Prime Min­is­ter Kenny An­thony: Was his New Year mes­sage loaded?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rick Wayne

On Sun­day evening as I ob­served the na­tion’s prime min­is­ter de­liv­er­ing his pre-recorded rit­ual New Year mes­sage, I was re­minded of Abra­ham Lin­coln. At any rate, I re­called the fa­mous sick joke about the revered U.S. Pres­i­dent’s 1885 as­sas­si­na­tion while at­tend­ing with his wife the play Our Amer­i­can Cousin, at Ford’s Theater in Wash­ing­ton D.C.

The joke had first ap­peared as the cap­tion to a New States­man car­toon that de­picted a re­porter ques­tion­ing the dev­as­tated newly wid­owed First Lady at the scene of the crime: “But apart from that, Mrs. Lin­coln, did you en­joy the play?”

As I took in Sun­day evening’s pro­duc­tion star­ring our ev­i­dently well-fed, ap­pro­pri­ately cos­tumed prime min­is­ter, I won­dered how I might ap­proach a re­view of his tele­vised per­for­mance.

Would I ad­dress the almost in­dis­cernible slick edit­ing? The cal­cu­lated back­drop of law vol­umes? The prime min­is­ter’s fa­mous chameleonic per­sona? His dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing pen­chant for vac­il­la­tion and fool­ish con­sis­tency (VAT is op­pres­sive-won­der­ful; the an­swer to our eco­nomic woes lies in sub­si­dized con­struc­tion)?

I imag­ined be­ing in­ter­viewed on Mon­day morn­ing by an am­bi­tious Choice-TV news re­porter. His fi­nal ques­tion: “Apart from the first half hour or so what did you think of Dr. An­thony’s 45-minute speech?”

My an­swer would have to be: a New Year ad­dress is nor­mally ex­pected to be in­spi­ra­tional; to give hope to the hope­less and hurt­ing hud­dled masses. Sun­day’s was lit­tle more than an elec­tion-time in­fomer­cial. Which is to say it was fatu­ous, flac­cid— heart­less. Al­to­gether with­out sub­stance.

At the start of a new year, fol­low­ing three years of ex­cru­ci­at­ing belt tight­en­ing at all lev­els, Saint Lu­cians had ev­ery right to ex­pect news that their gov­ern­ment-im­posed sac­ri­fices had borne promised fruit.

Alas, in­stead of an an­tic­i­pated meat-and-pota­toes New Year ad­dress, some­thing to chew on, on Sun­day the na­tion’s cit­i­zens were served yet another bas­in­ful of bland souf­flé. More buck­ets of empty prom­ises, rem­i­nis­cent of the prime min­is­ter’s 2011 elec­tion pro­pa­ganda.

Clearly he saw no rea­son to mess with the for­mula that three years ago had de­liv­ered him from Pur­ga­tory. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

For the most part his speech was déjà vu. Warmed over stale dasheen. Doubt­less with our short mem­o­ries in mind, he opened with hon­eyed ref­er­ences to our “shared tri­umphs and tribu­la­tions” and to our proven re­silience.

Par­tic­u­larly per­plex­ing for me was this: “I be­lieve we have nav­i­gated the stormy seas of 2014 well, and whereas it may not be smooth sail­ing ahead in this new year, we are cer­tainly headed for calmer wa­ters.”

Was there ever a time when this na­tion of os­ten­si­bly “re­silient peo­ple” (pas­sive?) was not on its knees pray­ing for calm wa­ters?

What to make of the fol­low­ing? “I re­main con­fi­dent in the peo­ple of this na­tion; we are a bright and tal­ented peo­ple, ca­pa­ble beyond mea­sure; a na­tion of pride, character and dig­nity. We have shown time and time again our abil­ity to han­dle what­ever ad­ver­sity and what­ever chal­lenges are thrown in our way.”

If in­deed we have nav­i­gated past the stormy seas, then how to ex­plain the almost daily re­ports of cit­i­zens drown­ing in their dire cir­cum­stances? Re­silience?

Long for­got­ten was the prime min­is­ter’s re­cent rev­e­la­tion that 72 per­cent of the lo­cal work force was un­able to ac­cess avail­able jobs for lack of rel­e­vant skills.

Also for­got­ten was Vaughan Lewis’ ear­lier ob­ser­va­tion that the state of a na­tion’s econ­omy is re­flec­tive of its ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. Ad­di­tion­ally, that the majority of our coun­try’s work­ers can­not per­form tasks uni­ver­sally con­sid­ered me­nial.

I ex­pected at any mo­ment a rep­e­ti­tion of what our ven­tril­o­quist prime min­is­ter had said a year ago through the rouged lips of the dame on the hill: “We are a peo­ple used to hard­ship.” Thank­fully, view­ers were spared the equiv­a­lent of salt be­ing rubbed in their psy­chic wounds.

