THE level of tension in our country is again high, but those who blame the SLP for this purposely ignore the fact that this is the role that they are designated to perform. We may disagree with their policies and/or methods, but opposition to government policy is what is expected of the SLP with this system of government.
Until we address the root cause, these tensions will continue to exist in our society, justified in the name of democracy as we stumble from crisis to crisis in this game of political one-upmanship.
The current issue of first deciding to turn the National Cultural Centre into a courthouse and then seeking an alternative location for it allows us to examine the politics of the country at several different levels. This proposed relocation has been confirmed by the Minister for Justice, but those who claim that the previous administration also intended to do the same, are correct.
A release from the Office of the Prime Minister dated January 22, 2016 informed the public that then Prime Minister Anthony had sought the assistance of the Government of Taiwan in order to provide “a new home for the performing arts …” It continues with: “We have a likely location, and we now need to finalize the design”. Nothing more was heard of this.
Even today, though, while our cultural activists remind us of Sir John Compton’s insistence that culture should have pride of place on the “Hill”, they also advise that if they have to move, they will, but that they would first like to know where they are supposed to go to – not an unreasonable request.
At the next level, attorney Mary Francis indicates that this country has spent $2 million over the last two years on refurbishing the old courthouse in Castries, yet it remains closed (stluciatimes July 07). Francis has made repeated calls over that period for the existing courthouse to be returned to use, all to no avail. Yet, the only documented reservation regarding the use of this building is a concern over its air quality, a concern most recently expressed last September (2016).
The SLP administration, however, promised a new Halls of Justice complex on the Millennium Highway one month before the June 2016 general election. Today, one year later, the new UWP administration is promising the same thing for downtown Castries, except that there is no money for it right now and so a temporary location for the Courts must be found. What’s new?
The temporary solution proposed by this new administration, however, completely overlooks the obvious one of utilizing the existing courthouse. Instead, the administration intends to eject our artistes from the “Hill” with apparently little concern for the lack of any justification for this course of action. The problem cannot be, though, that successive administrations cannot find a solution for a common technical air quality problem now associated with a minor courthouse structure. This current crisis is a political problem.
At the technical level, the government has instructed its officers to find an alternative location for the Cultural Centre, and they eventually will, or have. But those interested in the planning of a city recognize that it is a much more complex process than this approach suggests, as cities require residential and cultural components. Relocation of the cultural component of the city’s infrastructure to anywhere outside of the city centre will condemn Castries to becoming a slum, a process that will be near impossible to reverse, and a fine example of why politicians should not be allowed to meddle in things that they know little about.
At the political level, Minister for Justice, Hermangild Francis, must be aware that there are many who had hoped that he would be a spectacular failure in his new post. He has so far proven them wrong and is demonstrating the leadership necessary for re-invigorating our battered police service. As a former Deputy Commissioner of Police, he has the credibility required for that leadership role, and we cannot afford for him to fail.
The Minister’s task is, however, a thankless one, as he cannot reduce crime on his own, nor can he solve our criminal justice problems single-handedly. The cards are stacked against your success, Minister, and you do not need this additional contrived political problem of relocating the Courts on your hands. So, walk away from this controversy, Minister. Leave our Cultural Centre alone.
Still at the political level, Minister Francis and his brother, Castries Mayor Peterson Francis, are shining examples that you do not need to belong to a political party in order to serve your country well, they both having recently abandoned their traditional home of the SLP for the UWP. This country needs both Minister Francis and Mayor Francis to continue to perform well, and we wish them the best.
Culture must keep demanding the respect that it deserves, and the Arts must be seen to be equally important to the functioning of our society as a court of law.