Letters & Opinion

Who Is Standing Up For St. Lucia? — The Price of Apathy

By Anthony Serieux

In democratic countries, a political party which wins a two thirds majority in a general election is usually seen as having been given a mandate to effect major, positive and sometimes drastic changes in the social and economic conditions of that country and its people.

Such a majority should never be used by a government as a tool to ride roughshod over people, promote hatred and division, employ acts of revenge, vindictiveness and repression against political opponents, abuse power and authority and squander the country’s resources on party supporters.

On four occasions since independence, voters in St Lucia have given a political party a two thirds majority, three times to the Labour Party and once to the United Workers Party. Each of Labour’s three occasions left St Lucians disillusioned, took the country backward rather than forward and inflicted pain and hardship on our people.

On the other hand, the UWP has no such record. In fact, on its only two-thirds majority victory in 1982, the party under Sir John Compton was able to quickly restore St Lucia after the SLP had wrecked it with their senseless and vicious   leadership struggle. The UWP has never depended on the size of its majority to work for the people of St. Lucia. It has left St Lucia in better shape than it found it after every single term it has been in government.

Which brings us to the current SLP government. In 16 months in office, Phillip Pierre’s government has unleashed its full fury on St Lucians, stopping projects that employed them, selling their national assets to foreigners, sowing the seeds of hatred and division among the people, failing to honour election promises and refusing to institute the necessary measures to ease the burden on St Lucians as a result of runaway inflation.

Mr. Pierre has failed to seek exoneration for his deputy in the Rovergate scandal that has negatively impacted both Mr. Hilaire and the government itself. Instead he took the unprecedented step of attending at a court hearing on the matter which many saw as a form of intimidation of the Magistrate to pronounce a decision favourable to Hilaire.

As if this was not enough Mr. Pierre has made a series of public gaffes, in words and deeds, that have horrified many St. Lucians who are now questioning his suitability for his position as Prime Minister. The most recent was his urging his supporters to get in the face of UWP supporters and jeer at them to reemphasize his party’s election victory. Then there is the scandalous dispensing of government contracts to a chosen few that has always been a key plank of SLP rule.

It was laughable this week to hear the Prime Minister chiding international finance agencies for not responding quickly enough to St Lucia‘s needs following the damages caused by recent bad weather. It was sad, childish and noteworthy. Sad in the sense that the PM appears totally lost in direction, childish as he is crying out to the unknown and  noteworthy as he is now paying the price for his folly by stopping the HIA terminal, St Jude hospital, two housing projects and the Rodney Bay highway, all projects fully financed.

When international agencies observe the kind of “squandermania” of public funds that has been going on in St Lucia does Mr. Pierre expect to get any sympathy from them? He has to learn the hard way and his appeal this week is the first blow of reality. Mr. Pierre needs to come to grips with that situation and begin to run the country with pride and commonsense or else fair Helen will sink along with all of us.

In the last 16 months there have been numerous SLP actions that have shocked the collective conscience of St Lucians although they have largely remained quiet about it. The latest was the decision to put two of our ports under foreign control for the next 30 years and the consideration said to be underway to dispose of the new UWP-built St Jude Hospital building. At risk of going the same route is the Hewanorra International Airport redevelopment.

Of course, the SLP’s main concern continues to be the mere presence of Allen Chastanet in the island’s politics as they try to bury his name and legacy, even if it means depriving places like Vieux Fort the development it has been longing or and so badly needs.

When the SLP won the election of 1997 under Kenny Anthony, it adopted a policy of intimidation of critics that was so successful that except for a handful of journalists at the time, people thought twice about voicing their opposition to, or even expressing their feelings about actions of the government for fear of incurring its wrath. Even prominent organizations in the country were cowed into submission, and they all continue to this day to fear the hounds of Labour. As a result, save for the UWP, there are few voices of dissent in the country except for persons calling into media talk shows.

There are no other voices standing up for St Lucia in the current political environment, a sharp contrast to what obtains when the UWP is in power. Critics come out of the woodwork and are prepared to stall development projects if they have to, just for the sake of politics. So there is no push back from the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture if actions are taking place that will have the effect of suppressing economic growth; no concern from the St Lucia National Trust if our patrimony is being dissected and handed to foreigners; no position from the St Lucia Medical and Dental Association if a spanking new hospital is put on hold in favour of another structure that was deemed unfit but now highly recommended  by a group of SLP supporters that the Prime Minister has the effrontery to describe as “independent”.

The suppression of Vieux Fort’s development potential by Mr. Pierre’s government by his decision not to proceed with plans for the town initiated by the UWP is another classic in the campaign to wipe out Chastanet’s legacy. But more disturbing is the undertaking to the people to whom Castries and Soufriere ports were “sold” not to develop the Vieux Fort port.  Chastanet says the investors had made that same proposal to his government and that he turned them down, but  Labour is cool with stifling Vieux Fort’s development and not even that has stirred the people of the south to raise their voices in protest.

Where are Anderson Reynolds, Julius James and the other agitators who gave the UWP hell over the DSH project? Who is standing up for Vieux Fort today? In fact, who is standing up for St Lucia in all that has been going on? What happened to the MP who threatened the government with a fight if Vieux Fort lands were given to foreigners by the UWP.

The current situation provides fertile ground for the erosion of democracy in St Lucia. It is the price we will all pay for our apathy.

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