When Philip J. Pierre, Leader of the Opposition and Political Leader of the Saint Lucia Labour Party addressed the Party Conference on October 13, 2019, at the Jon Odlum Secondary School he described himself as Saint Lucia’s Leader in waiting and the Prime Minister who will lead the next government. It was not an idle or trite statement made by a prime ministerial hopeful given to grand-standing. Rather it was a very sobering statement made at the opening of a momentous delivery which went on to analyse the state of the nation in all spheres, social, political and economic and which went on to give a broad outline, not just of the tenor that the party’s campaign for reelection might take but also the broad programme of a party and a movement that is ready to lead.
It has been the perennial criticism of political parties that they characteristically do not release their manifestos until a few days before the general election. And while this practice has sometimes been justified by what they see as the tactical need to keep their cards close to their chests, critics have deprecated the practice and have argued that no such perceived tactical imperative should obviate the need for the electorate to be made fully au courant with the party’s plans for the country well before the electorate goes to the polls.
While it may be argued that we are, generally speaking, not a reading public and that the delineation and articulation of party programmatic platforms in greater detail than what is dished out at public meetings are not read or studied, our political leaders must try to ensure that an increasing number of electors actually engage meaningfully in considering the programmes that party leaderships offer them. It is only on this basis that we are going to make the mature decisions that democracy presupposes that we should be equipped to make. This will contribute to a large extent to ensuring that our choices are not simply made on shallow slogans like “five to stay alive”.
It is therefore commendable that PJP went at lengths to outline broadly what the direction of a Labour Party Government will be in all critical spheres of Saint Lucian life should they be elected at the next general elections. And that he has done so just over one year before the elections are constitutionally due.
His categorical statements on Health, Economic, Social and Foreign policy were welcome. His specific focus on the issues of climate change, a “youth economy”, debt, emphasis on the small business sector, workers’ issues, all issues that must be dealt with if we are to begin to achieve meaningful development, points unapologetically to the direction in which he intends to lead.
And Corruption. The commitment to confront corruption head-on and to deal with the abuse of the direct award mechanism is as clear a statement of intention as you would require from our next Prime Minister.
It must be emphasized that these issues are to be considered in the context of meaningful development. Too often criticisms have been levelled at the positions taken by the SLP claiming that they run counter to development. Our electorate needs to consider that not all projects and hare-brained ideas in the economic sphere constitute development that benefits the broad mass of our working people and Saint Lucia. “Development” schemes that are designed to deplete and exploit our resources in the sole interest of so-called investors, and increasingly of conmen who have been fingered in other jurisdictions for involvement in corrupt enterprises cannot be “development”. And of course there are the few locals connected with the government who are complicit in the execution of these schemes. Corruption, as Mr Pierre has observed, compromises real people-oriented development.
The idea of developing a “youth economy” is key. And Mr Pierre has given broad outlines of where the party intends to go with this. The party will undoubtedly be developing these ideas in more detail as they go about engaging the populace on this and other ideas in the coming months. What is significant is that a clear path is being outlined by Philip J. Pierre that seeks to draw our youth more meaningfully into a development ethos that develops (and not under develops) Saint Lucia for Saint Lucians. A development agenda that places them firmly at the centre of the present and the future of our small but proud island-state.
The Labour Party’s assertion that local capital, and particularly small and micro-business must play a seminal role in our economic development is not new for the party. What is new is the unmistakable fervour with which the matter is treated in the Political Leader’s address to the conference. His clear commitment to exploring ever more effective means and mechanisms to facilitate the expansion of this sector and its contribution to nation-building is undeniable. From time immemorial we have been lectured on the indispensable role of foreign direct investment in our economy; too often, in my view, this has tended to diminish the importance of small and medium local capital. Indeed the resilience of the local economy to external shocks can to a great degree be mitigated by the health of this sector. Mr. Pierre’s address clearly recognizes this. He will no doubt be engaging leaders of the small and medium level business sector in this regard.
Despite the conceptualization and enactment of the Labour Code/Act by the SLP government in a previous term the workers of Saint Lucia continue to be vulnerable. And it is significant that workers’ issues, among these a living wage, is on the agenda of the Saint Lucia Labour Party and Leader Philip J. Pierre. In this the party will undoubtedly have to engage with organized labour, that is the trade unions and professional associations. There has been a tendency, particularly under the Allen Chastanet Administration, to implement misguided policies that almost always negatively impact working people at the lower end of the earning spectrum, and to totally ignore the professional associations in the government’s implementation of projects where their input is essential and critical. My reading of PJP’s address to the Party Conference is that this will end. Working people in all sectors of national development must be brought into the process of decision making, and their well-being must be at the centre of this engagement.
As workers and their various organizations are engaged in the next few months it is expected that the concepts expressed in the political Leader’s address to the conference will be honed into a clearer plan with regard to how the Labour Party intends to implement its undertaking to the working people.
Other key issues addressed in the PL’s wide-ranging and comprehensive speech are the debt issue, climate change and foreign policy. With respect to debt he is concerned with returning the country to the fiscal prudence that was the hallmark of the Kenny Anthony administration. Climate change that must be the concern of all small island developing states and low-lying states, and indeed the entire world, must be a significant part of our national policy and our engagement with the international community; the lip-service category to which it has been relegated by a government which thinks nothing of destroying life-giving mangroves and wetlands for frivolous projects to enrich so-called foreign investors, must be discontinued. And we must get back on track as a veritable leader in the struggle against environmental degradation. A degradation that small states with very finite resources can ill-afford.
Not only must our engagement at the international level reflect our concern with this existential threat, but our Foreign Policy, as Philip Pierre sees it, we must also ensure that along with all other self-respecting states we steadfastly reject the idea that some powerful states have the right to undermine and subvert the sovereignty and the democratic institutions of others, make their economies suffer and implement an unashamed policy of “regime change”. In other words this fawning and unthinking direction of the Saint Lucia government will be brought to an end.
To comment on all that Mr Pierre addressed in his speech to the conference is not possible within the limits of this article. I must however mention one other. That is candidate selection. We have been assured not only that the matter of candidate selection continues apace to prepare the Party for the general elections but very importantly that the slate of men and women that the Saint Lucia Labour Party endeavours to present us with is one that is equipped to not only deliver effective and efficient governance but, more importantly to restore the values of integrity, hard work, meritocracy, inclusiveness, humility and truth in public life.
The address of PJP has set out, more than one year ahead of the elections, the issues on which the populace will be engaged and has set out the exceedingly comprehensive platform that will inform the development of the country with the next Labour Government. This new Administration in waiting will not be accused of giving the people a five-to-stay-alive type “djab en sac” concoction. There is much time to consider the considerable substance that we have been presented with. And to present coherent and well thought-out alternatives for the advancement of our people.