In the controversy now taking place here in Saint Lucia over whether government by the Cabinet should sell and lease off our coastline—the Queen’s Chain, it will do well for us to understand the importance of a country’s coastline to the welfare and survival of its people.
Alienation of a people from their coastline or parts of it has historically always led to their coastline becoming a highway for their exploitation and even destruction. Without going into details which the history books are bulging with, we saw it in Africa, India, China, in the United States where the native “Red Indian” population was all but completely wiped out; we see it today in the Middle East where pieces of the coastline of countries there were cut off and placed under the rule of local cutthroats to form sovereign oil states which endure to this day.
And there is the speed with which countries and people can loss their independence when their coastline is alienated. At the 1885 Berlin Conference called by European powers for the purpose of dividing up Africa among themselves, the Conference, which the United States attended, decided that “Any Power which henceforth takes possession of a tract of land on the coasts of the African continent . . . shall acquire them . . . ”. With this “compact of thieves” as it has come to be known, in force, by 1902, just seventeen years after the Berlin Conference, 90 percent of all the land that makes up Africa was under the iron fist of European ownership or control. It was, and it still is, a brutal world out there that civilized people must meet head-on if they are to survive.
Considering the loss of nationhood, and the exploitation, slavery, pain, suffering, and death, that loss of a people’s ownership of their coastline has historically brought to them, other countries should be following our lead in holding our coastline and public access to it inviolable, rather than we ourselves should be following other countries and doing away with those rights. This, the inviolable right of a people to the ownership, access, and control, of their coastline, is a matter that the United Nations could do very well to make a universal right, and include it in its regime of fundamental human rights.
Here in Saint Lucia, Cabinet has no legal standing, as we shall see below, to sell or lease the Queen’s Chain, as Cabinet has decided it will do. If it does, it will be breaking the law and the sale or lease will be null and void.
To tell people that the sale or lease of the Queen’s Chain is being done, as the government says, “in the light of the significant investment the company has made and continues to make to the economic development of the District of Soufriere and Saint Lucia as a whole” (Weekend Voice of 29 Jan 2011), to me sounds mercenary for our country – like Judas damning his soul for thirty pieces of silver. Is nothing beyond price? People make investments to make profit, to make money! Not for our economic development!
We must be sensitive to the rule of law, and more than that we must see to it that laws are in place and are respected that will redound to the survival, well-being, happiness, and future, of us as a people.
The sale or lease of one piece of the Queen’s Chain will lead to the sale or lease of the whole of the Queen’s Chain around the Island, you can be sure of that!
We are new to the business of governing ourselves. We come from a legacy of four centuries of slavery and colonialism when we were not only brutally enslaved, but when we were cut off from the art and science of governing ourselves. We were also cut off from managing our own economic affairs, and from developing the business and commercial side of our private and public lives. The result has been that for at least four centuries we, in common with the rest of our people in Africa and the African Diaspora, lost our sense of economic values and how to handle the wealth producing resources of our country and to manage and market them for our benefit as a people.
We must not forget these things—they really happened to us and their terrible adverse consequences remain with us to today however sophisticated and Westernized we may think we are. We must hasten to catch up with the rest of the world. Weak people tend to take on the attitudes and behaviour of their oppressors. If their oppressors look down on them and belittle and oppress them, then they look down on one another and belittle and oppress one another, and they continue to do that even after the chains of oppression are removed.
We Saint Lucians are not supportive of one another. We should be. We have been Independent since 1979—thirty-one years ago after centuries of slavery and colonialism—and we have sporadically been trying to gain our feet in governing ourselves. How are we doing?
We are doing very badly. We insist on keeping the death penalty and the corporeal brutalization of our children in our schools in our laws, when all civilized countries have stopped these barbaric practices. This shows the measure of the extent to which we continue to mimic our former slave and colonial masters who lynched and brutalized us. We do not even ensure that our young are fed; and we expect them to grow up into normal civilized human beings. Brutalization and hunger lead to brutalization and murder. We see it daily on our streets. And we collectively think that the only way out is to bring in Americans and Israelis to solve our problem of crime for us when we leave the root causes of the problem unattended. We are doing far worse than we should be doing.
