Once upon a time thinking Saint Lucians could count on hearing from him at least once a year. He would predictably materialize on TV for the particular purpose of decoding the more arcane aspects of the day’s Estimates of Expenditure for the enlightenment of the conceivably dim “ordinary man in the street,” who in turn would unfailingly lavish on him as much praise as not always deserved brickbats, to say nothing of innocent adulation.
Never mind his ever-present smile, Jeff Stewart always came war ready. He rarely depended solely on his fine sense of recall. He could rattle off statistics going back several years, always with indisputable official figures at his fingertips should the need arise to validate his sometimes shocking assertions. No surprise that we sometimes found ourselves not on the same page.
For instance, while his figures may have indicated economic growth during a particular period, I usually was more concerned with how it had impacted the circumstances of his “ordinary man in the street.”
Despite his constant and seemingly unnecessary reminders that he was “a Labour man” never mind his at times caustic critiques of Kenny Anthony policy, he made no secret of his having worked closely and fruitfully with John Compton in the era of green gold, when Stewart was the widely praised head honcho at Inland Revenue.
His interest in the future of the United Workers Party may well have died about the time a beleaguered Compton conveniently abdicated to become the behind-the-scenes manipulator of his own puppet prime minister. Or was the straw that broke the camel’s back the later election as United Workers Party leader of Morella Joseph amidst rumors that Stewart had been expecting a particular call from on high that never came?
In all events, the popular perception was that throughout the 2011 election campaign his heart was en-rouge. So, no surprise that he showed up with Timothy Poleon on Choice TV last Wednesday evening in a jacket as crimson as the show’s flaming Hot Button logo. Before long, however, he was echoing the after-the-fact sentiments of Saint Lucians at home and abroad on the subject of VAT. By all he said, it was a death sentence that Kenny Anthony had visited on a trusting populace already drowning in mud.
Stewart knew whence he came. The CEO of Stewart & Associates, arguably the nation’s premier tax firm, he had lived, if only vicariously, in the hurting belly of the beast and knew only too well that VAT, as imposed by the government, was wiping out private business, long-established and otherwise, at an accelerating pace—even as government ministers traveled aimlessly with nothing to
show at their end of their peregrinations.
But then the government was by now used to that kind of talk-talk-talk, public venting followed up by still more words without action. Conveniently reminding themselves of his profession, not to say his suffering clients, Red Zoners may even have dismissed Stewart’s less than enthusiastic reaction to the “oppressive, anti-worker, anti-poor” VAT as just another believer in nothing “singing for his supper.”
As for Stewart’s hardly original discovery that something salutary had to be done about the millions of taxpayer dollars annually frittered away on rented accommodation at home and on the upkeep of overseas mansions for the chosen few, as well as the more than yearly $50 million for public sector wages and salaries, all with no appreciable returns, well, that had never brought down the House. So, why should it now? It’s not as if Stewart had a party behind him that was motivated, mad as hell and determined not to take anymore crap from uncaring politicians. You know, as had been the Labour Party in 1996-97 and in 2007. Besides, he’d soon be off-island again.
Who knew Stewart had more smart bombs to drop? As if what he’d already unleashed had not been enough of a hint, he went on to say he was “totally disappointed with this Labour administration.”
If it truly had the public interest at heart, he asserted, and considering the root cause of the nation’s recurring migraine was the government’s off-the-charts wage bill, it would by this time have dispatched a few dozen idle civil servants. Instead, the government had hired its own trainload of talentless bloodsuckers to keep the earlier UWP-installed leeches company.
When Poleon suggested such action might prove unhealthy for the government, an obviously distracted Stewart suggested the laid-off public service drones might be replaced with others “from the street”—something akin to jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
Small wonder that a number of red-eyed viewers later expressed the jaundiced view that Stewart was just another former Red Zoner who had lost his fire in much the same way that a once “brilliant” George Odlum had finally lost it.
If you will permit a not so large digression: details of Odlum’s transmogrification from wunderkind to parody are to be found in an article under the heading “My Country Saddens Me,” published in the STAR shortly before Christmas 1995, from which is taken the following: “We cannot fine-tune our democracy to accommodate our self-development. We want the earth but cannot abide the sacrifice necessary to effect the possession. We see values plummeting but we lack the will to arrest it. We are nice calypso boys who cannot afford the unpopularity of straight speaking or firm action.”
As if that were not proof enough that the once revered “intellectual” had lost his unique brain cells, there was also this, delivered at a local gathering shortly before Compton anointed Vaughan Lewis, when Odlum was still Saint Lucia’s U.N. ambassador with his eye on another prize, and based in New York: “There is a kind of telescopic fascination about seeing the world at work in the United Nations and watching the pressures, the vulnerabilities, the arrogance of power and the humility of indigence, and then returning to the Rock of Saint Lucia to see the blissful unawareness of our people; the recklessness with which they squander their most valuable resources; the callous way they dissipate their strengths; the bumbling recklessness of their administration.
“Then there is the way the broad principles are locally personalized into peevish protest; the arched backs and jutted jaws that dominate the fluency of discussion and impedes problem solving; the flippant, uncaring profligacy with which we treat the grave problems of our economy. We get and we spend and we continue to spend even when we can’t get . . . Our country is careening down the slope but the passengers are fondling the joystick, wild with the euphoria of living. Tomorrow will take care of today’s problems. Why save today when tomorrow we can borrow?”
