‘IT appeared to be the way of all succeeding governments to pull down what has been conceived by a previous government rightly or wrongly’’ – Sir George F. L. Charles
The above words of Sir George F. L. Charles were in response to a decision by a UWP Administration in 1965, almost 50 years ago, to cancel the lease prepared by Donald James to the C.A. T. Corporation for the development of lands in Vieux Fort. The C.A.T. Corporation was a locally registered company with provisions for St. Lucians to purchase shares in the investment and was headed by an American businessman called Bill Turner. An Agreement was signed by the then Labour Government ( 1961) for the development of certain areas of Vieux Fort previously occupied by the Americans, within a specified time.
Sir George correctly placed the caveat of rightly or wrongly, and in the absence of all the information placed before then Premier John Compton, one cannot judge as to whether the cancellation of the lease was the correct decision. However, the observation of that culture of dismantling what has been conceived by a previous government is a real matter that we must face as a nation.
This week I listened to former Police Commissioner Ausbert Regis lamenting the fact that a comprehensive plan was developed to deal with the issue of police interaction with the mentally ill. The plan was accepted by a previous SLP government, the monetary allocation made within the Estimates of Expenditure and the culture of dismantling oozed within the operation of the State when a new administration entered. Mr. Regis went on to state with regret that this plan was conceived by professionals within the various Ministries and the Police Service, that advance work was done for the purchase of tasers, all this effort floated into oblivion. Seven years later we have to restart the process.
So fifty years on, the culture of dismantling is still evident. I believe that no small nation can survive if that culture of dismantling perpetuates. We have to reinvent government based on common sense. St Lucia has fifteen ( 15) Government Corporations and twenty four (24 ) Statutory Boards giving a total of thirty nine ( 39). We have fifteen Government Ministries and then the various Constituency councils around the island. We need to ask if we are over-governed, but more importantly is there the synergy through coordination being achieved.
I have seen activities related to the infrastructure of the nation being done by other agencies without any consultation with the Ministry of Infrastructure. No Government Department can be building sidewalks along the nation’s road without the needed consultation with the technical staff of the Ministry of Infrastructure. I have observed some work near the Rodney Bay Marina, that can only be described as reckless.
They are building sidewalks which have completely removed the ability to use the shoulder as a place of refuge. Shoulders are placed on major roads to provide that factor of safety to drivers and also importantly protect the sealed roadway from deterioration as the runoff is moved away from the paved edge. Very soon you will see the edge of the road breaking up due to the ingress of water.
Amazingly, a new and dangerous phenomenon has also been observed, where vehicles are now parking on the highway at nights, drivers putting on their hazard lights and then going to purchase their chicken. We are placing concrete roads throughout the island with no consideration for the water lines that are below. In the next few years when the pipes encounter leaks, it will be a costly challenge for WASCO to find those leaks.
I am a firm believer in short term employment programmes, in fact history will show that then Ministry of Communications Works and Transport in December 1991, started the first such programme. I was then Chief Engineer in the Ministry and with then Minister Gregory Avril, we were able to convince Sir John to provide $ 1.0 million for the December month, which was split into 333 contracts of $ 3,000 each to do drain and culvert clearance. However it was targeted to ensure that the culvert crossings were functional. Cutting grass along the side of a road is of lesser significance to the clearance of a culvert.
I live at La Toc and there are two landslides, one just before the former Turning Point if you are coming down from the Morne ( that one is there now for the last two years) and the other just below ( that one is there 7 months). Ever so often the grass that has grown over the landslide is cut and the material in the drain is left. Reinventing Government with common sense would create an environment to say to the contracted entity, for this month forget to cut the grass, and use the resources to clear the drain.
If you travel around the island you will observe a multitude of structures that were started by the last government, some very hurriedly before the last general elections. There is the Human Resource Centre in Gros Islet, the Human Resource Centre at Union, the Human Resource Centre in Bise, the Multipurpose Court in Sarot, the structure near Humming Bird in Soufriere, and the list goes on. All these incomplete structures are now standing as eyesores. I would have assumed that all of these were subjected to some social impact assessment, and were not whimsical fantasies of the various members of Parliament. I assume state funds were also used for the construction activities.
We have to create a system of governance that places a continued responsibility on successive government to complete projects that are deemed critical infrastructure. I accept that no government should be saddled with the continuance of any project that is absolute foolishness, but there has to be some way to break the culture of dismantlement. I see this as one of the major challenges within the Caribbean political system, and St Lucia must lead in this culture change.