We are selling ourselves back into slavery and colonialism. The father of a Saint Lucian lady living in the same Soufriere area tells me that a foreigner bought the house immediately behind his daughter’s home. To her astonishment the foreigner lost no time in visiting her and telling her that he wanted to buy her home, and he added, “if you do not want to sell it to me, I’ll get the government to take it away from you and give it to me.”
Is that possible? Her visitor knew what he was talking about. Since Independence our “chiefs” have changed our laws to make that possible.
Now we hear of the plan to sell or lease our coastline and to drive us to the hills, as was done to our forefathers in Africa.
Frankly, I am worried at the unprecedented unseemly scramble that I see taking place now for election to the House of Assembly at the forthcoming General Elections. No doubt the unscrupulous are already seeing what a bonanza it will be for them if they form part of the next government to have all the coastline and beaches of our country willy-nilly for disposal at their pleasure! And all that, added to their power to take our land and give it to anyone they please! Plus the power to issue Alien-Landholding Licences ad nauseam, and all sorts of gambling and other licences, monopolies, and the like. What a fate awaits us if we as a people do not unite and take collective action! With our country, Saint Lucia, a small, tiny, country, we all could be dispossessed and overcome, and legally too, and in short order, by the deliberate actions of our own leaders.
The supposed climb down of Cabinet, “to rescind the option to purchase” the Queen’s Chain, but to maintain its approval of the offer of a 99-year emphyteutic lease of the lands, leaves us in the same lurch. We are told that that is as far as the Government is willing to go. (Weekend Voice of 29 January 2011)
But does Government not know that an emphyteutic lease is the next closest thing to an outright sale that will produce the same results of violating our rights to the Queen’s Chain for the duration of the lease—for ninety-nine years, that is, for four generations of Saint Lucians down the road, in the case of the granting of the proposed 99-year emphyteutic lease? The law as it stands gives Cabinet no power to sell or lease even one square inch of the Queen’s Chain for one day. Whatever was wrongly done in the past is no licence to repeat the wrong of the past. The wrongs of the past must instead be corrected.
Reading the latest announcement to come out of government concerning the Queen’s Chain, gave me, once again, goose-bumps of fear for the future of our country. And the cavalier sense of ‘we are doing the greatest thing since the invention of toasted bread, for our country’, that accompanies every such foray into disaster for our people and our country, when the exact opposite is being done, is unbelievable! And we expect our country to develop! Yes, it will develop, but what it will develop as it has been doing since Independence, is poverty, crime, hunger, second and third class citizenship, and such adversities, for us, which we can bet will increase unless we inculcate good sense into our heads and place our survival and well-being as a people at the forefront of our minds.
Thankfully, the laws that our colonial rulers left with us, render any sale or lease of the Queen’s Chain by Cabinet, null and void ad initio. This shows that our former colonial rulers were more protective of us in this, than our own elected leaders.
A recent poll in Jamaica showed that a large portion of the people of Jamaica felt that they were better off under British Rule! It surely could not be much different here! Let us recognize our failings and correct them quickly for our own survival. We can do it!
The Queen’s Chain is said to be 186? feet in extent. Why can’t hotels be built just 186? feet away beyond the Queen’s Chain so that both visitors and the local population can together enjoy our beaches? Oh no! That’s not good for us! It’s apartheid that is good for us, what else? Apartheid, the separation of blacks from whites, was practiced in South Africa and elsewhere: and there are some people who think that it must be practiced here! And with our blessing too, even in the era of our sovereign Independence!
Let us instead push those hotels and investors back beyond the narrow strip of the Queen’s Chain so that we may enjoy what has become our birthright, and with our larger, African-derived, humanity truly welcome visitors to enjoy it too! Do we have the strength of character and resolve to do that? We better have!
