AS in times past, the make-up of the House of Assembly will be an interesting one following general elections. Some familiar faces will return to a familiar place while some newcomers will find it a bit difficult adjusting to the new dispensation, including comprehending House procedures. But the business of the people must come first and every endeavour should be made to keep it that way.
Looking back, which sometimes hurts but is mostly necessary, much of the time spent in Parliament is wasted on rhetoric that gets us nowhere close to actually getting the people’s business done in an effective, efficient manner. In many cases, bills come to the House, are passed without any meaningful debate and sent to the Senate (where the standard of debate is often more robust and meaningful) and, voila, we end up with legislation.
The irony is that the average Saint Lucian has virtually no clue about much of the legislation that gets passed. Also, there are bits of legislation that get passed that are not even implemented. One of the seemingly toothless legislations, take, for instance, is the Anti-Gang Act (No. 4 of 2014) which criminalizes and stipulates stiff penalties for gang activities.
That legislation carries up to a ten-year sentence if a gang member is convicted. To date, no one has been convicted under that Act despite gang-related activity accounting for a fair share of many criminalities here. As such, one of the things that this new Parliament needs to shy away from is enacting legislation that we cannot seem to implement due to the clichéd “limited resources” excuse.
To those who have been given the responsibility to govern, much is expected from you. Saint Lucians definitely do not want any party in government spending the next five years gloating in its victory when expectations for their betterment continue to rise. The time for us being used as pawns ended about a month ago at the polls. It’s about time our government – along with the Opposition – stands up and delivers by staying true to all those promises made during the election campaign.
I’m personally looking forward to the Prime Minister’s supplementary budget, something he promised his government would pursue as soon as possible. I would like to know what immediate plans are in the pipeline for Saint Lucia and Saint Lucians, including whether such plans are pertinent and feasible at this time. I would hate to think that government would continue borrowing exorbitant sums of money to erect white elephants. That’s just like enacting legislation we never implement.
I would also want to know whether the Treasury is really as empty as people are telling me. In fact, the Prime Minister did promise within days of his swearing-in that a thorough audit would be made in several key areas of government, including the Treasury and Ministry of External Affairs, to ascertain that everything done there was kosher. For the good of my already-tarnished country’s name, I’m hoping that the audits prove that everything was.
Nevertheless, as I’ve always said, if there are instances where malfeasances were suspected, then investigations need to be conducted and those held responsible made to account. The past five years was replete with parliamentarians supposedly committing the most atrocious – and costly – acts while in government but we never ever charged let alone censured. All that resulted were accusations and counter-accusations resulting in everything being seen as expedient innuendos. Justice should be blind and not selective; it should not be seen as protecting the elected few who run afoul of it.
Among the seventeen men and women now sitting in Parliament, three of them have had the privilege of serving as Prime Ministers, a parliamentary first for us. By now, Stephenson King, Dr. Kenny Anthony and Allen Chastanet would have known more than just a thing or two about governance having sat in the tough seat and received good and bad news about the economy, the infrastructure, social and other issues.
On one hand, it’s a plus for us: the trio can actually be the catalysts for change towards a better Saint Lucia, especially since all three made that anthem their campaign theme on one or more occasion. Granted that the Opposition must be robust in keeping the government in check, there must be occasions where the government must extend an olive branch to the other side in the spirit of bipartisanship, something Dr. Anthony passionately embraced during his last term as Prime Minister. Saint Lucia comes first only when all Saint Lucians feel they have a part to play in their country’s development.
Since assuming office, Prime Minister Chastanet has been jetting off to distant shores, assuring the media upon his return that he has been brokering relationships with foreign investors that would redound to economic spinoffs “that can put some ching-ching in people’s pockets”, as he usually puts it. As a former TourismMminister, no one doubts his marketing skills. However, people are already expecting results on such promises and the real challenge is to convince them that at least a ching is there.
I would also hope for a radical change in how the business of Parliament is done, especially the lateness with which crucial information is communicated to parliamentarians. Quite often, parliamentarians lament receiving information in such a short space of time that does not allow them to pore over the contents to present a rigorous debate. Our last-minute mentality seems so entrenched that it’s now affecting key government institutions. We need to run government like a robust business and not a hobby.
So far, I’m clueless as to who the new House Speaker and President of the Senate will be. However, I’ve been hearing names being recommended here and there. Another rumour: that Dame Pearlette might be stepping down as Governor-General which, I hope, remains a rumour. I haven’t heard anything about who will be the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary; however, I’ve been receiving emails stating that he does have an attaché in his office.
Bit by bit, the governmental pieces seem to be falling into place and I am really looking forward to the new government wasting no time in implementing its various policies. I’m not a big fan of excuses: I strongly believe that if people are hired to do a job, they need to work. Besides, I am yet to see a job application that has a list of excuses. If a job is given, then work is expected.
I’m particularly looking forward to a rigorous debate on the issues in the House between Dr. Anthony and Prime Minister Chastanet. I was disappointed that it never happened during the last campaign but, as if by kismet, both men – like the other parliamentarians — have no choice now but to stand up and deliver. If you asked me, sometimes a people get what they deserve albeit a little too late.