accident, recalled the last time he saw his daughter alive. Speaking to the STAR, St Rose Mayers, of Ti Colon and employed with Hess Oil, said he cared about his daughter dearly. “I saw my daughter two weeks before the accident. She came where I work when her mother was in the area nearby to see my mother,” Mayers relates. “We spoke for a while, I asked her about school before she left,” he went on. The Micoud Combined School student lived with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend but maintained a good relationship with her father.
On that fateful day when tragedy struck, Mayers recalls going to Inland Revenue to collect a sum of money, a portion of which he told us he had promised his daughter. That evening he had heard of the accident but knew nothing of the details until his wife later broke the news that his daughter, along with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and two siblings had perished in the accident. “This took me by shock and up to now I cannot understand it,” revealed Mayers, who two year’s prior had lost another daughter to a cancerous tumour.
For weeks the nation mourned this tragedy that made regional and international news headlines. An entire small community in the Micoud area had been affected and the UWP administration, in power at the time promised to help families with funeral arrangements and to erect a monument in remembrance of this tragic event. On November 28 a general election was held, a new Government elected and the Morne Sion promises remained.
Sometime in early 2012 St Rose Mayers says he was informed by a friend who had overheard Claudius Francis on the radio stating that some of the relatives of those who had perished were not coming forward to make insurance claims. Mayers got a hold of Francis-president of the National Insurance Council. The matter of his daughter was discussed and he was asked to come in with her birth certificate. “I went and obtained that certificate from the registrar and brought it to Mr. Francis office and left it with his secretary with all my information,” Mayers says. “I stayed in contact with him for weeks and months and never got any indication that I would not be among those compensated. On Monday, November 11, a call went out to all the surviving relatives and by the following day government and the insurance was making good on the PR that they had paid out checks to the families. That is, all except Mayers and four other men. Why? On the basis that they are men and under the law only the mother could claim, if she had survived.
“I was called in by Mr. Francis on the day in question and it was right then and there I overheard him calling lawyers to clarify various sections of the law and told that I would be receiving nothing and that only the women were entitled to the claims,” a surprised Mayers told us. He countered that had his daughter survived he would have gladly taken up the responsibility and if he didn’t, social services would enforce that he did. His arguments fell on deaf ears.
Mayers has sought legal advice, but wants to address the matter through the prime minister. One lawyer confirmed that the term used is ex-gratia, “which is a gesture of good will to the families of the deceased.”
“So why then the discrimination against the men?” we asked. “Well this does seem rather odd since this was not a lawsuit or a legal claim that something from the constitution would be pulled out to deny the men any sort of compensation,” our lawyer told us. “The insurance should do the right thing. In essence it’s discrimination and it is repugnant that they would hide behind a legal loophole.”
Mayers believes that a monument to the tragedy could now be seen as a monument of shame if the men are left in the cold.
Last week the prime minister expressed sympathy to the families of the victims during the second anniversary of the incident urging Saint Lucians to spare a moment for the families, offer words of prayer for the souls of those who died, and offer words of solace and comfort,” Anthony said. And while money cannot compensate for their loss, for the five men who lost their children in the accident the solace and comfort offered would appear to have a gender bias tantamount to discrimination.