So far as I can tell, miracles have never been our strong suit. Which is not nearly the same as saying we are not self-convinced of our natural ability to make the possible impossible. We take pride in bragging that once we’ve made up our mind it cannot be changed, save by rum-and-pork-inspired dreams. Or by some toothless voodoo priestess whose favorite places to visit naked are graveyards at the witching hour.
That few of the fruits of our belief in bush beliefs have come to fruition serves only to strengthen our conviction that notwithstanding our persistent efforts and lofty ambitions we are incapable of knowing what’s best for us, therefore must rely on spirits. As one departed prime minister knew only too well, there is more to this buck passing than most of us would admit.
“We’ve lived with our problems for such a long time,” Sir John used to say. “We can rattle them off at first sight of a whisky glass. Still no one will confront the obvious question: ‘Why do the same crippling problems continue to plague us?’ ” And then the prime minister would add: “We deliberately avoid the ‘why’ question because we know full well the answer will be an accusing index finger pointed directly at us. We know what must be done; we’ve always known what must be done. But we’ve never had the courage to do what must be done; not even for the sake of our children!”
Compton often proffered evidence supportive of the nation’s determination to avoid at all cost the man in the mirror. Not that he was particularly famous for taking the bull by the horns if to do so threatened his career. He too knew the problems; knew what would be the wall-to-wall consequences if he permitted them to take root. But the panacea he prescribed was often more desperate talk—seldom remedial action.
Consider this from his June 24, 1992 Budget Address: “The recent census and the recent elections were revealing, challenging and frightening. In these elections we saw the power of mobilization of the young people. We saw their determination. We saw their enthusiasm. We saw the hope in their expressions as they sang ‘Look Into My Eyes.’ When we did as their song requested we saw the future of Saint Lucia . . . theirs was not a song of revolution. It was about cooperation; about working together for the common good. The title of their song was ‘Everything I Do.’ It is this haunting refrain we must always remember as we consider this budget and give expression to their hopes, their reality, their dreams.”
As for the cited census, it had uncovered a national population of approximately 140,000, 50 percent of which lived between the Cul-de-Sac river and Pointe du Cap—making Saint Lucia one of the most heavily urbanized countries of the OECS, with extremely heavy pressure being placed on the services of the Castries Basin. (A quarter century later, the situation is much worse: 57 percent of the nation’s population is spread out between Castries and Gros Islet.) Fifty-six percent of the 1992 population was below age 25 and some 47.8 under 19.
“Consequently,” Compton reasoned, “in the next ten years or so, at the present rate of population increase, Saint Lucia’s economy must be developed and organized to support a population around 175,000.” (He came close to hitting a bulls-eye. The island’s population currently hovers around 174,000.)
“With our present very narrow resource base,” said the prime minister in 1992, “depending on only two important ranges of economic activity, this is a daunting task. The timid may consider it a frightening prospect. [Is this where Kenny Anthony sourced his 2006 description of an election candidate who needs no introduction?] The bold will consider it challenging. But in any event we must prepare our country for this eventuality and allocate our resources to build the schools, to train the teachers, to prepare our health services to cope, and to organize our economy to provide the jobs. This then is the task ahead.”
He cited the usual demands for increased public sector salaries and wages, pronounced them unrealistic and out of tune with the country’s circumstances. Whether in the private or public sectors, he warned, “salary demands must be based on greater productivity and better quality, and the delivery of higher standards of service.” The price paid for ignoring such pragmatic advice was to be seen all around the region, the prime minister said. Thousands of workers had been sent home; hundreds of businesses large and small had folded.
He offered more bitter pills, heavily sugar-coated: “We must, regardless of political affiliation or preferences, all work together toward a common goal. The first step in solving any problem is to recognize it exists.”
Confronted by the same demons, by now close to full grown Prime Minister Kenny Anthony talked about “reestablishing confidence and cooperation with the private sector.” The following is taken from his 1998 Budget presentation: “In recent years it has become fashionable for governments to argue that the responsibility for generating investment, employment and growth in the economy must be shared with the private sector.”
Alas what passed for government before the Saint Lucia electorate handed him and his Labour administration full control of the farm had “monopolized the investment agenda, undertaking ill-conceived and ill-advised projects in the private domain.” The new prime minister said many projects had been undertaken “without appropriate dialogue or discussion, drawing down indiscriminately on financial resources which should have been available to other sectors in the economy.”
