Transparency And Debate

IT is time we begin to develop in St Lucia a culture of orderly discussion and debate on issues of national significance in the pursuit of consensus. We shudder at the use of the word “transparency” which has been so abused in St Lucia in the past, but it is what we are really talking about.

Transparency and open discussion are needed especially in the conduct of government’s affairs. It is needed in the various pieces of legislation which are brought to parliament on a regular basis, most times allegedly in the interest of the masses, but yet with no input from them. It is important in the various deals and agreements that are entered into by the government in the name of development. It is important too when we appoint people to fill certain positions in the public service, especially to head important departments. We may not be able to afford the luxury of the American system of grilling persons recommended for key positions by parliamentary committees but at the very least, we must begin to determine whether these people are fit and capable for the offices that they seek.

Transparency is needed in ensuring public knowledge about important factors in our country’s development, like making available quarterly or half yearly figures on the state of the economy, unemployment, the public debt, inflation etc. With this kind of information sharing we may be able to dispense with the frequent bouts of controversy involving people who are not in possession of any kind of data, but shout the loudest on such issues.

We make these suggestions in light of a pattern of behaviour that has been in evidence in St Lucia for some time and which only spawns confusion. The latest manifestation of this is the proposed Vieux Fort development. Largely negotiated by the Labour Party government, it has now been signed by the two month old United Workers Party government. One would have expected that if both parties agree that this is a good project for the country as they have both done, there would be no objection or controversy—none whatsoever—from our political leaders. But still we hear this babble that is intended to score political points, while claiming to be searching for information.

The irony is that those asking the most questions were in office when the deal was negotiated and never even told the people about it. That is not surprising when one considers that this was a pattern of behaviour that has had and continues to have embarrassing consequences for both our people and our country. It was this same behaviour that contributed to the Labour Party being in opposition today and it must be so reminded.

Something must be done to stop our government –and we agree with Mr. Andrew of Invest St Lucia that the institution of government has no political colour—from withholding valuable information from its people. Something must be done to stop our government from carving out large tracts of land to investors without any sort of input from the populace. Both major political parties have been shamelessly guilty of divesting the patrimony of St Lucians, to the point where there are many beaches to which they have been denied access.

In the 1960s, some 600 acres of land in Vieux Fort were sold to an American for a tourism project that never was. This land was later repossessed by the government. Since then foreign investors have been making all kinds of demands on our country including wanting to tamper with grounds that are deemed “sacred” by our people; and government after government has been willing to comply.

There must be greater transparency in the conduct of government affairs so that we can avoid the constant bickering among our people and the assumption of postures, based purely along partisan political lines that transform our country into a perpetual battleground. We appear to have learnt nothing from the 1970s when, partly to safeguard its mammoth investment in St Lucia, the Hess Corporation insisted that the agreement for the project had to be accepted by both sides in the House of Assembly. Some protested loudly but later came to the conclusion that the project was a worthy one. Hess in fact turned out to be the greatest corporate citizen and philanthropic entity St Lucia has ever seen in terms of contributing to St Lucia’s development.

We need to set some standards for ourselves, commit to some national goals and objectives that will resonate with the majority of our people and stop the double standards, the petty politics, the foolishness that continues to pass for enlightened debate and discussion in our country.

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