Letters & Opinion

Déjà Vu: Those who don’t learn from the past are quick to repeat it

By Stephen Lester Prescott
Image of Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s

IT was a déjà vu moment for me, noting that Allen Chastanet was made person of the year by a local media house. Shocking even to myself but I actually support this title but for totally different reasons.

I took much of 2017 assessing the Labour Party’s performance in its last term — good and bad – and, trying to wrap my mind around how a personality like Allen Chastanet made it to the highest office and, like many others, concluded that as a people we elected the Government that best reflects us as a society.

Politics remains essentially about people, the ability to influence individuals or groups.

It may sound or seem quite simplistic, but I live by one rule: judge people by their actions, not just their words. But there’s also an “ole wives tale” that goes something like: “Those who don’t learn from the past are quick to repeat it.”

But back to why Allen deserves this title, I can safely say that I have been observing Allen Michael Chastanet from 2008. Having survived the last scandalous year and six months of the UWP’s first term, he has always stood out as a sore thumb back then and now.

I’ve been told by friends that I can’t be “objective” where Allen Chastanet is concerned. But I don’t agree. Why? Because every criticism I’ve made of him was based on known facts.

I’m still told I should expect better from PM Chastanet, but each time I respond that he’s never once proven to me, as a St. Lucian, that he cares about “We the people” of this country.

I have long maintained that his actions in politics over the last few years have proven him to be quite elitist at home, as well as anti-local and anti-regional — and there is an abundance of recorded evidence to substantiate this.

Today, I urge you to take a trip back in time on my musings of this Prime Minister in the earlier years and now….

Issue 1: Town and Village Council Audit Report
“…even more interesting, the Soufriere Town Constituency Council, through the then Office of UWP Candidate Mr. Chastanet engaged in a project called the “Computerization of Educational Institutions in the Soufriere District”.

Under his stewardship, it was reported that a supplier by the name of A.P.A. Business Conduit was paid a total amount of $571,340.40 — in advance — for supplying computer equipment and education supplies under this project. But, ironic enough, according to the investigations in the Audit Report, the value of the items that were consigned and cleared (Duty Free, mind you) by the Soufriere Constituency Council under the said project was $109,827.0 — a difference of $461513.40.

And Mr. Chastanet is yet to clear his name in the court of public opinion and explain to the citizenry why an additional $40,000 wastaken from the Soufriere Local Council to finance his election campaign for events like hosting an international band.

The Final Audit Report is a public record now: readers you can prove these facts for yourself, get a copy, don’t just take my word for it. This is the same Allen Chastanet who wants to play the self-righteous card now.

Issue 2: LIAT
As self-acclaimed tourism guru, what sealed my sentiments on Allen was his sustained attacks on LIAT over the last few years. We all know the financial challenges of LIAT that have been reported over the many years and we all have had horrible experiences with LIAT, but like a faithful guide door LIAT remains one of the strongest symbols of our integration. And it is with this in mind that some regional governments like Barbados, Dominica, St. Vincent and Antigua have attempted to keep LIAT afloat.

In January 2014, it was reported that the St. Lucian government would serve as a guarantor for LIAT. Kudos to the Kenny Anthony Administration, as this took nothing from the taxpayers of this country but it ensured the longevity of this regional airline. Ironically though, throughout the period that some regional governments were helping LIAT, Allen Chastanet launched scathing assaults on LIAT. In fact, during his tourism stint, Allen worsened LIAT’s fate by allowing American Eagle to operate the Barbados/St. Lucia route under the same conditions as LIAT. He again readily supported RedJet and Caribbean Star, knowing the impact this would have on LIAT.

Instead of trying to support this regional airline which represented one of the last vestiges of regionalism, Allen Chastanet chose instead to secretly giveaway millions to American Airlines to keep it in St. Lucia. Besides, it was the Labour government that had to fork out $4.7 million to pay American Eagle, based on a deal Chastanet entered into with them. To date, there has been no confirmation on how much money Allen gave away to AA. And after all these shenanigans, today all of these airlines have left, but LIAT remains.

