Time was when the poor on this island carried themselves with a certain dignity and self-respect. Such was considered an uplifting attribute. Half a green lime would cut off any offensive odor from the armpits. Crushed charcoal gave the teeth a white clean sheen aided by the pith of chewed sugarcane. A cake of blue soap was up to the task of washing the most soiled clothes using a scrubbing board. Neat clean clothing, properly worn, added luster to the pride of the wearer who had taken care to shower and comb his or her hair.
At that time, poverty was not a death sentence against those who had no money. Instead, it was a concern, which forced people to take a closer look at their situation and resolve to work hard to better it. Low paying jobs were never a barrier to progress. It was where everyone began the upward climb to a better life. To work with pride and purpose whilst refusing to treat any man as inferior or superior was the quiet resolve of those determined to change their economic situation for better.
There was no government Minister to turn to and no civil servant to bend the rules towards corrupting the colonial system of governance. Those who understood the system and played by its rules survived and progressed. It was partly the dependence on their hands to earn an income, which was the basis of the self-pride and self discipline felt by many. Even in a backward colonial period where poverty was rampant and the word enlightenment unknown, few citizens bothered to complain. People just worked, and worked hard!
What do we see today as we approach thirty-eight years of political independence from colonial rule? Can we say with optimism that the journey to progress and enlightenment continues apace? Or are the crooked and selfish political leaders we once trusted slowing us down? How has the democratic vote been used to secure financial gains and progress? Let’s be clear, there has been much progress in education, in infrastructural development, in health, agriculture and communications. But there are still too many young people falling prey to drugs and senseless violence and crime. Who will teach the youth that crime does not pay?
Who will convince them that crime is a narrow path that leads to an early grave? There are too many vagrants on the streets of our towns and villages. Is there no one empowered to give a hand-up and stop the rot? Vagrants continue willy-nilly to degrade the city and the places they inhabit. It’s time to stop the lip service and find solutions to the decay.
This island has obviously progressed since independence in the quality and design of new homes. Suitable accommodation for those who cannot afford to build needs more urgent attention. A recent television show, ‘Open Mike’ had some interesting things to say about the development of better, more suitable high-rise apartments in Castries and its environs. As in most countries, cities attract people in search of a new life. But the pace of housing development often falls far short of demand. Castries is no exception. It is crying out for the implementation of ideas such as discussed by John Peters, an engineer, on that particular TV show.
Many young and working persons find city life more attractive. It’s convenient to access government offices and services, schools are often within walking distance. It means less money on transportation. There has not been a thoughtful and well-planned attack on the expansion of Castries since the attempt by CDC to rebuild the town following the Castries fire of 1948. It’s therefore time for a new thrust.
There has been more than enough talk of redesigning the outer limits of the city and adding new life and new high-rise buildings for those most in need of suitable accommodation. Persons who are paying attention appreciate the parlous state of the national economy and the country’s debt burden. But it’s time to put the past behind us and forge ahead and do something futuristic, imaginative and bold to save the island’s capital from further decay.
Therefore, any imaginative plan including the build, own, lease and transfer (BOLT), idea or any combination of private and public sector arrangement that would break through the quagmire that holds back the development of Castries, is desperately needed at this time. The government working with the Castries City Council and private investors, local and foreign must be prepared to break new ground to stop the rot and inspire hope. It must do whatever it takes to break new ground and construct modern high-rise apartments in and around Castries and elsewhere on the island.
Growing the national economy and creating new jobs is an obvious priority for the new Allen Chastanet UWP Government. Whilst its
energies are focused on the economy, the government must not lose sight of the fact that investment in housing and infrastructure in Castries is an avenue to achieve part of its stated agenda.
Castries needs uplift and it needs it soonest. The city today is almost undeserving of the birthplace of Nobel Laureates Derek Walcott and Arthur Lewis. Those who disagree would do well to remember that Castries is judged as much by the number of flashy cars on its roads as by the overwhelming stench that assails the nostrils of residents and visitors alike. This decay will lead to death if it is allowed to continue. We may always have the poor amongst us but they must be helped up and made to see that pride and dignity need not be lost attributes even among the poor.
The author served in both Labour and UWP administrations.