As for the shared chal­lenges ear­lier men­tioned, “not the least of th­ese was the loss of some of our most iconic cit­i­zens; sev­eral of Saint Lu­cia’s lead­ing lights.”

They were in­di­vid­u­als, said the prime min­is­ter, who “mir­rored the face of our na­tion and helped to shape us in one way or another.”

I sus­pect the ref­er­enced dearly de­parted would’ve pre­ferred it had the prime min­is­ter left out the quoted last line im­me­di­ately above— mir­rored the face of our na­tion— crimerid­den, frus­trated and sui­ci­dal as Saint Lu­cia has be­come.

As for their hav­ing “helped to shape us in one way or another,” some­thing tells me this is one prick that Hunter Fran­cois, never a suf­ferer of fools, most cer­tainly would have kicked against. So would the abruptly “mag­is­te­rial and mer­cu­rial” Boswell Wil­liams.

Nina Comp­ton, our re­cently dis­cov­ered “culi­nary won­der,” was yet again lauded by our ob­vi­ously epi­curean heavy­weight prime min­is­ter. Also con­ve­niently cited was the com­mem­o­ra­tion of Nina’s fa­ther, gen­er­ally con­sid­ered “the fa­ther of our na­tion,” if not by our prime min­is­ter and fel­low apos­tles of George F. L. Charles faith.

More fat re­mained to be served in the name of the “con­tin­ued ex­ploits of our peo­ple, our per­son­al­i­ties” (a pleonasm?). Also paid trib­ute were Lev­ern Spencer, Team Saint Lu­cia, and our other rep­re­sen­ta­tives at swim meets, volleyball, foot­ball, and track and field at the re­gional level.

The prime min­is­ter seemed less ap­pre­cia­tive of our ath­letes’ demon­strated tal­ents and their ex­em­plary dis­ci­pline than of the ben­e­fits re­port­edly de­rived from the “world-class fa­cil­i­ties” pro­vided by his gov­ern­ment from the pro­ceeds of come-one-come-all night-and-day gambling.

For the umpteenth time his au­di­ence was re­minded of the road re­con­struc­tion un­der­taken by the gov­ern­ment since tak­ing of­fice, in the wake of To­mas and the Christ­mas 2013 trough, scars from which were “fast dis­ap­pear­ing.”

Although hardly news, it was nev­er­the­less good to hear yet again that the num­ber of stay-over vis­i­tor ar­rivals had in­creased by a record-break­ing six per­cent, and to­tal air­lift by five per­cent, for which the prime min­is­ter cred­ited Team Theophilus. Hope­fully all of that will have re­sulted in record amounts of stay-over dol­lars.

There was good news as far as ho­tel rooms were con­cerned—de­spite that the ex­perts have re­peat­edly ad­vised that our tourism prob­lems were less a con­se­quence of room short­ages than our ap­par­ent re­luc­tance to de­liver value for money.

Of the four ho­tels that were “in dis­tress” when his gov­ern­ment as­sumed of­fice, the prime min­is­ter crowed, “one was sold and three emerged from re­ceiver­ship,” more thanks to “the en­abling en­vi­ron­ment” pro­vided by Team Theophilus.

What would be a Kenny An­thony New Year ad­dress with­out great ex­pec­ta­tions? He an­tic­i­pated in 2015 to see the com­mence­ment of work on a new Well­ness Cen­ter for Anse la Raye/Ca­naries. Also the com­mis­sion­ing of a new fa­cil­ity “to be called the Owen King EU Hos­pi­tal in honor of another dis­tin­guished son, and also in recog­ni­tion of the gen­eros­ity of the Euro­pean Union to our coun­try.”

As for that “sore point” St. Jude Hos­pi­tal, the prime min­is­ter was pleased to re­port his eyes had seen “light at the end of the tun­nel,” thanks to as­sis­tance from Tom Chou and his fel­low coun­try­men and from the gov­ern­ment of Mex­ico.

Of course there re­mained the brob­d­ing­na­gian prob­lem that is the cost of health care. In pur­suit of a cure, the prime min­is­ter had writ­ten to the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion and “sug­gested we es­tab­lish a joint par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee un­der the chair­man­ship of for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen­son King.”

He had also “sug­gested” as sec­re­tary to the com­mit­tee Dr. Stephen King, whom the prime min­is­ter had hand­picked last year to serve on his ar­cane Vi­sion Com­mis­sion.

I can­not help won­der­ing what the prime min­is­ter ex­pects of his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, who had been for sev­eral years re­spon­si­ble for the well­ness of the na­tion, both as health min­is­ter and as prime min­is­ter. What might the for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Stephen­son King now ad­vise that in all his time at the levers of power was not con­sid­ered wor­thy of im­ple­men­ta­tion?

