LET’S be frank and truthful; there’s something rotten in the state of Saint Lucia. True, the rot did not suddenly appear overnight with the IMPACS report and the sending of Police Commissioner Francois on extended leave. No! It has been festering long before IMPACS and Francois. What remains uncertain are its exact genesis and the extent to which it has eroded the institutions of the State and the confidence of people in politicians. The question is what must be done about it, when, by whom and can trust be restored?
For answer one must reach beyond the superficial and correctly examine the root cause(s) of the malaise, and decide how best to exorcise it. Why not begin with the uncertainty surrounding Police Commissioner Francois, and reports in recent STAR newspapers of a $5-million termination payout for his services. The seemingly unending absence of Commissioner Francois from his job, must concern persons who believe that security is the first law. Why is there so little official (Government), information? Is there an offer of $5 million to amicably relieve the Commissioner of his services? Do the citizens of Saint Lucia deserve clarification and factual information on this burning issue? If yes, whose duty it is to provide such information?
Perhaps it’s time to recall the crucial roles the State performs. It must provide security for all its citizens. Such security falls to the police and its quasi-military, SSU branch. The State has a duty to pay police and its several other public servants. But the State produces nothing, and sells nothing. It pays its debt with money raised through taxation. Here lies the catch! Taxes are collected only from those who earn a certain stated (legal) income. The most reliable source of such income is the tax paid by businesses and workers. The smaller the tax base the more difficulty the State experiences in meeting its obligations. Collections are compounded when the revenue (tax) base shrinks or remains sluggish.
The more people who work and the more businesses turn a profit, the more taxes that are to be collected and the more money that becomes available for social agenda – schools, hospitals, roads and temporary work programmes. To enhance its income potential, a state offers incentives for production of goods and services to enterprises to later generate taxable incomes. Sometimes a state imposes too high a taxation burden on its citizens. In such an environment, entrepreneurs (and citizens) often search out ways and means to hide their incomes (and profits?), to avoid paying such high taxes.
It is at that point that discussions (and speculation) on the nature and purpose of the State begins anew. It may then be useful to re-examine the separation of powers between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary and see to what extent the executive encroaches on the legislature and/or the judiciary. Separation and independence can flounder (and fail), if the executive fails to provide correct and principled leadership. Separation of powers also suffers if the executive over-reaches its portfolio and tries to dictate to the judiciary or if it encroaches upon the constitutional authority of the Governor General, and Parliament.
Unfortunately, the conduct of the executive branch, and the often lukewarm approach by the opposition in parliament, leaves the State vulnerable, and subject to manipulation by an executive determined to have its way. Newspaper reports have suggested that, the executive usurped the power of the Governor General in the Grynberg agreement. In addition, people remember the initial circumvention of the Financial Rules and Orders in the fiasco known as Rochamel, and the deceit of the parliament in securing funds to pay the same.
To add to these difficulties there is reluctance by journalists to subject the executive to closer questioning and scrutiny. How long can a self-respecting people tolerate such deceit and false excesses? How long can the government apologists pretend that all is well and that the people are better off today than they were five years ago?
Given all that is known about IMPACS and the many lies and deceit of the Executive, how should one accurately describe the cabinet of Ministers? If one were to use three words to describe the Government, what would these words be? Secretive! Reckless! Liar! Such accusations have been proven time and time again over the government’s stay in office. Indeed, many believe that the sooner the government fades into history, the better for all Saint Lucians – and the OECS region as a whole.
It’s also obvious that the government has run out of ideas. In the absence of sensible economic solutions it has constructed smoke-filled bonfires around Allen Chastanet, as diversion. The amateurish criticisms of Allen Chastanet and the effort to change the conversation from IMPACS and Commissioner Francois, has not worked. The allegation of a $5 million payout in a sick economy (as people go hungry) seemed designed to spread more anger and disgust.
In its defence, the government has built at least four layers of protective cover-ups. Its die-hard supporters pretend to see no evil, hear no evil and feel no economic pain.
Its hand-picked civil servants grow fat on the taxes of those whom they loathe. Some insist that the emperor is clothed in finery, even as they secretly laugh at his grotesque nakedness. His ministers have subordinated their better judgment to prop up failure. Finally, there are corrupt party officials, in reality a secretive board of directors, whose survival is inextricably bound-up with that of their leader. Throw in a PRO or two and the whole enterprise lays bare and ugly.
Where does all this leave Saint Lucia in its worst economic situation? That’s the $5million question on which the fate of Police Commissioner Vernon Francois seems to turn. Whither the future of the police service? Can a professional and impartial police service be guaranteed at a time of growing misery and public discontent and mistrust? How long can migration and religion dampen the flame of anger and fierce disenchantment? Can trust and confidence in Government ever return?
Finally, to properly analyze IMPACS and the future of Police Commissioner Francois, a closer look at the economic performance of the island, the burden of taxation on ordinary citizens and the hostility towards a failed government, bears serious scientific investigation. With this in mind, the incontrovertible fact remains that something is rotten in the state of Saint Lucia. The island’s reputation has been tarnished by this government. The fate of a much admired Commissioner has been placed in jeopardy. The island has fallen from where the late Compton left it. Its general squalour and filth demeans its best days and says that, something is rotten in Saint Lucia.