It was a hectic and interesting last weekend, as the island’s two main political rivalries stepped up the momentum in anticipation for the upcoming general elections.
While the ruling United Workers Party (UWP) celebrated its fifth-year anniversary victory at the 2016 polls; the opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) rallied support in its concerted efforts to oust the current administration.
Party flags and supporters decked in ‘party colours’ lined the respective routes with the UWP’s ‘motorcade celebration’ picking up steam , whilst the SLP’s ‘Pan Sunday’ protests was audibly displayed along the way.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet lamented that his administration inherited a country on the brink of collapse and had to perform a tough task of trying to rebuild the economy and rekindle the country’s dwindling fortunes.
“We have to build a new St Lucia … we said we have to build a quality, affordable healthcare system,” PM Chastanet told viewers during a panel discussion, on Sunday, to mark the occasion.
According to Chastanet, his government had to rectify the island’s health care system and also tackle the issue of security amongst other matters.
“When we came in …St Jude (Hospital) was not finished and we had not moved into St Jude. OKEU has supposedly been finished but for whatever reason they did not move in,” he continued. “Health care centres had not been fixed …and in terms of security, courts were closed, no DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), no marine boats, the police did not have ammunition to go and practice on the firearm range and the forensic lab was closed.”
Touting his government’s achievements, Chastanet spoke on the implementation of airport and gas taxes, reduction in the VAT rate, and provision of water supply to several displaced communities as measures to help cushion the economic effects. He also lauded the administration’s capital works projects that included road construction, bridges and infrastructure and the Hewanorra International Airport (HIA) redevelopment project.
The prime minister stated that while these projects provided jobs for some residents, other persons benefited with the capacity to save some extra cash or ‘chin, chin, chin’.
“The expansion of the water development up north and what does that mean and how does that relate to ‘chin, chin, chin’ …persons no longer had to buy water tanks, that’s cost-saving,” declared Chastanet. “Persons did not have to pay for a water truck during the drought, because water is available. That’s ‘chin, chin, chin’.”
He asserted: “Every programme that we have comes back down to how we improve the quality of life of the people in this country.”
Chastanet also acknowledged the fulfillment of ‘campaign promises’ that included, eliminating the debt incurred by hospital patients, and waiver on property tax for five years.
With provisions for the welfare of the citizenry and particularly, the more vulnerable persons in the community –the main bone of contention in the election race- opposing party hierarchy launched their differing messages of ‘hope and redemption’ to the electorate.
“We increased the subsidies for the school feeding programme and for the bus transportation programme,” Chastanet stated.
“Why? Because we said while we are building a new Saint Lucia, we must do things to help the more vulnerable persons in our society,” he added.
“Every day at Cabinet that is what the discussion is – ‘How are these policies going to affect the most vulnerable, but at the same time create the greatest amount of opportunity for our country,’” the PM said.
However, it was a different ‘kettle of fish’ that the SLP proposed as members laid out the party’s policy agenda and plans to resuscitate what they perceive as an ‘ailing economy, during a virtual public meeting on Sunday.
In a scathing review on the Chastanet –led administration, veteran SLP politician and MP for Vieux Fort South Dr. Kenny Anthony did not mince words as delved into the ramifications of what he termed a ‘failed government’.
“The desecration of our Pitons, the end of the Jazz Festival as we knew it, the end of the subventions to the St Lucia National Trust … the end of the NICE programme , the end of the STEP programme too, as we knew it only to replace it was an occasional version when the pressure became unbearable,” declared Dr. Anthony.
While presenting a review of the UWP regime’s apparent management incompetence, Opposition Leader Phillip Pierre offered his party’s perspective on plans for an opportunity to once again serve the citizenry.
“After several promises, after million dollars’ worth of inquiry the St Jude’s Hospital still remains closed,” Pierre stated. “It remains unfinished and our people are suffering at the stadium.”
Listing out some of the SLP’s pledges, he noted: “We pledge that when you the people put us in power, we will at the quickest possible time reopen St Jude for the people of St Lucia.”
Pierre also placed emphasis on the SLP rolling out some innovative projects that would significantly include a ‘Youth Economic Policy’, geared to empower young persons in the country and tap into their creative genes.
“Our youth economy will ensure that these hobbies are turned into entrepreneurship and these skills are turned into business,” he noted.
Pierre added, “That is the essence of our new economy and that new economy that includes the youth economy, will ensure that there is skills training for the young people, there is finance for them to expand and start their businesses and there is marketing so they can sell their product, not only in St Lucia, but regionally and globally.”
The opposition leader mentioned that the SLP would create an inclusive ‘business recovery strategy’ to benefit all St Lucians.
Pierre asserted: “We intend to include everyone in this new business strategy; hotels, small business, vendors, and self-employed. And this business strategy will include a complete revision of taxes, duties and processes.”