The ten days between then Saint Lucia Labour Party’s stinging third posy-Independence landslide victory a week before Emancipation Day and the swearing-in of the new Cabinet of Saint Lucia seemed like ten months for the island’s eighth Prime Minister, Philip J. Pierre.
He’d steered the good ship Saint Lucia virtually alone since the final count of votes catapulted him to the captaincy while also undertaking the arduous task of building the Cabinet of Ministers that would deliver on the SLP’s election promises.
But if his first ten days were like ten months, then just imagine the next five years – or 1,825 days.
The SLP’s July 26 victory was like its ‘Third Coming’ since Independence in terms of landslide victories: 12-5 in 1979, 16-1 in 1997 and 13-4 in 2021.
None was sweeter and each had its unique features.
The day’s historic symbolism included the first appearance of new Deputy Governor General Errol Charles, son of Sir George F.L. Charles, the SLP’s Founding Leader and Saint Lucia’s first Chief Minister.
The new rainbow Cabinet doesn’t include yellow; however, the PM’s promised it won’t only see about red, white and blue, but also about green and yellow, as no constituency not represented in Cabinet will be less cared for.
The new Prime Minister had already in his first ten days taken over-a-hundred decisions to ensure the smooth but immediate transition and his address at the House of Assembly, coming just days after that at his investiture as Prime Minister, made it pellucidly clear he’d been long preparing and very-ready for the role.
The most-ready candidate for the job before the election — three terms as Deputy to Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony and first-and-only previous holder of the formal post of Deputy Prime Minister — PM Pierre’s Ten-Day Plan ensured he supervised the transition flawlessly while building a cabinet from the 15 winning candidates, each of whose constituents expect their elected MP will also be a government minister.
The team named met that expectation in all but two cases (for reasons explained) and was given the usual welcome for a new administration elected to not only deliver on its promises but also to meet already-sky-high national expectations inherited a year-and-a-half after the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and more than five years of governance that inflated the national debt and indebted the future of Saint Lucian youth and children like no other.
The Saint Lucia electorate having four times in just two decades repeatedly demonstrated their will to use the power of using their votes as weapons to punish parties that don’t deliver, the new PM has already personally delivered – before appointing his Cabinet — on two major SLP campaign promises.
He announced cancellation of Facility Fees for students island-wide when schools reopen next month; and restoration of the government’s subvention to the Saint Lucia National Trust, withdrawn by the last administration.
Thursday’s address – the second since his investiture on July 28 in Governor General Sir Neville Cenac’s last act at Government House — was another declaration of intent to deliver based on historical connections with the needy in Castries East, the largest constituency in the Capital, where his father and mother instilled in his brain that he had to sleep with the chickens to know how they sleep.
There was none of the usual fluff associated with new Prime Ministers in victory hangover moods and modes promising the world nothing in their inaugural addresses.
‘Been there and done that’ so many times before, he knew long before Thursday that prime minister-ship is not only about leadership but also about following, he promised to be a ‘Servant Leader’ for and to all Saint Lucians.
His early priority list had already been announced: an update on the COVID situation from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), an audit of the national state of affairs through accountability reports from government departments and updates on the Hewanorra International Airport (HIA) project and the St. Jude Hospital.
But his Number-One priority will be to complete the St. Jude Hospital, which was decommissioned and destroyed by the last administration, resulting in patients being cared-for for 12 long years at the deteriorating structure of an original Olympic stadium donated by China to improve the national sporting health.
A St. Mary’s College (SMC) graduate who was admittedly ‘always better at Maths than English’ at Sir Arthur Lewis and Hon. Derek Walcott’s Alma Mater, the new PM honed his business skills and Caribbean consciousness at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) Cave Hill Campus in Barbados.
Taking the proverbial political plunge soon after returning home, the radical Pierre took the fight to the UWP’s in Castries, first as a Senator and thereafter as the six-times-reelected MP for Castries East.
Overcoming always being underestimated and laughed-at for his stammer, Pierre always kept his eyes on the prize: winning and delivering, in and out of government.
He’s forever applied a simple mathematical formula to his successful successive re-election: ensuring between elections that he earns at least 51% of votes in each ballot box on Election Day.
How? By mechanically making his first task after every election to prioritize those areas where his numbers were lower, resulting in that Red Carpet walk through the constituency, ‘from top to bottom’, without a single jeer.
