While the government is trying, via the most pessimistic throne speech in recent memory, to persuade the nation to tighten its belt, the government is doing the exact opposite. From the opening lines of the governor general’s speech, she warned about the bleak future ahead for us: “I would have liked to bring you some glad tiding which would set your world to right. Alas, this is not the case. The world is in turmoil, restless and uncertain.” While the leading economies in the world are embarking on austerity measures, rich as they are in natural and human resources, the Kenny Anthony administration sets out on a spending spree, frittering away the tax dollars of hard working St Lucians and struggling businesses: he increases the range of tax-funded consultants, particularly in the Prime Minister’s office. When this was raised by members of the opposition in the House, the prime minister cynically responded that his predecessor knows full well the large volume of correspondence received by his office.
Evidently Dr Anthony has a fanbase larger than that of any of his predecessors, even the beloved Sir John, who was able to cope with his heavy workload and who achieved more for St Lucia than any other prime minister we’ve ever had. The evidence is all around us, impossible to ignore. The old delusions of grandeur are resurfacing: I have written extensively of the once famous expensive bullet-proof BMW, and of the restrictions placed for hours on the public while the Government Buildings’ elevators were used by this prime minister on his way to his office. My business has not taken me in recent times to the particular building, so I have no idea whether the latest occupants have reverted to this practice which epitomized vainglory. Meanwhile we continue to hear of those mindless delegations going on joyrides overseas instead of attending to the myriad problems facing the country. During the entire period of his five years in opposition the current prime minister embarked on a relentless campaign to polarize and divide the nation. There was no moment of respite and no co-operation with the King administration following the 2006 elections, not even when King called for the opposition leader’s co-operation in dealing with the debilitating crime situation.
Today, crime continues unabated, with increased murders in the first four months of the year. Predictably this prime minister has lamented the management of the economy under Stephenson King. He has promised that under his management, and despite the same conditions that prevailed under King, he will turn base metal into gold. By his economic wizardry St Lucia will soon be excelling is its economic strides and performance. While in opposition he cast all kinds of aspersions at members of the King administration, hounding then planning minister Ausbert d’Auvergne, declaring him unfit for government. He even threatened to warn foreign governments and potential investors not to do business with the government of St Lucia. Today he characterizes Ausbert d‘Auvergne as St Lucia’s second greatest asset. Treasonous threats were made about taking the country back after his 2006 defeat against the legitimately elected government in an election administered by the Kenny administration. How then could there have been election fraud, as claimed. Then there were the dramatic walkouts staged in parliament by the then opposition leader and his cohorts. Today the Janus-faced prime minister, reminiscent of Bingo’s Kenny an’ Tony, says: “The temper of the times requires us to come together. We must come together in our homes, in our schools, in our community halls, in our boardrooms and offices, under the mango tree or the street lamp, in the fields, where we sow and the fields where we reap. We must come together to summon the will and the courage to make decisions in the best interest of the country.” Yes, but only now when Kenny Anthony is prime minister. St Lucia’s House of Parliament lies in the shadows of a large ancient tree that must be older than any St. Lucian living today.
During its time it has been witness to periods of turmoil and turbulence as the many political dramas unfolded. It has seen rogues and men of honor climb the stairs to debate issues of profound importance to the country. I remember vividly the tension of the Hess Oil Terminal debate and the Budget debate when Sir Allan Louisy was prime minister which threatened the downfall of the government and the threat of insurrection was heavy in the air. It was the era of the political firebrands George Odlum and Peter Josie. There were always large crowds gathered in and around Constitution Park to witness the annual throne speech, particularly the maiden budget address of a newly-elected government. This year I witnessed a rather small desultory rabble in place of the enthusiastic crowds of the past. As I passed, a clearly inebriated character tilting like a ship in rough waters muttered under his breath: “Pappyshow.” This was symptomatic of something significant festering in our society; a malaise; a lack of respect; a discovery of a fraud perpetrated on the people.
In the House we were about to see on display a noxious blend of authoritarianism, egotism and vainglory. I witnessed the conduct of the debate on the Estimates of Expenditure presided over by the new Speaker of the House, Peter Foster. I saw elements of authoritarianism rearing its ugly head in St. Lucia. I do not hold any brief for Richard Frederick, but when he stood up on a point of order to draw the Speaker’s attention to inconsistencies in a letter that he had previously written to opposition parliamentarians and the new directions he was issuing to them at the House session, the MP was summarily cautioned by the Speaker to proceed no further or face unstated consequences. I was taken aback by the peremptory manner in which the Speaker would treat a duly elected representative of the people. That he the Speaker was subject to no questions or explanation. It was not a question of keeping order in the House when members get rowdy, boisterous and animated. From my perspective it was a cool, calm, deliberate and controlled contribution that was attempted by MP Richard Frederick, the duly elected representative of the people of Central Castries. I was therefore appalled when I read an article in the STAR of 5th May that opposition MPs were too scared to behave in a fashion that might have cost them “more than they could afford.” The article implied that the MPs had little choice but to toe the Speaker’s line, for contrary behavior would certainly have resulted in “their arrest and expulsion.” Further, that the opposition MPs had been given good cause to believe that to carry on would result in their possible incarceration at the Bordelais Correctional Facility.
I was truly appalled and disturbed, as every St. Lucian should be. that such an insidious threat could be directed at a duly elected representative of the people. We are not living in Gadaffi’s Libya, or Mubarak’s Egypt, or North Korea. In authoritarian regimes citizens are suppressed by a coercive and accommodating military or police force. We will not be turned into a Haiti where at one time critics of the government disappeared in the night. But it is not as farfetched as one many think, for reports are that the President of the Senate, whose reputation for always behaving like a boastful school boy and braggart with the naivete of one imbued with a sense of illusory power, boasted on the airwaves that he was now “the fourth most powerful man in the country” with the authority to arrest any of the parliamentarian in the House.
We in St Lucia live in a democratic country where we enjoy the right every five years to elect a government of our choice. This protects us from political despots and politicians who display megalomaniac tendencies. Free debate is essential to good government, because it promotes the good management of the affairs of the people, by the participation of the members of society, wrote the great English political philosopher John Stuart Mill. What I saw displayed in the House a couple weeks ago, with the attempted intimidation and silencing of opposition members, were the early stages of authoritarianism. When instead of mutual respect and interchange of ideas and opinions an unelected official attempts to silence and humiliate the elected representatives of the people, what can we expect if not violence by the people? Hopefully we will not come to that, but we must be vigilant. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, the author of arguably the most powerful document in political philosophy, The Declaration of Independence for the United States: No instruction from any agent of government (such as a Speaker) should command blind obedience, and that non-cooperation with unjust instructions is both morally correct and socially beneficial.
The rights inscribed in the Declaration, have made America the beacon for all men who value freedom universally, which strongly prevents the perversion of power by politicians. Never underestimate the silence of the people, for they are observing. One by one the despots of the world have fallen or are falling: Sadam, Mubarak, Gadaffi. Some, in their bid to escape the vengeance of their brutalized people, were discovered hiding holes in the ground; like cornered rats. Syria’s Assad, too, will meet his terrible end after the slaughter of so many of his own people. Those despots and their cohorts had the power of life and death over those who dared to oppose them. They finally ran, yes, but could not hide. What then to expect from those whose power is in fact powerless. A final word to them: Every crime is punished; every virtue rewarded; every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty.