If You Asked Me, Letters & Opinion

To Each His Own Opinion

Stan Bishop
Stan Bishop

IF, say, a major investor decides to plunk down a multi-million-dollar investment that redounds to hundreds of Saint Lucians becoming employed, the obvious knee-jerk rationale is that it benefits our island exponentially. Besides those obvious pluses inherent in such a venture, however, would be some basic concerns. In some circles, a SWOT analysis would be used to determine the pros and cons.

A SWOT analysis basically weighs the possible strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that can emanate from a decision or undertaking. Regarded as one the smartest things to do when a major business undertaking is to be made, the SWOT has proven to be so useful globally that even Fortune 500 companies use it in their boardrooms.

On many occasions, businesses both in the private and public sectors have failed miserably despite the seemingly genuine attempts to boost our local economy. The scarred stretch of bird sanctuary that now calls itself Le Paradis, the Black Bay lands debacle and a few local banks seeing red because some people reportedly gave their friends hefty loans that could not be repaid are just a few examples. In the end, however, the people behind those ventures simply had to save face by minimizing blame and the rest is history.

The recent US$200 million tourism investment in Choiseul is a remarkable feat by the government to attract much-needed foreign direct investment (FDI). So, too, is the recent Boka Group’s announcement that their US$120 million dollar tourism development in Canaries will go ahead after a two-year preparatory stage. Both Invest Saint Lucia and the Citizenship by Investment Unit have made sporadic public announcements that these projects were in the pipeline.

Both organizations, however, have stated repeatedly that they expect that public sentiment might not be totally either for or against such investments. However, like many citizens, they concur that Saint Lucia does need all the FDI it can get to stimulate growth and development. The trade-off, though, is that any major investment that seeks to impact the people and the geographical landscape must protect people’s rights, culture, patrimony and livelihoods and must be sound.

As such, the need for due diligence must remain and every challenge to such initiatives ventilated and qualified by a response from those in charge of such programmes. Thus far, that seems to be the case, if only in an effort to assure both investors and the citizenry that transparency and accountability do exist. That is how progressive societies all across the globe have managed to remain dominant. From time to time when concerns are expressed, people get the chance to make informed judgments about their next move and their role in the overall picture of what is at stake. The more questions we ask, the more answers we stand to get.

Take, for example, U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Britain earlier this month where he co-hosted a press conference with Prime Minister David Cameron. With Britain facing one of its toughest decisions — its place in the European Union (whether to “Brexit” or stay) — Obama made it clear that the United States was willing to sign a major trading pact with the EU as a collective. Should Britain find itself out of that collective, he said, it would find itself at the back of the line.

Whether or not we agree with Obama’s guised threat, he is, after all, entitled to his opinion. After all, he is being paid to look after his country’s best interests. But with Britain being the United States’ number one global ally, one would have thought Britain would have preferential treatment from its sister state across the pond. Maybe Obama was also campaigning on Cameron’s behalf. Who knows? That’s why we need to look after ours.

The point I’m trying to make here is that any opinion can appear to be a bias. However, the deduction of one’s opinion as being either constructive or destructive lies in the purview of the listener. But opinions do not always have to have any political agenda. Nevertheless, our responses to them should be civil.

For example, if I’m to say that the current Minister for Infrastructure has done an extraordinary job at repairing our roads post-Hurricane Tomas despite the government’s continued lament about having limited resources, the whole town would colour me red. Conversely, if I were to say that his ministry is not doing enough to maintain our schools in a habitable condition, I’d attract another shade of paint.

Likewise, if I were to say that Stephenson King does a better job than his rival at speaking to the people from the heart, I run the risk of getting swallowed up by the Red Sea. Yet if I daresay that he did a poor job at reigning in some of his former Cabinet ministers who often seemed to act with impunity, I’m no longer welcome at the King’s court.

I’m deliberately taking the effort to illustrate just how easily one’s honest, constructive opinions can be extrapolated as having sinister intentions. As the election campaign trail heats up, I purposely try to find out from people their thoughts on various issues. Some people from both sides of the political fence admit that while they support their respective political parties, they are not totally for some policies their party has or plans to implement. Others tell me they couldn’t care less what microscope their political party is put under; they say their party comes first and anything else after. Others are indifferent.

Of course, that’s their opinions, and I do respect them. After all, how else would I ever get people to open up to me when I want to get feedback for my on-the-ground surveys? Especially since we live in a democracy, people should feel free to say what they agree or disagree with albeit respectfully. Such feedback often proves to change laws and influence policies that redound to bettering our way of life. In fact, the Constitution Reform Committee’s report is replete with Saint Lucians recommending what they want a modern Saint Lucia to look like. This week’s Throne Speech addressed some of those concerns.

But inasmuch as freedom of expression is a right, I think the politics of the day has served to undermine all the “strengthening of the social fabric” and “we must rise about the base level argument” mantras we are reminded of from time to time. Listen to any radio or television talk show especially these days and people have overhauled their ardent support for their respective political parties by launching personal attacks on others they deem political rivals.

Just last Monday night a woman called into the “The Red Zone” talk show hosted by SLP Communications Director, Jadia Jn. Pierre-Emmanuel, who minutes earlier expressed concerns that the political campaigns have gotten as far as supporters from both major parties hurling insults at each other when they crossed paths on their way to their respective political rallies. “Jadia,” the called blurted out, “I think you’re a biased bitch.” The caller then hung up.

Now, I’ve known Jn. Pierre-Emmanuel for all of my eight years in the media. To say that she’s biased when it comes to her party would be an understatement. As everyone else, she has a right to be biased, anyway, especially when she speaks on behalf of her party. But to label her a bitch is as insulting as Guy Joseph being labelled a poodle by another Member of Parliament. These episodes are distasteful and disrespectful and should not be condoned in any form.

The uncalled-for political war of words is getting more intense by the day. Granted that each candidate, party or supporter may want to espouse that they have a better case for the people’s votes and confidence, I think the process becomes too electrically-charged at times. I live nowhere near Utopiaville or Perfect Town. But what I do know is that the process of choosing a government should not leave us so divided that we end up losing ourselves in the mix.

Especially on social media these days, people seem to get some sense of power launching personal attacks at others simply because they share a different view. This unproductive trend needs to stop because at the end of the day, we all are Saint Lucians and must live together on this small rock, occasionally bumping into each other or finding out that we are related in some way.

During the Throne Speech on Tuesday, Governor-General Dame Pearlette Louisy underscored that point under the sub-heading entitled “Democratic Will of the People” by saying thus:

“Our democracy traverses deeper than institutions such as Parliament. It goes beyond political leadership, or the commonly coined “card-carrying” party membership. Each citizen must be responsible in its actions towards the other. Democracy also requires expression of views that do not cause unfair injury to the other. And so, the way we speak on talk shows, what we write on blogs and other social media threads all impact the richness, diversity and quality of our democracy.”

As we speak, some Saint Lucians are apprehensive about weighing in on certain social and other media platforms for fear of being ridiculed or labelled a party hack of whatever colour. The swear words used to describe them and their opinions, too, get the support of the overcrowding voices that, instead of offering constructive criticism, feed off that kind of frenzy. As such, the debate often seems one-sided. So Dame Pearlette’s pronouncement on the issue is both timely and warranted.

If you asked me, we need to be civil and respect one another other’s views even when we disagree with what the other person is saying. We must also leave the character assassination in the gutter where it truly belongs. I would hate to think that the days when the strife and discord that dimmed Helen’s children’s toil and rest never actually left.

Stan Bishop began his career in journalism in March 2008 writing freelance for The VOICE newspaper for six weeks before being hired as a part-time journalist there when one of the company’s journalists was overseas on assignment.

Although he was initially told that the job would last only two weeks, he was able to demonstrate such high quality work that the company offered him a permanent job before that fortnight was over. Read full bio...

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