Letters & Opinion

The Caribbean Curse of Poor Governance

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By John Peters

“The committee that investigated the state of the island, following concerns about how it was being governed, concluded that the current governing situation was characterized by lawlessness and financial mismanagement, and there were also signs of discrimination, intimidation, threats and insults, and the pursuit of personal power at the expense of the inhabitants. Citizens experience legal inequality. No administration is in order and the island is neglected in a physical sense.

“Since other measures have not brought the island council to repentance, there is only one thing left to do: governing intervention. It is the harshest measure, but now that everything else has failed, it is the only possibility that remains. The people deserve better.”

The above were some of the words used by Raymond Knops, State Secretary for Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, before leaving to visit St Eustatius, an 8.1 square-mile island in the northern Leeward Islands, with a population of 3,877.

In the last twenty years, Britain has intervened in the affairs of the Turks and Caicos and Cayman. The Dutch have also gotten involved in St Maarteen. Whether independent or colony, the curse of poor governance has afflicted the people of the Caribbean, and this curse has to be broken.

From Guyana in the south to The Bahamas in the north, no state has been spared the ravages of this lawlessness, fiscal mismanagement and legal inequality. There is no repentance, but a shameless bold-facedness to pursue an agenda of aggrandizement. The only legal instrument of “intervention” is spaced in five-year periods that we call General Elections.

These are not otiose ramblings, these are not wordy gyrations, but an expression of genuine concern as to where the Caribbean region is heading.

I was recently speaking with a very experienced local physician and he was comparing the various Ministers of Health over the last 30 years. He concluded that the best he had seen was Allan Bousquet. He said that Allan Bousquet accepted his limitation on the knowledge of the health sector and would ask questions and shape policy by sound advice.

In St. Lucia, we have seen stunning metamorphosis in our political landscape. Experts are created at the swearing-in ceremonies, superheroes are born, and the Hulks rip their clothes and show their muscles.

The new leader of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman, may have pointed the way to deal with corruption. He took control of the five-star Ritz-Carlton Hotel and converted it into a prison and placed all those in his family whom he believed raped the country in the past inside of the hotel. In a short space of time, he collected US$107 billion from the “guests” in the hotel. There was no Commission of Inquiry, no civil lawsuits, nobachannal. “Just give back we money”.

The “Gaotel” concept has a lot of merit and should be pursued within the Caribbean. We have many high-quality cruise ships that can be equivalent to the Ritz-Carlton in Saudi Arabia. Just maybe the marriage of our tourism sector to our justice system may be the solution to some of our problems.

Moody’s stated in its latest credit opinion on Barbados’s fiscal state that interest payments would surpass a quarter of Government’s revenues in the current financial year. Moody’s went on to state that Barbados would then have “one of the highest interest burdens in our rated universe”. I think you should read that again — the highest interest burden in the rated universe! For almost 10 years, the Government of Barbados has lacked the “balls’’ to take the hard decisions in reducing government expenditure. Barbados is too far gone now, all they can hope is to land the plane safely into calm waters and hope for there to be little casualties and try and start all over again.

Saint Lucia also has to recognize that it cannot continue to borrow its way out of debt, it is not possible. We have been running budget deficits for the last five years, an activity that is not sustainable. There are some tough decisions for the Minister of Finance to make in the next two months and one can only hope the right and hard decisions are made now.

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