THERE will always be buyers of quick-fix methods and cure-all potions. That is indisputable. On the other hand, not all that glitters is gold to which end most people, while looking on with obvious amusement will have little desire to purchase what the salesman has to offer.
Allen Chastanet is the latest in the long line of tried, tested and failed snake oil salesmen. In typical salesman style the latest UWP leader can talk the talk especially when he is the subject matter. The more incredulous the story, the better he performs. Think I am joking? How else can someone have the audacity to try the “Sir, my earpiece is not working properly…” stunt? Really, Allen! It is not even about whether you can speak Kweyol. It is rather about the sheer brazenness to try to deceive on live television no less. Otherwise, it has to be rank stupidity. Take your pick, dear reader.
As with every smooth-talking snake-oil salesman, however, truth eventually catches up and even overtakes the liar forcing him to make a hurried departure to the next stop to sell the ill-performing goods to more gullible buyers. And so it is with Allen Chastanet. He had to run from Air Jamaica; EC Express was a major failure; he could not get elected as President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association; neither could he get elected as Parliamentary Representative of Soufriere-Fond St. Jacques. Reality is fast catching up with Chastanet’s “pulling the wool over people’s eyes” days.
Chastanet weaved his way into the leadership of the United Workers Party then led by Stephenson King, himself no titan but an ordinary guy whose “niceness” compensates for all his other shortcomings. Chastanet’s victory did not need his salesman skills. It was paid for. Plain and simple.
The UWP has not changed. It still remains an offshoot of the privileged class which has learnt how to manipulate the party to satisfy their selfish aims. The puppet masters know how to wield their economic power. Yet the fight with Preville was different. It showed that the traditionally subservient operatives, like Preville himself, are getting restless. They are no longer willing to be mere “Sponge Bobs” to be moulded to the will of others. Chastanet will have to face the prospect that in the coming year, the “Previlles” will be bolder and resulting in even stronger challenges to him.
Lest he bask in a false sense of security, Chastanet has to be reminded that running a government and country is a serious exercise and if one wants to be considered worthy, then answers must be provided to certain basic questions.
Chastanet must first account for the decline in foreign direct investment which started in 2008, when he was Minister of Tourism and a member of the country’s Cabinet. He must also account for the state of the tourism industry when he was provided with over EC$50 million annually for five years, sums which far exceeded his predecessors’ and successor’s allocations. What were the big ideas which he implemented and which failed? Why does he think those failed ideas will work now or in the future? How is it that whilst he failed, under current Tourism Minister Lorne Theophilus and the Labour Government, tourism has peaked despite the global economic downturn? Chastanet must look himself in the mirror and admit that the snake-oil remedy which he put forward, packaged as pure crude, was a disaster!
Chastanet must also explain why is it that the vast majority of world’s economies are in recession since 2008 and explain how he blames Kenny Anthony for this? A few days ago it was announced that Japan was slipping into recession again. Is Chastanet contending that this is due to Kenny Anthony’s policies? The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the United Kingdom recently announced that the possibility of more austere measures to keep the UK economy out of recession. Is Chastanet saying the UK’s problems are the fault of Kenny Anthony? The European Union economy, as a whole, is expected to decline with dips already recorded in Germany and France. Deflection artist that he is, no the snake oil salesman will blame that on Kenny Anthony’s stewardship as well!
The UWP leader has made pronouncements on the functioning of the banks, the level of interest rates, and wage levels in Saint Lucia. Not once though has he presented these views as part of a coherent and comprehensive statement of what he thinks the fiscal policy of the country should be; what should be the wage rate in the country; what should the incentive framework be to encourage investors, and whether he would abolish VAT if the UWP assumes the government. He can no longer hide behind bland and useless words. If he intends to pursue the leadership of this country he must of necessity outline what plans he has to bring about the change he says is needed. He must stop running away from the responsibility to provide a clear understanding of what course of action will be followed by a government he leads.
Will Chastanet and his party of privilege decide to undertake a severe austerity programme by doing away with social programmes like STEP and NICE? Will the UWP insist that elderly and sickly pay for their hypertensive and diabetic medication? Will Chastanet and the UWP return to the days when secondary school tuition had to be paid for? Will Chastanet and the UWP place VAT on water? Will Chastanet implement the UWP promise made in 2006 to cut over $300 million from the public sector wage bill? If so, how would he achieve such a cut? Is by dismissing 1000 public sector employees – remember how he dealt with Soufriere hostesses? – or by imposing a salary cut of 25%?
Will Chastanet seek to borrow more money at high interest rates to embark on a spending spree in the hope that he can generate some economic growth? Will he need to borrow heavily to be able to repay his local financial backers who are already demanding their pound of flesh in return? After all, the UWP General Secretary announced that the coffers of the party were now flowing from contributions since Chastanet became leader. What have those financiers asked for in return?
Can Chastanet indicate what projects he would borrow to finance? We all remember that UWP borrowed over $500 million during its five years yet there is not one capital project which can be accounted for. Oh I just remembered Chastanet only recently admitted to paying more than US$850,000.00 to rent a tent for three days. Is that Chastanet’s idea of building infrastructure? Surely, Chastanet does not expect Saint Lucians to believe that they will build three tunnels as his party has suggested? Can we not recall Chastanet expressing with supreme confidence during the Micoud North by-election in 2007 that Micoud’s time had arrived and work would commence on seven hotels? Such is the audacity of snake oil salesmen! But where are these projects?
So I say to Allen Chastanet, the time has arrived for you to put up or shut up and be seen for what you are; nothing but a snake-oil salesman. The state of the global economy continues to be a major concern for all countries with forecasts still holding little hope. Saint Lucia deserves a person who will be frank and sincere in his pretensions to the prime ministership. That person’s pronouncements must of necessity be scrutinized and debated. That is the essence of democracy. Certainly, Chastanet cannot fear his plans and proposed policies being examined by the very people he seeks to lead?
Having said the above and appealed to Chastanet, there is little expectation that he will respond positively. It is not the nature of the UWP to be respectful of public discourse or engagement. It is worse in the person of Allan Chastanet who, from accounts of persons within the UWP, behaves in true “Massa” style. It cannot be a promising future for the UWP or Saint Lucia should Allan Chastanet continue to be presented as the best hope for leadership. The disdain and arrogance displayed over the last few months is testimony to the perception of Saint Lucians which pervades in his circles. Whether or not he knows this, Saint Lucians are not his subjects. Instead we a people aspiring for a more decent standard of living, of hopes for our children for higher education, better health care and affordable housing. Saint Lucians need leaders who will be accountable, will listen to their views and act accordingly in the national interest.
Saint Lucia cannot afford such an error in its selection of the next person to lead the country. Times are difficult and the options are challenging. These times demand astute and resolute leadership. Kenny Anthony has proven to be that person!
by stephen lester prescott