Letters & Opinion

Why Has Good Governance Become So Offensive In Saint Lucia?

By Stephen Lester Prescott

AS I listen to the public ranting on various talk shows here, I’m always forced to go back to June 6, 2016.

You see, for me, notwithstanding the flaws of the former Labour administration, I could never fathom how 47,000 people could go to their voting booths and knowingly vote for men and women featured in a Town and Village Council Audit for “misappropriating” public funds, or who were knowingly involved in questionable activities around a previous airport development, or those who were named and shamed by regional judges in the infamous Tuxedo-gate scandal.

I couldn’t rationalize the status of the soul of our nation that, to our core as a people, many of us seem to put no value on the basic principles of honesty, integrity, and ethics.

And then I was forced to remember the Prime Minister’s statement that “Floor-crossing is part of our DNA!”

Is the Prime Minister right? Is betrayal of our trust by politicians an accepted part of our DNA?

But then, it’s generally amusing to observe how the barometer shifts depending on whether it is a Labour or UWP Administration in office. Something generally perceived to be immoral or unethical with a Labour team suddenly becomes “the new normal” under the UWP.

Why does it appear that the standards for one group of politicians are higher than another? I mean, who can forget the example of a Labour Minister being forced to resign for allegedly falsifying his qualifications? Sure, everyone remembers! Even the hypocrites! But then, parallel this to a Minister in the UWP administration with online pictures purported to be of him masturbating for a young lady — and that seems cool.

When Labour is in office, the moralists look for contrition, but when UWP is in office, the moralists remind us all of the selective challenge that “Those without sin should cast the first stone!” – to which the prayer warriors convene en masse.

Why do these double-standards feature so highly in our politics?

As a society, what messages are we communicating to our youth that you can “Do no evil, see no evil and hear no evil” – but only when some people are involved? Hmmmm!

The “new normal” is that if an action is not strictly illegal by the book, then it can’t be wrong. I assume that something is determined as illegal only if it’s “contrary to or forbidden by law”; and likewise, something can only be unethical, if it lacks moral authority, or is not conforming to proper rules of conduct of behaviour.

By that new definition of “St Lucia normal”, many things are allowed to slide.

So, for almost two years now, an Integrity Commission remains disbanded.

Here we have an Integrity Commission which is enshrined in our Laws and which is the only means by which public officials are held to account financially while in office, yet the Prime Minister and his team have disbanded this means of transparency and accountability.

Against this backdrop, one hears stories about a Super Minister signing thirty (30) direct awards in one day, including one to the tune of $103,500 for another Minister’s brother to do a concrete road near to a Board Chairman’s home. Is this “illegal” or “unethical” – or both?

Then you have the issue of the basic contravention of good practices and convention when Parliament continues operating for almost two years without a Deputy Speaker. Or a Prime Minister serving as a director on a local hotel while holding the highest office of the land, yet simultaneously this same hotel hosts official Tourist Board-sponsored “Soleil” events or Government-sponsored training for public servants.

And, of course, who can forget, contrary to the existing Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) legislation, the Prime Minister has failed to comply with the obligations to report to Parliament indicating the individuals who were granted Saint Lucian citizenship or how much revenue was collected and how that revenue was utilized.

Are any of these things “illegal” or “unethical”?

Can anyone tell me: would it be deemed illegal or unethical if the Prime Minister or his relatives were owners of property in the vicinity of the proposed DSH area? Or if any other Cabinet Minister recently bought land in that proposed development site, would that be illegal or unethical? Or if a project recipient was to receive a $4 million grant from the Government for an employment project, would it be illegal or unethical for the PM’s relatives to provide legal services to this grant recipient?

What about a Minister’s wife getting grant funding of millions from the Government for providing training that the government’s NSDC already provides?

But my most “favourite” has to be the $24 million tax break provided to a big hotel chain facilitated by two former employees of that hotel chain, who also happen to be in the current Cabinet.

Would any of these actions listed offend the sensibilities of St. Lucia’s yellow-breasted moralists? It offends me — and I ain’tno Saint.

Further, when one juxtaposes all these things, especially in the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement that the country is broke, it raises further questions about the “morality” of this Government.

I was forced to examine all the public displays of wastage of this Allen Chastanet administration when our school plant is in such deplorable condition, our hospitals remains non-functional, social programmes have ended and non-governmental budgets are disseminated.

A quick mental checklist revealed the following to date: $500,000 spent for a swearing-in ceremony in the south, an increase of $21,000 for a larger Cabinet (which incidentally was promised to be the smallest), Ernst & Young unnecessary consultancies ranging in the millions, the FDL St. Jude audit for approximately $1 million, government-sponsored GTI training valued at almost $500,000 for Ministers and public officers, the Prime Minister’s one year credit card bill of $39,858, an increase of over £2000 monthly for a UK Ambassador and a tidy sum of $27,000 for two weeks to train a political attaché in the UK.

Are any of these things “unethical” or “illegal” or just downright wrong?

I am particularly disturbed that apart from two talk-show hosts and the opposition, the populace is by far and large accepting of these (in my estimation) unethical and illegal activities of the UWP Administration.

Malfeasance, conflict of interest, nepotism, and corruption have all become normal in today’s St. Lucia under this Administration.

St. Lucia, why has good governance become so offensive to us?

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