SAINT Lucians on Monday voted resoundingly for change – and a new beginning.
Predictably, records were broken – and many hearts too – but Saint Lucians, once again, have sent out a clear message that no government that doesn’t deliver shall prosper.
For ex-Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s United Workers Party (UWP), everything crashed: it lost the Micoud North seat held by founding leader Sir John Compton for the first time since 1951, when Saint Lucians first got the right to vote; it lost in 15 of the 17 seats; and it lost in its bid to stop former UWP Leader and Prime Minister Stephenson King from retaining the Castries North seat he’s represented since 1987 and its most-hated foe Richard Frederick from winning again Castries Central.
The biggest winners, though were the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), its Leader Philip J. Pierre – and Saint Lucia as a whole.
Under Pierre’s astute and largely underestimated leadership, the SLP undertook a masterful campaign involving an unprecedented strategic and tactical alliance against the common political enemy, which many poured cold water on, but yielded the hot results he obviously planned.
Pierre has long been the most-ready candidate for prime minister-ship: he served as Deputy Prime Minister more than once, has held most ministerial portfolios (from Commerce and Tourism to Infrastructure and International Financial Services) and can write a book on marrying politics and governance in the ways that has continued to ensure his repeated re-election.
Always willing to remind critics of his occasional stammer that ‘I was always better at Maths than English’, Pierre’s honesty in and out of government has earned him the proud reputation of being criticized by some of his arch UWP rivals somehow as incapable of being a good leader ‘because he’s never been accused of corruption…’
Truth be said, Pierre withdrew from his lucrative professional financial services the moment he was first elected to Cabinet in 1997 and has never been accused of squandering or stealing, badly-spending or mis-using government or taxpayers’ money.
But just as he’s honest and outright in his politics, Pierre is also the fiercest political opponent anyone hoping to replace could engage, pulling no punches and taking no prisoners when it comes to Castries East – as patently manifested in his thorough defeat of the self-serving and exclusionary ‘Belrose Doctrine’ of ‘only taking care of our own…’
Yet, just as he’s still unlikely to be seen wearing a yellow short, the SLP Leader has again demonstrated he’ll have absolutely no problem entering into an accommodation with any colour (that doesn’t threaten red), which is why his record of representation is admired by both supporters and those who didn’t vote for him.
Pierre takes into the PM’s office that accumulated wisdom and experience that he had for all of his four decades in representative politics in and out of parliament and Cabinet and is well geared to be the best PM Saint Lucia’s never had.
His calculated pursuit of the end of the last administration has resulted in the SLP having not just a 13-4 parliamentary majority, but also a 15-2 majority in relation to UWP presence.
While paid pollsters and pretenders would start at the end by challenging Pierre to prove he can prevent his incoming administration from also becoming a one-term government, Pierre has no illusions about the size and strength of the tasks facing him.
His Cabinet will reflect the election results, but with so many first-timers winning seats and the oft-proven fatality of elected MPs too-slowly learning to be ministers on the job, he’ll also see the need for inclusivity by adding experience through the Senate, while also making use of the accumulated wisdom and experience of pensioners with unparalleled and needed skills forced home by age.
He’ll also have to urgently but carefully consider how to approach the urgent question of investigations into allegations of corruption and illegal or irregular practices involving government finances and state-owned properties levelled against former Cabinet ministers and the multiple counts of allegations of last-lap deals entered into just months, weeks or days before the General Elections, with caveat clauses aimed at tying government’s hands irrespective of the elections results.
It was clear from the public responses to the weekly (almost daily) allegations of irregular practices with fiduciary implications for state funds that people of all partisan colours and complexions were of the view that something just has to be done by the next government to make those responsible for squandering government funds in such abusive ways as alleged in most cases, it too will be changed.
Naturally, public thirst for justice in such instances is both adorable and encouraging, but the arbiters of justice in the name of the people have also to be judicious in their prescriptions to avoid allegations of vengeance.
It’s a fine line to walk, but in proving that he’s not one of the politicians who believe none should set a precedence of jailing another lest their turn also comes, Pierre will also have to ensure that whatever formula is applied it will stand both the test of time and lengthy judicial and legal processes usually involved.
Caribbean pollster Peter Wickham insists it’s near impossible to have Caribbean politicians jailed by Caribbean courts for corruption, telling a local post-election panel on NTN Monday evening that in a recent case, it took a US court to convict and sentence a corrupt Barbadian politician.
But Pierre knows it is very possible to investigate, collate findings and prosecute gubernatorial misdeed and financial wrongdoings, as he was Deputy Prime Minister in the Dr Kenny Anthony administration between 2011 and 2016 when local and international institutional arrangements were made to prosecute those found by external forensic auditors to have violated public trust in their handling of Taiwanese funds.
