The new year presents a time to look back at the challenges of the previous year and most of us look ahead to correcting things that were poorly executed, resolving to improve in the current year. Last January I failed to state clearly my wish for my country and its people during 2016. I hope to make up for that this time around with a three-part wish for Saint Lucia in 2017.
The first is that Saint Lucians spend more time reading. Resolving to read for at least half an hour each day a book that stimulates the imagination would be a wonderful start. Enlightened radio and television personnel ought to recommend to their audiences books they consider worth reading. I hope there is no need to say, when I speak of reading for mental stimulation and for staying up to date on world matters, that I do not include tweets and whatsapp postings by the obviously obtuse.
The second of my three-part wish is that my fellow Saint Lucians embrace the idea of excellence as a national goal, to be pursued with unshakable determination. I go so far as to suggest Parliament considers changing our national motto from “The Land, The people, The Light” to “Enlightened Excellence” or some other combination that includes the words “excellence and enlightenment”, not necessarily in that order.
To that end, Nobel Laureate observances ought to be national events and not merely a Castries thing. Certainly the professionalism, vision and dedicated work which brought the two local sons world-wide recognition had little to do with Castries or even Saint Lucia, the land that gave them birth and little else. Both Sir Arthur Lewis and Sir Derek Walcott were recognised by others before they were embraced by their own. Even today their names mean more abroad than they do here. In any case, Lewis and Walcott belong to all of Saint Lucia, not only those who live in the capital. Hopefully, the Nobel Laureate Festival will help accentuate the need for a national reading initiative – reading contests at our schools, with attendant publicity – and continue to be celebrated regardless of which party is in office.
The third aspect of my new year wish is that the proposed DSH project in the south succeeds beyond all expectations. No, I’m not suggesting that the government buys a pig in a sack. I am surprised the former government sat on this for so long. I am aware that there are many others in the Caribbean hungry for foreign investment. The government should therefore do everything in its power to negotiate the best deal possible on behalf of the people of this country.
Since our D-Day some forty plus years ago the town of Vieux Fort has stagnated. The long banana lines on New Dock Road have all but vanished from memory. Even the concession to load bananas in the south has been pulled back. The Beausejour government farm has regressed almost beyond recognition and the Vieux Fort River continues in the rainy season to be a threat to our international airport.
The opening of Hewanorra Airport and the Halcyon Days Hotel, along with an impressive agriculture exhibition on D-Day, had given the south new hope. The vision included further multi-million dollar investments by Court Line and the re-basing of LIAT at Hewanorra, under Court Line influence. The ambitions and vision of the energetic John Compton faltered when Court Line went bust in 1974. At the time Vieux Fort was being prepped to push Castries into second place as the national centre of commerce. In light of the new DSH proposals for Vieux Fort, the south may once again be poised to take off economically. The proposals must be properly handled, as I’ve noted, and the people must see a future tied-up with this new vision.
And speaking of DSH, the need for politicians to cease pursuing narrow partisan politics and instead take the high ground is obvious. I would have supported the DSH proposals, regardless of the party in office. The neglect that has turned Vieux Fort into a ghost town populated by walking dead cannot be blamed on the new government. Allen Chastanet’s administration would obviously have preferred a more solid economic base from which to launch its social and economic plans for the southern end of our island. It would have preferred to have had the DSH proposals properly negotiated and signed by the former government. The Chastanet government will now have to take the situation as it finds it and use its skills, energy and vision to build a new south from the neglect of the past.
Thankfully, the voice of the opposition has moved from the hateful and belligerent rhetoric of the last elections campaign and new voices are emerging from the dark shadows of SLP’s past. Some people remain hopeful that the new SLP configuration in parliament (Laborie, Vieux Fort north, Dennery north, Castries south) will stand up and apply a patriotic vote for Vieux Fort and Saint Lucia by supporting the final DSH agreement as they would have done a year ago.
Butch Stewart of Sandals hotels recently announced the construction of a 350-bed luxury hotel in the north of the island. That announcement makes it imperative that the government try its utmost to ensure a comparable large foreign investment in Vieux Fort to balance the orderly development of the whole island. The south has been starved of meaningful development for far too long. Even the international airport has stagnated and now little St. Vincent is threatening to overtake Saint Lucia with its own modern international airport.
People ought to be reminded that neither DSH nor anyone else can take away any portion of Vieux Fort if the project should fail and investors walk. Furthermore, it is timely to remind those interested that the DSH horse-racing facility will not be the first horse-race track to be established in Vieux Fort. The original was between the river end of the main Hewanorra runway and the La Tourney hills. There was a large two-storey wooden pavilion and on race day many Saint Lucians flocked to the horse races. My grandparents’ home was about one mile from that race track.
Finally, had the DHS proposals been dealt with expeditiously by the previous regime, putting the final touches to this major investment proposal would have been easily agreed to, I suspect, by some of those now predictably protesting. Still, the process must be finalised soon if Vieux Fort and the south are to move forward. It’s time to make the south a place worthy of the island’s Nobel Laureates. It’s also time to make reading a regular activity in our daily lives. It’s high time we quit this dirty habit of spitting in our own faces which, in effect, is what we do when we oppose for opposing’s sake. By now we should all have learned this lesson. That obviously too many of us have not, is a crying shame!