As for the ever-op­ti­mistic doc­tor, he has been cam­paign­ing for health re­form, with lit­tle suc­cess, since 1997. Per­haps his new po­si­tion as Stephen­son King’s sec­re­tary will af­ford him the nec­es­sary clout to ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive.

Said the na­tion’s lead­ing politi­cian on Sun­day: “We need to pro­tect the is­sue of ac­cess to health care from the whirl­winds of po­lit­i­cal war­fare and com­pe­ti­tion.” If only he could see the need also to pro­tect the is­sue from the egre­gious pet­ti­ness of os­ten­si­bly hon­or­able gen­tle­men.

Also on the prime min­is­ter’s list of great ex­pec­ta­tions was “a strong year for agri­cul­ture.” Said the man many farm­ers blame—un­fairly, per­haps—for the demise of green gold ( Kenny chway fig!): “Our ba­nana pro­duc­ers . . . have be­gun to see a grad­ual but steady in­crease in pro­duc­tion . . . We must ap­plaud the hard-work­ing farm­ers who re­main com­mit­ted to the soil and the de­vel­op­ment of the sec­tor.” (The record shows the num­ber of “hard-work­ing farm­ers” is less than half what it used to be, the majority hav­ing fallen for the pro­moted prom­ises of tourism or un­der the wheels of the un­con­scionable WTO’s Mack trucks!)

We need not re­visit the fab­u­lous City of Free Lap­tops. Al­ready its won­ders have been flogged to death. Ditto the schools ren­o­va­tion pro­gram. Or the prospect of geo­ther­mal en­ergy—still a day­dream after 40 years of start-stop ex­plo­rations.

The gov­ern­ment’s ex­pert on lu­bri­cants for diplo­matic in­ter­course, aka our Min­is­ter for Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs, re­ceived high commendation from his boss. Alva Bap­tiste had per­suaded ALBA to cough up grants to­talling some $69 mil­lion for the con­struc­tion of bridges and for pro­long­ing the life of NICE.

Alas, de­spite that “the econ­omy showed some signs of strength in our lead­ing sec­tor, tourism . . . the mo­men­tum to­wards a re­turn to growth con­tin­ues to be un­der­mined by weak­nesses in the con­struc­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors.”

Noth­ing new here. As usual, no re­al­is­tic so­lu­tions were prof­fered, de­spite the es­tab­lish­ment last year of the ear­lier men­tioned Vi­sion Com­mis­sion.

Said the prime min­is­ter seem­ingly near to tears: Even though in­fla­tion was now “trend­ing down­wards on ac­count of lower fuel prices,” it re­ally was “un­for­tu­nate that we did not suc­ceed in re­duc­ing the fis­cal deficit even fur­ther.”

Of course there was the ob­vi­ous scape­goat: “Our fail­ure to se­cure agree­ment among all par­ties to con­tain and re­duce the cost of the pub­lic ser­vice.” Pre­sum­ably, un­til “all par­ties” have agreed, the sit­u­a­tion will be per­mit­ted to grow worse.

Un­em­ploy­ment re­mained “a stub­born prob­lem,” de­spite that nearly a hun­dred cit­i­zens had found work with a cruise line, de­spite “bet­ter than ex­pected per­for­mance in tourism.”

Vague, you say? Play me a party song, par­tic­u­larly one scored by a lawyer, that amounted to more than hints and al­le­ga­tions, in­nu­endo and—to bor­row from Philip J. Pierre who in­her­ited the term from the de­ceased sel­dom orig­i­nal George Od­lum—“flash­ing mir­rors.”

Fi­nally, an ac­knowl­edge­ment of un­de­ni­able truth: de­spite his self-ad­ver­tised “ef­forts and suc­cesses,” the ef­fect on un­em­ploy­ment had been in­signif­i­cant. The sit­u­a­tion was likely to grow even more prob­lem­atic “un­til we see a re­turn to in­vest­ment and growth in our econ­omy.”

So much for the VAT panacea and an an­tic­i­pated “con­struc­tion boom” that was ex­pected to do for the present co­matose econ­omy what con­struc­tion at the time of Cricket World Cup had done the day’s econ­omy.

Nev­er­the­less, “bar­ring un­fore­seen events or de­vel­op­ments,” he con­tin­ues to ex­pect in 2015 a re­turn to “tra­jec­tory growth”—as he had in April 2012, when he pre­dicted the world econ­omy would nor­mal­ize eigh­teen months after his re­elec­tion and au­to­mat­i­cally pro­vide the shot in the arm that would re­store tourism.

If to some he sounded like a back­wa­ter sooth­sayer, he let it be known his op­ti­mism was “an­chored on the strength­en­ing of the global econ­omy, par­tic­u­larly our prin­ci­pal tourism mar­ket the United States of Amer­ica.”