Was George Odlum a prophet-poet and we never knew it? Then there was this from his final Budget presentation, before he resigned or was kicked out of Cabinet (the governor general received his and the prime minister’s letters at the same time; she has never divulged which she read first!): “There exists in this Budget a serious dichotomy between the government’s claim that it is working harder and performing better than its predecessor and its own schizophrenic profile. This government must come to terms with the public perception that it says one thing but does something else.
“We must avoid the clever devilry of giving a concession with one hand and taking it back with the other. We must cease our use of flashing mirrors to blind the eyes of our people. We must convince them that the government is honest and straightforward with its citizens.”
With expressed regrets he acknowledged his prime minister’s budget had failed to address “the alienation of all the important sectors of the community: the media, the private sector, the banana farmers, the public servants, the teachers.”
Then came the nail that sealed his political casket: “This government has achieved in just three years what the previous government had taken 30 years to accomplish: wall to wall alienation!”
And so we return to Poleon’s guest in his red jacket, the latest apostle to declare his “total disappointment” with the government that Kenny Anthony leads. Alas, it would be an evening of contradictions. If earlier he had suggested the sacking of civil service parasites in the best interests of reducing the government’s wage bill, and then filling the resultant vacancies with “people from the street,” now he wanted everyone to know, despite his expressed disappointment with Kenny & Company, still he considered the architect of his misery “the best man to lead this country!”
Asked if he thought Philip J. Pierre might make a useful replacement for the present HOG, Stewart sniffed. Both were “too old,” both had delivered all they had and look where they had brought us. What Saint Lucia needed desperately was a young and vibrant leader and Stewart had just the right man in mind. He possessed a magic touch, so to speak, had been successful at everything he attempted; had given us the Beausejour Cricket Grounds, World Cup Cricket etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Who else but the singular Ernest Hilaire?
Now, I am not about to challenge Stewart’s stumping on behalf of his candidate for a job not yet vacated. But even he must know there exists in bold print and elsewhere conflicting assessments of Mr. Midas, not unnaturally. Besides, what has Hilaire done for local cricket that has not been surpassed by Darren Sammy?
Moreover, Sammy is the younger man!
If, in any event, it could be said with the straightest of faces that without spending a dime of his own money Ernest Hilaire had gifted Saint Lucia with a top-tier cricket field, who then would deny the departed George Odlum had left the nation a multi-faceted state-of-the-art stadium, notwithstanding a Chinese pimple here and there? And yet the Big Brother was never considered prime minister material. Not even by Allan Louisy, with whom he had inked a related devilish pact!
Then again, and sad to say, the job of choosing our prime minister was never left to the common people. Regardless of the language that describes the elevation process, the all-important decision has always been in the hands of people with no track record to speak of, no obvious perspicuity. The irreducible truth is that the chosen eight or nine individuals who have always chosen
our prime ministers were never, shall we say, men with any appreciation for metaphor!
Since the next prime minister is hardly likely to be Philip J. Pierre (at any rate, according to Stewart who has always known more than he divulges on TV!), and since it seems Pierre is quite comfortable with his acting role and just might be satisfied down the road with some kind of Oscar, we are free to suggest who, other than Stewart’s stated choice, would best fill Kenny
Anthony’s size fifteens should he suddenly decide to vacate them.
No need to remind me that it’s not up to Quashie to choose our next monarch of all he surveys. Still there’s a small window of hope. Assuming none of the sitting Labour MPs is made of prime ministerial stuff, the new man or woman will have to face the electorate in a by-election—as had Vaughan Lewis back in the day.
Of course, Lewis was guaranteed safe passage to Compton’s chair, via Babonneau or Castries Central, both UWP dominated constituencies. Since then, however, many things have changed. Certainly,
there is no longer any such thing as a safe seat, especially with no sign on the horizon of promised “better days.” It’s open season. The chosen candidate will have to work hard for the money. Much will depend on what he brings to the table.
Stewart has already told us his man is loaded: cricket record, cricket field, and all that jazz.
Well, now I’m placing my chips on an undisputed successful possible candidate with a sterling reputation throughout the region and further afield. His fans, I’m told, include such as Michelle Obama, Martha Stewart and Paula Deen, all famous for their cooking.
For more than two decades, he has been a major employer of Saint Lucians and a respected household name. At any rate, his prize-winning brand is. What’s more, his accomplishments have never been at the expense of taxpayers. He is quite obviously a marketing genius. Indeed, I can think of no department of government that would not benefit immensely from his attention.
In case you’re still wondering whether I might be describing a recently arrived Martian, let me add that my candidate is very much from this planet, although he has never been in politics and therefore has never had to promise what he could never deliver. In short, he is untainted.
Though he has no way of knowing it, my man for prime minister is none other than the vibrant CEO of the super-successful, multi-award-winning Baron Foods: Ronald Ramjattan. As far as I’ve been able to establish, his favorite color is green, not associated with any local political grouping. Which is to say, if he should emerge victorious following a by-election, Ronald Ramjattan could find himself the Caribbean’s first independent prime minister.
Oh, happy day.