The term “social transformation” in the context of ministerial portfolios in government in St Lucia was heard here for the first time in 1997 when the St Lucia Labour Party came to power. Instead of a Ministry responsible for Social Services, as we had had for many years before, we got one that was to be responsible for social transformation. It seemed a timely change, if the motive was truly to transform the society where good values, ideals and habits had taken a beating the preceding years.
To say that the new Ministry of Social Transformation since then has not lived up to this billing is an understatement. In fact, the Ministry was best known, from inception, for its administration of the famous STEP programme which has been the subject of much debate and controversy, especially between the two main political parties.
But a Ministry of Social Transformation can be an important agency in a country going through the problems St Lucia has at the moment. Indeed, if ever such a ministry needed to be effective in St Lucia it is now, to engineer social change and regeneration in the country similar to what the Chinese did in the 1960s with their “cultural revolution”. The Chinese leadership saw it necessary to reassert the values of the Chinese revolution because it was thought that the country was losing its way. More recently, South Africa also achieved social transformation with the end of apartheid 22 years ago.
Social transformation in the context of St Lucia today requires a shift in the collective consciousness of our country to re-energize it and restore civic and social pride, values and habits that we once held as sacred. Some time ago we made a recommendation for the reintroduction of civics as a subject in our schools and even though the suggestion has not been taken up, we make it again, as an example of the little things that can be done to bring about the necessary transformation.
In the last few weeks alone we have had burglaries in our schools that have drawn condemnation from the Prime Minister, burglaries at business places while a storm is in progress, attempts to export drugs in agricultural produce, to go along with the usual diet of crime. This year we have had a rape crisis, a number of suicides and homicides. We see our students in questionable circumstances, our youth with declining standards of dress and behaviour, tampering with sex, alcohol and drugs. There is now a prevalence of parties and entertainment events that promote all kinds of negative practices and are taking place right under our noses, sometimes, it seems, with tacit official approval. We have widespread child abuse, physically, sexually etc., and other acts of violence. Habits and practices that we once shunned are now becoming acceptable and commonplace and most of the institutions in our country have been tarnished either by their ineffectiveness or by the abuse and disrespect shown to them by those who ought to be in the vanguard of the movement of honouring and promoting them.
It says a lot of our people when public facilities built and maintained by taxpayers are being constantly broken into and vandalized, when students are being attacked on school premises by thieves out to satisfy their desire for things that belong to others. The stench of stale urine in public places, the constant littering and blatant disregard and disrespect for authority are also manifestations of the present crisis.
So there is a ready-made agenda for the Ministry of Social Transformation to take up. We confess that we do not have all the answers, how it would work etc., but we believe we can make a start by publicly admitting that we have problems that we need to begin addressing as a matter of urgency.