We must grab and take control of our own fate. Clearly our destiny has not been in good hands all of the time since Independence.
The establishment of the Queen’s Chain and our rights to it, derive from “Ancient French Law”, which was confirmed to us by the “COUTUME DE PARIS” dated 5 November 1681 – that is, 330 years ago. (See Laws of Saint Lucia Volume VI Appendix II).
These rights were constantly confirmed to us, Appendix II shows, by various French Sovereign Acts and Memoranda issued on 6 August 1704, 5 September 1781, 3 December 1757; and when Saint Lucia changed hands from the French to the British, General Grinfield and Commodore Samuel Hood who were the British military and naval commanders at the time of the capitulation, issued a “Proclamation Assurant L’Ancient Droit” dated 23 June 1803 in the name of the British King, assuring the inhabitants of Saint Lucia of their Ancient Rights fully and entirely as they existed before the cession. These British military and naval commanders duly registered their Proclamation in the Registry of Saint Lucia!
These our Ancient Rights have been duly and expressly carried over through every change in the form of government that we have had since then. It is carried over in our current 1979 Constitution of Saint Lucia as an “existing law” under the Transitional Provisions of Schedule 2 to the Order, paragraph 2. Cabinet has no power to change that existing law. The Constitution gives the “Power to make laws” to Parliament under Article 40 of the Constitution. That power does not extend to Cabinet. Cabinet cannot lawfully break that law. “The functions of the Cabinet” are stated at Article 61(3) of the Constitution to be “to advise the Governor-General in the government of Saint Lucia . . .”
In addition, access to and public use of the Queen’s Chain by us from ancient times have long passed into being an accepted rule of law in force in Saint Lucia and it has been accepted and respected as such by all governments—French, British, and colonial—in the past. Though unwritten, that rule of law is acknowledged as an existing law under the Transitional Provisions Schedule 2 to the Order, and Article 124 of the Constitution which states that in the Constitution, the meaning of the word “law” . . . includes…any unwritten rule of law”.
We are not a newly conquered country, so that our rulers since 1979 can take on the mantle of being our conquerors and therefore can do whatever they please. It is noteworthy here that Article 40 of the Constitution which gives Parliament the power to makes laws, restricts the extent of that power. It states that: “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Saint Lucia.”
Would it be for peace and order to introduce apartheid into Saint Lucia in the Twenty-first Century? Not even in South Africa today would it be considered to be! Must we or our children fight a bloody revolution for the recognition of our human dignity not even mentioning our human rights?
Can it be considered to be “good government” to abolish a right that has been accepted as a fundamental right and a birth right of the people, and that has been enjoyed by them from ancient times and confirmed by successive governments? Of course not!
If there are people here who wish to alter Article 40 of our Constitution to give them carte blanche to make any laws they please including a law to abolish our rights to the Queen’s Chain, then they will have to go through the process of getting a bill to do so passed in the House by a vote of “not less than three-quarters of all the members of the House” under Article 41(2) of the Constitution; and under Article 41(6)(b) getting that bill “approved on a referendum . . . by a majority of the votes validly cast on that referendum”.
And so we have it, that, quite correctly, only the people of Saint Lucia by a majority vote for it on a referendum can abolish the laws relating to the establishment of the Queen’s Chain, and our enjoyment of our rights to it. This is as it should be. All of us including politicians must keep to the rule of law and to the making of laws only “for the peace, order and good government of Saint Lucia”, as our Constitution directs.
Politicians must be circumspect and not believe or allow people to talk them into thinking that all they have to do is to win Elections and they automatically have the power to do whatsoever they please or are asked to do. They do not have that power, as our Constitution clearly shows.
Whatever we may have lulled ourselves into thinking, it’s a dog-eat-dog world of predators out there. There are no godfathers out there. The world has become over-populated and resources are running out, we are told. Our survival as a people depends on our own effort. We better know that and make the effort required of us at all times for our survival. We have the resources and the brains to do that.
Editors Note: The author is a Former Governor General of St Lucia.