As for the fact that over the last three years Saint Lu­cia had slipped from 27 to 100 on the World Bank’s List of Best Coun­tries to do Business in the Caribbean, the prime min­is­ter blamed that on our pen­chant for in­vent­ing prob­lems. He said the na­tion had be­come “scle­rotic, bu­reau­cratic and in­ef­fi­cient.” We were “mired in red tape.” We were scared of “in­no­va­tion” (un­like the Cham­ber’s cham­pion George Ben­son!), cling­ing to what we know best.

On the other hand the World Bank in its re­port had blamed present gov­ern­ment. It “had made trad­ing across bor­ders more dif­fi­cult by in­tro­duc­ing a new ex­port doc­u­ment.”

The gov­ern­ment had also made tax com­pli­ance “more time con­sum­ing for com­pa­nies by fully im­ple­ment­ing new con­sump­tion tax leg­is­la­tion.”

The prime min­is­ter pro­posed in the next few weeks to cre­ate “a unit whose sole pur­pose would be to cut red tape across min­istries and agen­cies of the gov­ern­ment to drive re­form.”

He also planned “to re­design the re­form process to al­low key re­forms to be im­ple­mented through a spe­cific unit to al­low for the in­te­gra­tion of out­comes, pro­cure­ment of tech­ni­cal skills, and more de­fin­i­tive time frames for com­ple­tion.”

Ob­vi­ously the prime min­is­ter’s Vi­sion Com­mis­sion has its work cut out!

With ver­i­fi­able facts at a pre­mium, who would blame the prime min­is­ter for re­sort­ing, as they say, to daz­zling bull­shit? Doubt­less, Da Jade will in due course sep­a­rate the wheat from the chaff.

As would any good speech­maker, the prime min­is­ter saved the best for last. Alas, he of­fered only a hint of it and saved the real thing for another time. While the po­lice had been do­ing good so­cial work here and there, the prime min­is­ter re­minded his au­di­ence on Sun­day, there was “un­for­tu­nately one mat­ter that must be brought to a con­clu­sion in the days ahead: the al­le­ga­tions of ex­tra-ju­di­cial killings against cer­tain mem­bers of the Royal Saint Lu­cia Po­lice Force dur­ing 2009-2011.”

Once again giv­ing the lie to his re­cently in­vis­i­ble jus­tice min­is­ter who had per­sis­tently de­nied re­lated STAR rev­e­la­tions, the prime min­is­ter con­firmed on Sun­day re­ceipt of the lon­gawaited re­port from IMPACS.

“I con­firm as well that the Cab­i­net of Min­is­ters is de­lib­er­at­ing on the con­tents [sic] and im­pli­ca­tions of the re­port,” the prime min­is­ter said. “This ad­dress is not the oc­ca­sion to share the find­ings with you but I in­tend to do so in a sep­a­rate ad­dress in early Fe­bru­ary.”

For once the prime min­is­ter had cho­sen his words with metic­u­lous care. He con­firmed the IMPACS re­port was in the gov­ern­ment’s hands but re­frained from say­ing when it got there. He and his min­is­ters were “de­lib­er­at­ing . . . on the im­pli­ca­tions of the re­port.”

Again he did not say when those de­lib­er­a­tions started and what might be the im­pli­ca­tions of re­leas­ing the re­port to the me­dia. Was the DPP in­vited to sit in on those de­lib­er­a­tions?

It is hardly clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion that in the heat of the 2011 elec­tions there was much loose talk about how then Prime Min­is­ter Stephen­son King and his Cab­i­net had cho­sen to bring crime un­der con­trol.

The pic­ture painted by the day’s op­po­si­tion was far from pretty. Should the IMPACS re­port now val­i­date the pre-elec­tion ru­mors, what then might be the “im­pli­ca­tions?”

Al­ready some are not so qui­etly sug­gest­ing the present op­po­si­tion, com­pris­ing mem­bers of the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, may have good rea­son to avoid com­ment on the IMPACS as­pect of the prime min­is­ter’s New Year mes­sage.

Oth­ers con­sider the IMPACS re­port the most ef­fec­tive weapon in the prime min­is­ter’s elec­tion arse­nal. Come to think about it, how far-fetched might it be to sug­gest the prime min­is­ter’s New Year mes­sage was, as they say, all about da bomb? Which would ex­plain the al­to­gether dif­fer­ent im­pact of IMPACS on the reg­u­lar and po­lit­i­cal pop­u­la­tions—not nec­es­sar­ily ex­clud­ing in­cum­bents!

Prime Min­is­ter Kenny An­thony: Will he ever learn the wis­dom in not post­pon­ing to another time what can be done to­day?

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