That those commendable efforts at ensuring accountability for public monies were subject to lengthy legal and judicial proceedings that allowed for all forward movements to have been reversed by regime change should be seen as more of a lesson than a regret.
But if the volume of allegations poured-out in the last weeks of the election campaign was as effective as it suspectedly was in influencing a fourth successive round of regime change, it would be absolutely essential that regional and international arbiters be engaged with specific legal mandates that will ensure that justice is served in just ways for unjust practices and actions.
With the accumulated experience of all that’s happened in and between elections in 1979 and 1996 and between 1997 and 2016, Pierre will also not have waited until now to think of and start strategizing a plan to ensure he breaks the one-term cycle that’s been trending in Saint Lucia elections for the past 20 years.
But he will not likely take a take-it-all approach to formation of a government and appointment of suitable persons to new or old positions, never mind the expected discouragement from within.
Pierre again has the backing of former PM Anthony for another five years – and the success of his strategic tactical alliance also means he has access to the prime ministerial experiences of King.
I’ve always held that King would be more likely interested in saving the UWP from its badly-wounded leader than joining a cabinet and that Frederick’s relationship with the SLP or a SLP-led administration is always negotiable.
Many have said, even suggested, now that SLP has won 13 and enjoys more than a two-thirds majority, Pierre no longer needs the two independents whose victory he and the SLP facilitated.
But the Philip J. Pierre I know, son of a policeman who sees it as his duty to police the people’s money, is not one to think and act that way.
Pierre led a formidable team that proved its electoral worth and now he has the unenviable task of forming a cabinet that will both satisfy new MPs and provide the institutional backing necessary in these times (as ever) to ensure timely implementation of decisions.
He will have known, for example, that even before the Governor General issues his proclamation as Prime Minister, he’d have to be ready to implement a brand-new COVID strategy that doesn’t erase gains, but accelerates urgent access to vaccines – in quick time.
COVID Protection and Restriction Protocols essentially abandoned by parties and police and disregarded by party supporters and caution having been essentially thrown to the wind, while others may be thinking of where they think they will best serve in the new dispensation, Pierre will know to expect an all-but-sure ‘4th COVID wave’ upon taking office.
Against a background of the possibility that pre-election revelations of arrangements for private purchase of vaccines becoming subject to investigation, it would be necessary for the incoming PM to also consider how best to ensure the quickest access to the best vaccines for all Saint Lucians.
With all the established vaccines subject to deserved scrutiny, the new administration will have to take into consideration all the revelations of incapacities and weaknesses of the most established ones – starting with Oxford-AstraZeneca, the only vaccine used here.
But the next government would also do well to consider China’s role as the world’s leading producer and supplier of vaccines and its willingness to help fellow developing countries vaccinate their populations.
Likewise Cuba, which, like china, has developed more than one vaccine, including a nasal spray for those fearing injections and both (China and Cuba) developing vaccines for children and breast-feeding mothers.
And then there’s the Russian jab…
The American, Chinese, European and Russian jabs are (mostly) all present in the Caribbean and with the new ‘mix-and-match’ approach that can see two different vaccines accepted as one big dose in two pieces, it would do well for Saint Lucia to engage all and make the best and safest available to all.
Philip J. Pierre has done all he needed to, to earn the accolades and laurels coming his way since Monday evening and he knows that after elections, joy and celebration is sweet for winners, but not guaranteed.
He will not fail the many who voted for him and the most who voted for the SLP nationally, but nor will he betray his lifelong commitment to honesty in public life.
Nor will he fail to understand that in these times ‘foreign affairs’ need to definitely carved-out as an extension of local affairs that locks local needs in step with global realities old and new.
He’s also aware of the sensitivity of the China-Taiwan issue, but here again, Pierre has been around long enough to not allow himself to be rushed into making any rash decisions that Saint Lucia can too early regret.
One can go on and on tabulating the expectations from the next prime minister, but like everything else, positive expectations also depend on negating realities, especially as tomorrow belongs to no one but to all of us.
Philip J. Pierre has proven his worth and it’s now for the nation to welcome and engage him as the next man in whose head and hands Saint Lucia’s leadership lies for the near future.
I strongly believe Philip J. Pierre will not only deliver, but also has the capacity to earn a second term.
But before that, let’s gather around and behind him in saving Saint Lucia from having to follow the map for the road to ruin he inherited on Monday evening.
Saint Lucia is at that stage now when positive leadership is most wanted and the SLP leader has carved his life for permanent resolve to make things better for all.
Always underrated by his political opponents, Pierre never lost his seat after winning; and over the years he’s developed the political acumen to walk and talk while listening and learning, concentrating on the essentials of consistent representation, while building a body of experience that’s made him the most-ready candidate for the prime minister-ship — at a time when Saint Lucia needs its best leader ever, the best we’ve never had.