If as Pliny the Elder famously determined, “home is where the heart is,” not where one’s funiculus umbilicalis was at birth buried (in Saint Lucia that would be underneath a coconut sapling!), then what to say about our peripatetic prime minister, whose heart seldom beats close to Helen and whose navel string, according to election-time Mark Fuhrmans, was dumped in a utensil at some unidentified Martinique hospital—in much the same way the dearly departed Sir John’s umbilical cord had been fed to fish in the sea at Bequia!
It remains conjectural how officials with whom he presses the flesh during his sojourns in Beijing, France, the United States, Canada, London, sister territories too, truly feel about our neophyte prime minister. They normally put on their best faces and haul out their welcoming brigades to meet and greet and garland visiting counterparts; it’s what follows the pomp and ceremony that matters most. At any rate, by the measure of beggars.
In John Compton’s heyday, that is to say, from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, a programmed parrot would inform the barely-interested section of the public, usually via “the nation’s station” or its single-channel TV, that the head of government had earlier in the day left for another island or was scheduled to leave the next morning on official business. His return home was seldom reported; neither details of his meetings with fellow HOGs. On the rare occasions when an official statement was unavoidable, such as when the leaders of Grenada, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Dominica and Saint Lucia took it upon themselves to invent what would later be known as the OECS Unity Initiative—a bridge to nowhere—Compton would invite barely informed, over-awed and over-friendly newspaper reporters to see and hear him speak in the flesh for a few minutes, usually without questions.
Traveling outside the region was never Compton’s favorite activity. And he made damn certain his Cabinet never acquired the evidently addictive taste for what he referred to as “posturing on the world stage at public expense.” On the other hand, there was nothing the prime minister loved more than weekend sailing with Sir James Mitchell who, while addressing a UWP convention at Gros Islet, had proudly described himself and his boyhood friend, the local party leader, as “two Vincie boys who did well.”
The ministerial not-so-secret love affair with the world’s (back)stage may have started soon after the Allan Louisy Labour Party took office in 1979. If memory serves, one of the contributory factors to the infamous 1982 mace-tossing House flare-up had centered on travel allowances not properly accounted for by particular Labour Party MPs.
As I write our prime minister is again a long way from home. Indisputably, he is our most traveled HOG, if not the entire region’s. It would be instructive to learn how many times since his election some eighteen months ago our prime minister has been unavailable at home; how many weeks; how many months—and to what avail.
He set out on his latest tour de force the day after the last House session, aborted when the Speaker had keeled over in mid-sentence, either from travel weariness or from a particular strain of heat exhaustion. The session will resume on December 5, barring no further mishaps. As for the prime minister, he will be missing in action until shortly before the end of this month.
Not that there’s much wrong with a concerned leader hunting far and wide in the best interests of his fellow countrymen. Especially when they have been landed an overseas reputation for corrupt government by an unthinking vindictive former prime minister. But nations as small and deprived and as paranoid, not to say polarized, as ours have special needs; some purely psychological. I would willingly wager that Donald Trump and Theresa May (with their countless seemingly insurmountable burdens) are more often on home turf than is the leader of this Rock of Sages. True, as chairman of the OECS, he represents four similarly handicapped sister territories. But so too did his predecessors, none especially famous for globetrotting.
The admittedly encouraged growing feeling of abandonment and desperation permeating the population could torpedo the laudable notion that together we can move mountains of misery, that we can put up a more useful fight against the raging monsters we created over the years than we might divided. Some of the especially frustrated among us have openly expressed admittedly outrageous suspicions that our PM travels as often as he does, not only because he enjoys being up in the air but also to avoid, as much as possible and at whatever cost, the demands on the captain of a barely seaworthy ship of state stuck in the worst weather imaginable. Given the opportunity, I dare to say the local majority would risk flying on a duck’s back to the moon. Yes, anything to get out of Dodge!
And why not? It seems every other day another homicide, another rape, is committed by persons likely to remain forever unknown; every other month another scary threat challenges the public safety. Not since the last days of Gaboo and Bonnie have citizens lived in such fear of rampant criminality of the worst kind.
The country needs the personal reassurances of its prime minister, not the sugared third-hand words of unimpressive surrogates that were never elected to office in the first place. The people need to be assured their prime minister knows the full enormity of the problems that plague them—and how to fix them.
Offering the nation more pie in the sky remedies, to be washed down with milk and honey to come, is hardly original and just won’t cut it anymore. Too often have the people placed their trust in viable politicians whose only asset turned out to be a talent for jive talking. Too many times have the people been fooled, observed George Odlum back in the mid-70s. He also predicted the people’s revenge if the conning continued!
Saint Lucians are demanding reassuring proof their prime minister and his team are on top of their game; they want credible evidence of a plan of attack capable at least of slowing down the pace of their country’s deterioration. For too long has ours been a society in distress. Improving the working conditions at the DPP’s office, while laudable, serves little purpose without the support of a well-equipped force versed in the science of modern-day crime fighting.
It is high time something salutary were done about our undermanned, under-financed, demoralized, publicly mocked and embarrassed sole security force. As vital as are jobs and education, the prime minister needs publicly to acknowledge his first duty is to protect the lives and property of all who live here—and to put his money where his mouth is. The evidence suggests he may have a different set of priorities.
Dear Prime Minister, the people continue to cry out for a little less conversation, a little more action. They need to hear from your mouth the delivery dates for the promises you made at election time. More expensive STEP programs by other names cannot be considered an improvement on the original much-criticized model. With Christmas around the corner they pray you will deliver at least two of the promised “five to stay alive.”
Monkey see, monkey do: the prime minister is not the only member of his administration in love with the idea of homes away from home. Too often news reporters and citizens in a mess have reason to hear directly from a government minister. Alas, too many times callers to their offices are off-handedly dismissed by some uncaring arrogant public servant: “Only the minister can talk about this” (and he or she is off island).
It is to be presumed that when the prime minister promised to operate his government “like a business”
he did not have in mind a business that operated automatically, with a CEO disconnected from his
board of directors and their employees, and who communicates with shareholders mainly via public relations specialists.
Sounds too much like government as usual!