Ever since Rochamel became a household word with special meaning to Saint Lucians, it has become de rigueur for one particular public official, whenever required to account for his stewardship, to take refuge behind his favorite line, “Take me to court!”—as if indeed it were Samson’s jawbone of an ass. But Samson he is not, and certainly Saint Lucians are not philistines. At any rate, not all of us are antagonistic to artistic and cultural values. Not all of us subscribe to what Sir Louis Blom-Cooper described in 1998 as “the culture in Saint Lucia of studied indifference . . . the inattention to the practice, even the concept of public accountability, the cultural climate in which administrative torpor is often the consequence, and malpractices in government (including corruption) can thrive, unhampered by detection or, if and when uncovered, by disciplinary action.”
Indeed, the very first time Kenny Anthony offered his services in the best interests of our nation, the people entrusted him—despite his political track record that left room for doubt—with our nation’s immediate and long-term future. If indisputable proof were needed that what went on before had been to the people a curse, there it was in the record 16-1 mandate that they handed Kenny Anthony’s Lucia Labour Party on 23 May 1997. Doubtless, his promise to operate for the first time in Saint Lucia “a government of transparency and accountability” had fired up the imagination of a people who had for far too long been treated as the hired help on their own plantation.
To again borrow from Blom-Cooper, retained by the Kenny Anthony government to investigate corruption in the governments of John Compton and Vaughan Lewis: “The suspicion in the public mind is that the machinery of government is not working—and that consequently corruption is rife—is almost as damaging to the public weal as individual corruption itself. Good government . . . is the key to the future stability and Saint Lucians should be assured that failures and malpractices in government, once identified, will not go publicly unnoticed. Saint Lucian sunlight on government has been too often clouded over by an unwillingness of those in authority to expose to public scrutiny the public activities of either themselves or of others.”
For some it has become a knee-jerk response that it is counterproductive to focus on the sins of the previous administration, that “we paid the price in the 2006 general election and now the spotlight should be on the party in office.” It is of course a self-serving line, and absolutely presumptuous to boot. Let me admit right now that it is important to keep the focus of public attention, not only on the House majority, but also on the opposition. After all, how the opposition votes in parliament is an indicator of the policies they will follow as incumbents. And of course it goes without saying that the day’s government must take full responsibility for its own policies.
Pointless saying “we’ve paid the price” for maladministration, paid the price for not looking out for the people’s interest when we were in office, paid the price for frittering away millions of taxpayer dollars, so forget about the past and instead concentrate all public attention on the day’s administration. Where does it say the price for mismanaging the people’s business is one term in opposition? Why not two? Or three? To my mind, any prime minister found to have abused his office, better to say, betrayed the people’s trust, should of his own volition step aside, lest he become too heavy a burden for his party to drag around at election time.
I quickly add that there are no laws on our statute books to prevent citizens with unsavory track records from seeking seats in parliament. Rightly, only the people have the right to discard them. To say such candidates should be hounded about their past after the people have elected them, well, let us remember who put them in parliament in the first place.
And speaking of laws, let me repeat: some of the most egregious behavior in office does not in Saint Lucia amount to a crime prosecutable in our courts. Maladministration, for one, regardless of how many millions of dollars may be involved. Neither is victimization, so far as I can tell. Our integrity commission is a sick joke at the expense of the people.
As Sir Ramsahoye put it with reference to Rochamel: “The standard of proof in criminal proceedings is proof beyond reasonable doubt,” and with our officials as their own investigators it is unlikely that one will face a criminal court judge any time soon. It is high time independent bodies were set up to investigate suspicious behavior in office. Until then, get used to more of our officials contemptuously thumbing their noses at the electorate as they dismiss our multiple concerns with four-word sentences. “Take me to court,” indeed!