Kenny Anthony offered the assurance his government was “actively pursuing new channels of dialogue, a new framework for cooperation and renewed relationships based on confidence and trust.”
If only the omniscient spirits had chosen to warn us. . . or was it that their warnings went unheeded? As it turned out even as the new prime minister was ushering in a new era of dialogue and transparency, he was surreptitiously engaged with two canny developers in what would become known as the Rochamel Affair, soon to be followed by Frenwell and what today is known simply as Grynberg. So much for the ostensible game-changing prime minister, to whom had been entrusted the future of 16 out of 17 constituencies in May 1997, and who had sworn never to be like “the government that had monopolized the investment agenda . . . that had undertaken, without appropriate dialogue or discussion, several ill-conceived and ill-advised projects.”
As I write Grynberg is before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. Six years the Colorado oilman claimed the Saint Lucia government breached the contract they had inked in 2000, in total secrecy. Legal fees paid so far by taxpayers total to over $3 million. Then there’s the mother of all ironies: the man at the center of the Grynberg disaster, who for the second time was tossed off his prime ministerial perch almost a year ago, is busily attempting to fire up the atmosphere, leading demonstrations against the current government, issuing televised shocking statements about a foreign developer still in negotiations with the government. Among his charges, a lack of transparency on the part of his replacement.
Indeed, a recent front-page story in the Voice quoted him as having promised a gathering in his constituency “there will be no peace until the DSH agreement has been renegotiated”—presumably to his satisfaction. In his own time as prime minister he had conducted similar negotiations with Desert Star Holdings for two years—as usual, in absolute secrecy!
As if echoing the 1992 John Compton, Kenny Anthony in 1998 had referred to public sector wages and salary increases. He emphasized at the time that he had calculatedly made no provision in his budget for the next triennium because it was not his “wish to compromise on-going negotiations” between his government and public sector workers. On the other hand, he said, it would be remiss of him not to emphasize the critical nature of the negotiations, since wages and salaries made up “52 percent of the current budget, the single largest component of current expenditure.” The more things change . . .
Besides, the negotiations were “critical because of the delicate state of the economy.” His government remained optimistic about future prospects . . . but the economy had been in recession for several years. Whatever we do, he pleaded, “development on a sustained basis must not be jeopardized. Some breathing space is still required for the fledgling green shoots of growth to take firmer root.”
And yet in 2007, when a broke Prime Minister Stephenson King, at his wit’s end, pleaded with public servants for more time to meet their demand for increased salaries and wages, Kenny Anthony and his red army took to the steps of the Castries market to insist King “pay de people dere money.” After just two years in opposition, Anthony declared himself freshly returned from Purgatory and ready once more to lead.
He’s at it again, only this time it appears he recently graduated from some hellish boot camp and now is determined to turn the DSH issue into a political football game that will end either when he has scored the winning goal—or when sufficient blood has been shed.
As stated earlier, the first two years of negotiations involving the Kenny Anthony government and Desert Star Holdings were conducted in the regular fashion. Most Saint Lucians heard of Desert Star Holdings only when Allen Chastanet announced during a televised press briefing that his government had signed a so-called framework agreement with the company. The announcement was quickly followed by a leaked copy of the document that soon was turned into a weapon of mass deception.
Once again many of us appear hell-bent on making the possible impossible. Last Friday, during an interview with his party chairman and show host Claudius Francis, a fawning caller asked the former prime minister to explain what he had meant when he said the 2016 election campaign would be a war between the Labour Party and the Chastanets, Allen and his father Michael. As much as his outrageous public statements have become commonplace, Kenny Anthony chose to respond with a reference to his party’s most recent demonstration march: “What I meant is what you are seeing now!” So does that mean the war he led against Allen and Michael continues? Who will be the new casualties?
Citing this message from The Rise and Fall of Nations, by Morgan Stanley Investment Management’s chief global strategist, Ruchir Sharma, seems a fitting way to end this column: “The pain caused by any crisis will induce many countries to demand change—but not always to embrace hard reform.” With Saint Lucians clamoring for constitutional change, then prime minister Kenny Anthony sidelined the Suzie d’Auvergne Commission—on the ground that the thousands of Saint Lucians who contributed to its report were “too obsessed with the power of the prime minister.”
Allen Chastanet must decide: Will he too be solely concerned with his own political survival? Or will he show respect for the people’s 11-6 investment in his leadership, at any rate more than was shown them by another leader handed a 16-1 mandate!