Letters & Opinion

Can The Centre Hold When Things Are Falling Apart?

By Justin T. Charles
Image: Crime scene of Thursday's fatal shooting.

AS 2017 drew to a close and I reflected on the happenings in my once idyllic Saint Lucia, it was hard for me not to conclude that we all have been co-conspirators, whether by our actions or inactions in the corruption taking over of our island. By corruption, I am not merely referring to the extraction of public wealth for private gain, but rather the more perfidious kind, which involves the breach of public trust and the abuse of office. We must break our silence lest it be interpreted as acquiescence.

As the deluge of examples flooded my mind, the first stanza of William Butler Yeats “Second Coming” streamed right along as if to provide context or to explain what and why this was happening. In that poem, Yeats wrote:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Some, in offering themselves to lead the people, made claims they knew or should have known that they were incapable of delivering on. In 2017, the country experienced record level homicide rate, the gyre of crime seemingly spiralling out of control, despite a previous boast by our now Prime Minister that he would keep citizens secure.

The first week of 2017 presaged what the year would bring, as there were nearly eight murders within as many days. During that same period, a government minister’s pubic area was being shared on the public square via social media. Photos of the Honourable Member’s “member” were in full view, accompanied with the dialogue he engaged in with a school child who interned at his Ministry.

Sardonically, the Prime Minister addressed those two issues with a word salad that either betrays his ineptitude or his contempt for the people who he claims to lead. The Prime Minister’s comments on the unprecedented murders placed the blame not on government’s responsiveness to pressing social issues, but to a breakdown in morality and values within the society. Some people even cheered his observation, well-nigh absolving the government from responsibility for the crime level. Evidently, neither he nor they saw the Minister’s engagement with the student as an illustration of the morality or values breakdown which was attributed as a causative factor in the crime levels we were experiencing.

The public’s call to relieve the Minister of his Cabinet and parliamentary duties was dismissed as the PM hid behind pseudo-legalism, claiming that the matter was before the courts and so he would await the outcome of that process before taking action. Contrast PM Chastanet’s prevarication with the resoluteness of Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s dismissal of Asot Michael.

The most sanctimonious parliamentarian, who in a previous incarnation would call colleagues “baby killers” because they allowed a provision in the Criminal Code that would permit an abortion in very limited circumstances, has yet to, even in a post-Weinstein era, publically call out the minister for the misuse of his office and for preying on a young female employee. Though many people called on the Minister to be removed from office, some segments of our society remain silent, probably channelling former US President Richard Nixon’s thought that “he may be an SOB, but at least he is our SOB”.

We continued to see the once august chamber, the House of Representatives, be turned into a sham, and the people’s representatives not given a chance to articulate their concerns on the legislative agenda directing the nation’s path. During what was supposed to be the budget debate, customary arrangements for speaking order was discarded, and led to a suspension of the sitting of the House for forty-five days. This long hiatus in the conduct of the people’s business was due in part to the travel schedules of the Prime Minister and the Presiding Officer of the House.

That there is no Deputy Speaker to preside over matters during the absence of the Speaker is lamentable and I shall return to comment on it. During the presentation of his Budget Address, the Prime Minister made several announcements, but provided no details, only promising to supply them at a later date. How then could we have addressed the efficacy of his announcements and to determine their fullness or levels of vacuity? He is yet to provide those missing details.

For years, Saint Lucians were force-fed an almost daily diet of a “Grynberg scandal”. The premise of the “scandal” became so well accepted that some called for the incarceration of Kenny Anthony, without even bothering to call for the engagement of our judicial offices. If pressed for some justification for their desire, they would proclaim it is for good governance and to expose the lack of transparency that the exploration agreement entailed. Yet, very little ink has been spilled, nor have our talk show hosts and social commentators applied the same vigour in seeking clarification on the report published by Offshorealert.com on the matter of the bid rigging scandal in the development of the Hewanorra International Airport. Why would Ministers of government make so many calls to only one bidder of what should be a competitive bid? Can and should we trust that the new process for the redevelopment of HIA have any more integrity this time around, given that some of the same characters are involved in the process and have removed the obstacle of the IFC, the branch of the World Bank that was engaged to ensure integrity in the handling of the project?

More recently, it has come to public attention the obscene number of “direct awards” issued by the Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Finance in a single day. Most revealing and yet distressing from all of this was that Stephenson King was trotted out to provide defence or explanation of that action. What some saw as a rebuttal of wrongdoing on the part of the government was in fact a confession that we are spiralling out of control.

King acknowledged that it was the delay in the passage of the budget which hindered the implementation of his Ministry’s work programme. Whilst King correctly pointed to the legality of the awards given, his explanation for the process followed was either dishonest or an admission of abuse of process.

His explanation/admission was that the governance systems are so broken that he nor the Permanent Secretary in his ministry could establish a departmental tender’s board. Who then evaluated the proposals that he claims his Ministry received from the contractors? How did those contractors come by to submit those proposals? If they had sufficient time to prepare proposals, and the Ministry had sufficient time to evaluate the proposals, how could the contractors not have time to prepare proper bids for tender? How could the Ministry not have time to evaluate the bids, but have sufficient time to evaluate the proposals? Any response to the preceding questions exposes the lies or abuses, and frankly any auditor would recognise the bovine excrement for what they are.

Let’s return to the continued absence of a Deputy Speaker. The position was felt to be so critical by the framers of our Constitution that they mandated that it be the second agenda item when constituting parliament. They recognised that due to the exigencies of life the position might become vacant at inopportune moments and so gave parliament a little latitude in the moment when the position should be filled after a vacancy arises.

The framers used the language of “as soon as convenient” as opposed to a specified number of days, in part because they knew that parliament would not necessarily have a set meeting date. Convenience is now defined as “when it suits the Prime Minister”, so much so that the Speaker fell ill, and the Clerk of Parliament abrogated authority that she did not have by moving for the adjournment of a House Sitting instead of presiding over the appointment of a Deputy Speaker.

The falcon is flying about the place and ignoring the falconer. Can things be held together or shall it fall apart? We have the power to remedy and transform the situation. It’s up to you.

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