The passionate MP-for-All would have been expected to have wanted to host the swearing-in ceremony at Marchand’s Mindoo Philip Park; and it’s felt to have been more than just Divine Providence the Marchand Parish Priest delivered the opening prayers at the House of Assembly on Thursday calling for God’s blessings for all the ministers.
His portfolio allocations have seen a combination of experience and maturity and placements according to skills, nine of the appointments appearing overly gratuitous, except for honoring expectations that the two independent MPs, though being outside the 13 SLP teamsters who won, would have been offered cabinet positions.
Here again, Pierre returning King to the ministry he was previously calculatedly dwarfed-and-disrespected in before resigning at aright time that proved so very wrong for the previous administration during its last days was the fruitful result of the unprecedented tactical and strategic alliances with the two independent candidates that helped secure a wider 15-2 parliamentary defeat of the former ruling party, which lost 9 of the 11 seats it held.
Ditto the appointment of the experienced Richard Frederick to the Housing Ministry (he also previously held) to address an ongoing and worsening long-outstanding social issue affecting a sizeable portion of Castries Central residents, as well as with responsibility for Local Government.
And ditto the three women ministers’ portfolios that spread from Commerce and Education through Public Service, Home and Gender Affairs.
Explaining why former PM Anthony isn’t in the Cabinet and acknowledging the historicity of Micoud North candidate Jeremiah Norbert’s winning of a seat never held by the SLP in the seven decades since Adult Suffrage (the Right to Vote) in 1951, Pierre assured they will both be reinvited to join the cabinet after medical procedures, contractual and study obligations and commitments.
The new PM had on August 1st issued a national Emancipation Day statement – again unprecedented in its depth and breadth — promising to make Emancipation more than a one-day-holiday affair, committing to taking the teaching of true Caribbean history to schools, contributing to CARICOM’s pursuit of Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide from Europe and taking the Kweyol Language to needed much-higher heights.
He’d also signaled his readiness to take-on the COVID battle nationally by cancelling all the SLP’s public election victory celebration activities last weekend.
Indeed, the COVID battle will certainly be the new administration’s Number One emergency priority, given the real possibility of the island facing the backlash of the shelving protocols during the 21 days of election campaigning, already being seen in increased numbers of positive cases in the post-election period.
The island had registered 5,662 cases diagnosed and 89 deaths here since the pandemic was declared 17 months ago, with 142 cases in the last fortnight suggesting faster community spread – and igniting fear about the other variants than SARS-CoV-2, with 51 cases of the UK’s ‘Kent’ variant and the Delta variant on the island’s doorsteps in neighboring Martinique, where 300 people died in one week as islanders protest mandatory vaccination by France.
The CMO has warned of the inevitable arrival of the Delta Variant that’s already in 11 Caribbean states, including Antigua & Barbuda and Barbados.
The already-high level of Vaccine Hesitancy here is being even louder encouraged by conspiracy theorists, with politicians now politicizing the pandemic – all making it vital that the government moves carefully but purposefully in implementation of its mandate, duty and responsibility to protect the lives and health of Saint Lucians, first and foremost.
Efforts by the Vincentian government to increase national vaccination levels through parliamentary regulation resulted in opposition protests that ended with the nation’s Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves suffering a wound to the head from a stone pelted by a protester.
PM Pierre knows these are the sorts of responses generated by irresponsible opposition parties that put pursuit of power above and ahead of national health and safety, playing on people’s genuine fears and concerns to drive them into taking actions that only prolong COVID’s presence and result in arrival of new variants.
Fortunately, Saint Lucian voters waited to exhale and did so in full on July 26 and all parties and supporters – the public-at-large – have elected to select to first give the new administration a chance to settle and make a fresh start.
It’s now left to the new PM to harness the national support he, his party and their allies got in what I always said would have been ‘The Mother and Father of All Saint Lucia Elections’, returning the ‘Mother and Father of All Parties’ here to office with an outstanding mandate that broke the failed 11-6 formula returned four times in-a-row and elevated it to a combined parliamentary 15-2 majority that will allow he and his administration to really Save Our Saint Lucia (SOS).
Prime Minister Pierre knows it’s easier to win elections than to deliver progress and the mathematician in him has started-off as expected, cool and calm under pressure but always following the numbers and the science in deliberate application and implementation of words and actions in ways and means that will continue to surprise those who still underestimate the man who I continue to insist has the capacity to become the Best Prime Minister Saint Lucia Never Had.