My question: Where was Allen Chastanet’s “support” and “concern” for LIAT for all the years he had been Minister of Tourism and the airline was suffering? Why did he then, as Minister, not lend advice to LIAT for re-structuring or anything else? Why did he instead seek to systematically dismantle this regional airline? (January 2014)

Issue 3: Tourism Minister
At least if Allen had a commendable public record, we could close our eyes to his other failings, but he is far too tainted as a public figure. His political and ministerial records were stained by waste, extravagance and boastful non-performance. Need we forget Allen Chastanet’s millions on Boxing in Paradise, The Bachelor (TV charade) or Allen Chastanet and the $1.2 million James Hepple fiasco or the tourism marketing emblem allegedly plagiarized from Latin America? And who could forget the Tuxedo Villas court indictments and the references to Allen Chastanet? Even noted in Parliament, this former Tourism Minister ran up a cell phone bill of almost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) at the Tourist Board — and unjustified travel tickets totalling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is the background from which Allen Chastanet rose to become the country’s Minister of Finance. Therefore, should we be surprised at the reckless decisions being made with our country’s money? Should we be surprised when our money is being used to pay employees of foreign companies? Are you still surprised that CIP money is being loaned to investors at 2 and 3% interest? The list goes on!

Issue 4: Value Added Tax
When the Labour Government announced plans to introduce VAT in 2012, Allen Chastanet, who so cares for the “poor people” of this country, is suggested to have gone on a sustained campaign to all in the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association to cut all the local staff employed by 10%. You hear that, St. Lucians? It was said that he encouraged his hotelier colleagues to cut all local staff employed by 10%. He didn’t seem to care at the time who was going on the breadlines. No, he is supposed to have suggested a slash-and-burn of all local employees by 10%, just so that the Government of the day could be taught a lesson. Does that resemble the making of a good Prime Minister?

Allen Chastanet was part of the very Government that destroyed the soul of St. Lucian development. There is no way, as one who loves my country, that I can in good conscience support the continued leadership of a man whose actions over the years has only demonstrated anti-nationalism, anti-regionalism, wastage, selfishness and aloofness. St. Lucia, we can do better than that!

Issue 5: Credibility of this Prime Minister
The Prime Minister, for me, comes across as a compulsive spinner of half-truths and therefore does not convey the impression of being credible and trustworthy as a Prime Minister. The Prime Minister promised the electorate 1. to solve the crime problems, 2. reduce fuel prices and high cost of living, 3. eliminate VAT, 4. provide visa free access for St Lucians to the United States, 4. reform healthcare.

To date, the Prime Minister has failed to show progress on these; in fact, he has attempted to convince us that he didn’t really mean what he said the way he said it. Hmmmm. But then he has also offered half-truths on reducing government wastage. Half-truths (or maybe outright lies) on the number of deportees being sent back from the US. Half-truths on school repairs and the laptop programme. Do you see a pattern here?

Issue 6: Poverty allergy of the Prime Minister
The Prime Minister can’t be blamed for his fortunate, upper class upbringing; however, he must be called out for the derogatory attitude to the less-fortunate. In Parliament last year, many would recall the reference to poor as “mendicants” by the leader who was once on media crying his heart out for a poor unemployed mother. One of his first acts as a Prime Minister who cares so much for the poor was to virtually eliminate an employment programme and send many single mothers back home with no means to take care of their children. Should we be surprised, though? Did he care when he was firing nine Tourism Hostesses in Soufriere (who were earning only $1,000 per month) when he was Tourism Minister.

Just over a week ago, this Prime Minister suggested an automatic state removal of the second child from poor women as a means to curb social ills in the society. This, for me, readers, was a callous statement by the leader of this country. It is truly offensive for Allen Chastanet to want to decree family size of the poor and to punish innocent children for circumstances that are beyond them. One is left to wonder if the Prime Minister will soon call for the automatic sterilization of poor single mothers.

This behavioural attitude, while not surprising to me, is synonymous of this Prime Minister’s class prejudice. The sad reality is in spite of the number of basketball games he played in the Gardens, he cannot relate to the needs of the poor. Why didn’t this Prime Minister seek instead to address the system that perpetuates poverty or allocate funding to social development as a solution to our social ills?

Readers, it’s for all of these reasons I agree that Allen Chastanet deserves the Person of the Year title because he sadly reflects the worst in us as a society. Let’s not forget one newspaper editor told us in the past that infamy can also make one the personality of the year. His example at the time was to Hitler being Time Magazine’s Man of The Year in 1938.

And so, I end this reminiscing as I began…those who can’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it in the future…Well deserved, Man of the Year!

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