IN a previous article I raised the question: Who Runs Vieux Fort? Who is there to protect Vieux Fort against the whims, idiosyncrasies, misadventures, and experiments of government? Who is there to stand firm when what is good for a politician, for an administration, for a developer is not good for the country, and what is good for the country is not good for Vieux Fort? And shouldn’t communities be consulted on initiatives with significant potential consequences to them? Shouldn’t they have a say in what goes where in their communities? In a democracy shouldn’t citizens have a say in decisions that are going to impact their communities for generations to come? If so, in the case of Vieux Fort, which entity is insisting that Vieux Fort has a say?
Well, with the DSH development where a Prime Minister, possibly without the consent of his own cabinet, much less parliament, has teamed up with a foreign architect to impose a development on a landscape and seascape that is likely to have far-reaching consequences for impacted communities, not least being total loss of green space, beach space, and other recreation space, environmental degradation, water pollution, and loss of real estate for local residential and business expansion, the question of “Who Runs Vieux Fort?” has come begging.
The Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, got it right when he criticized the previous administration for seeking to renovate the Soufriere square in isolation of an overall development plan for Soufriere, yet the same Prime Minister has signed agreements for a multi-billion dollar project for Vieux Fort without a comprehensive development plan for Vieux Fort. Yet it is a development that potentially can transform the whole town, if not the whole country.
It is a beautiful thing to see a community rise up spontaneously to neutralize a threat that promises to negatively change its way of life, to take away what collectively it holds dear. However, the necessity of having to form new groupings—“I Will Stand” and “Vieux Fort Concerned Citizens Coalition For Change” (VFCCCC) — to meet that challenge, essentially says there were no established Vieux Fort entities sufficiently empowered to play that role, to bring the community together to fight a common cause.
There was STDC that in the past year or two had been very actively involved in promoting and championing the development of Vieux Fort, but last year the former government discontinued STDC’s allocation, and the new government hasn’t entertained the idea of continuing it, leaving the organization unable to meet its operating costs. Therefore, STDC is in no position to lead the fight to save Vieux Fort. There is the Vieux Fort South Constituency Council, but it is appointed by government, has no independent source of finance, and as such is simply a surrogate of the government.
The politicians have disempowered communities by making sure town and village councils have no independent sources of finance, and councillors are appointed rather than elected. Dr. Kenny Anthony is probably thinking he has gotten a bad rap. But much was given to him, so much was expected of him. The former Prime Minister disappointed many when in his first term he didn’t follow through with the move to institute truly empowered, independent, local government. An elected Vieux Fort Town Council would have allowed the possibilities of a UWP government existing alongside an independent or a Labour local government, thus affording the Town Council the freedom to oppose government policies or initiatives it deemed bad for its constituency.
It was ironic to hear the former Prime Minister explain that he can’t take the lead in opposing the DSH agreement because this would be viewed as politics, so it is the communities that need to be in the leadership role. This is the Prime Minister who had all the wherewithal and opportunity to truly take Vieux Fort places, who was the expected hero to capture the elixir that would enable Vieux Fort to prosper, but instead focused apparently more on appeasing Vieux Fortians and competing with Sir John’s legacy. So the same politician who when he headed the government disempowered the community by encouraging party hacks to report instances of party disloyalties, refusing to seek the advice and guidance of community leaders and organizations, and fostering weak, subservient but loyal local government, was refusing to put out a public statement on the DSH agreements, but instead calling upon the community to do his job for him and unofficially launch the Labour Party’s 2021 campaign to regain control of government.
Fortunately, giving the prospects of the DSH agreement, Vieux Fortians and other St. Lucians needed no motivation from politicians and party hacks to organize and ensure that their sovereignty, patrimony, and recreation spaces are not just given away.
However, in their protest, discontent, and self-empowerment, St. Lucians need to realize that the real or ultimate enemy isn’t Allen Chastanet, or Teo Ah Khing, or Invest St. Lucia, or the King Maker Rick Wayne, or the government press secretary, Nicole McDonald. The enemy is much less concrete, much more elusive. The enemy is within. The enemy is in citizens not taking charge and responsibility for their communities; of not forcing politicians, governments, and civil servants to hear and listen to their voices; of not insisting that this is their community and so they have to be a partner in whatever is coming to their community; that they have to be consulted before any projects are implemented, that there can’t be representation without consultation; that they must have a say in what projects are to be implemented and where; of not insisting on an overall development plan for their community to which they must have significant input. The enemy is when they put Party before community and before country, when they allow politicians to use them as tools, because this is exactly how the politicians have kept them disempowered, impotent, subservient and stagnant. This is how they have been able to impose buildings and other infrastructure on communities that are more about fulfilling their ambitions and fattening their wallets than serving the people’s best interest.
Citizens have to wonder how pervasive it is that projects that could be of great benefit to their communities are rejected because they wouldn’t put sufficient money in the pockets of politicians. Meaning, to what extent that one of the selection criteria for foreign direct investment (FDI) projects is how much they personally benefit politicians.
The enemy can’t be Allen Chastanet, or Teo Ah Khing, because even if the protestors are able to block the DSH project in full or in part (of course their intensions are not to block the development but to renegotiate a better deal), tomorrow there will be other projects by other developers facilitated by other Prime Ministers that may be just as bad as or worse than the DSH proposed initiative. For example, who is to say that the deal involving the sale of Sab Wisha Beach Park in Choiseul to accommodate Sunset Bay Resort isn’t worse than that pertaining to DSH, the only difference being that St. Lucians were not privy to the fine prints of the agreement; meaning it wasn’t leaked.
To further make this point, we need look no further than Rochemel and Grynberg, two well publicized cases in which the then Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, supposedly entered into business deals without consulting his very own Cabinet, much less parliament, where both deals backfired at a cost to the nation. Of course, the question that begs for an answer is why, in this complex and sophisticated world, would a Prime Minister sign multi-million dollar deals in areas outside his expertise (oceanic rights, business, finance, hotel development), without consulting his Cabinet, his decision making team, particularly when there were persons in his Cabinet with expertise in the subject matters.
Take for example the Grynberg case, which involved fossil fuel exploration. Not even the wordsmith, Dr. Velon John, who was part of Kenny Anthony’s cabinet, and whose PhD dissertation, I’m told, concentrated on oceanic rights, was consulted. Why this holding so close to the chest of matters that could benefit from the input of Cabinet members, most of whom were elected just like the Prime Minister. If intensions are wholesome, why this secrecy. And who appointed the Prime Minister god? After all the people didn’t even elect a Prime Minister, much less a god. They simply elected a District Representative; it is the Party that appointed/elected a political leader and hence the Prime Minister. And if Prime Ministers insist on signing deals involving valuable State assets without consultation, when these deals go sour, costing the country millions of dollars, shouldn’t the Prime Ministers be held accountable for the cost, the payback? Why should a single, jobless Shantytown mother of five in Vieux Fort have to help pay for the go-it-alone blunders of Prime Ministers.
So the real, ultimate, enemy is communities not organizing, planning and empowering themselves to rationalize their land space, to ascertaining what they want where, and how any development to come fits in the scheme of things, and ensuring politicians submit to their demands. If the DSH travesty enables Vieux Fort and other communities to so empower themselves, then it’s a blessing in disguise.