Learn­ing the hard way

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Not so long ago, an air­craft blew out both tyres on land­ing, block­ing the run­way forc­ing the Ge­orge FL Charles Air­port to close down while the au­thor­i­ties looked for my friend Syl­vanus to solve the prob­lem for them. Let me tell you about my friend Syl­vanus …

I got to know Syl­vanus more than twenty years ago when he worked as a badly paid un­qual­i­fied ap­pren­tice at He­len Air. He seemed a bright lad, if some­what too re­li­gious for my taste, so I de­cided to help him. First of all, he needed to be­come a qual­i­fied Air­frame and Power Plant En­gi­neer and for that he needed to go to school in the States, but even be­fore that, he needed to learn to fly, so I taught him, so that when he ar­rived Up North he passed his tests with fly­ing colours – ex­cuse the pun – and be­came a pi­lot. Once back in St Lu­cia, he was faced with the re­al­i­ties of on-is­land busi­ness life. In­stead of be­ing over­joyed to have a qual­i­fied me­chanic work­ing for them – such qual­i­fied per­son­nel were a rar­ity in those days – the com­pany fired him when he asked for a wage that re­flected his new qual­i­fied sta­tus.

Syl­vanus worked his way through var­i­ous small avi­a­tion-re­lated en­ter­prises un­til the day came when he de­cided to set up shop on his own, which was when his real trou­bles started. Busi­ness was brisk – the whole re­gion suf­fers from a lack of qual­i­fied avi­a­tion me­chan­ics. LIAT loses its pi­lots to big­ger air­lines as soon as they have at­tained the req­ui­site ex­pe­ri­ence and num­ber of fly­ing hours the big boys de­mand – but the re­al­i­ties of ‘do­ing busi­ness' soon sank in: sat­is­fied cus­tomers were not nec­es­sar­ily good pay­ing cus­tomers, and cash flow be­came a prob­lem. Syl­vanus learned the hard way that you can­not eat and drink prom­ises

But you know, we'll soon be en­ter­ing fan­ta­sy­land again where prom­ises will fill the air like swarms of lo­custs har­vest­ing our votes at the next elec­tion. Maybe this time round they will of­fer “Even Bet­ter Days To Come”. Per­haps they'll prom­ise 100,000 mil­lion dol­lars of in­vest­ment to cre­ate new jobs. Re­cently I heard a poli­hack (my word for Rick's ‘po­lit­i­cal hack') es­pous­ing the achieve­ments of her party by re­veal­ing that the coun­try was in such dire straits that the gov­ern­ment had been com­pelled to ne­go­ti­ate the big­gest loan in the coun­try's his­tory. In other words, we are so broke that we have had to bor­row more than ever be­fore. The closer we get to bank­ruptcy, the prouder they get. What an achieve­ment!

And so we come to the crux of to­day's mat­ter. For sev­eral years Syl­vanus beat his head against the stone walls of in­com­pe­tence and un­will­ing­ness to help that sur­round our mori­bund po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions. He spent many a day lob­by­ing the then Min­is­ter of Avi­a­tion, Mr Chas­tanet for help with all sorts of avi­a­tion re­lated projects, to no avail, so it was no sur­prise when, dur­ing the gen­eral elec­tion of 2011, he ac­cepted the role of spoiler on SLP plat­forms in Soufriere and lam­basted Min­is­ter Chas­tanet for his lack of sup­port for lo­cal en­trepreneur­ship es­pe­cially among young, up­com­ing, en­ter­pris­ing Saint Lu­cians. Syl­vanus be­came a staunch sup­porter of the SLP and its leader, swal­low­ing hook, line and sinker the praise and grat­i­tude show­ered upon him as a shin­ing ex­am­ple of a young en­tre­pre­neur by the oh-so-grate­ful gov­ern­ment-to-be for his crit­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion in a close race. It re­ally seemed that he had helped win the elec­tion for the SLP. Af­ter the votes had been counted, Chas­tanet was his­tory.

But then, af­ter the elec­tion, Syl­vanus dis­cov­ered that the re­al­i­ties of busi­ness life in Saint Lu­cia ex­tended even to po­lit­i­cal life. At first, his phone calls were ac­cepted and notso-firm-prom­ises were ten­dered. There were plans for air char­ter op­er­a­tions; part­ner­ships were formed with U.S. fly­ing schools to of­fer on-is­land prac­ti­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal train­ing to be­come pi­lots; there was even an ap­pren­tice scheme for air­plane me­chan­ics at the Ge­orge Charles Air­port; He­wanorra was to be blessed by an FBO (Fixed Base Op­er­a­tion) to pro­vide avi­a­tion ser­vices to cor­po­rate jets; Syl­vanus even set up a re­fu­elling fa­cil­ity for light air­craft at the air­port at Vigie, a sorely needed fuel re­source in the re­gion.

All th­ese pro­pos­als and many more were for­warded to sev­eral min­is­ters, al­most all of whom never even re­sponded. Syl­vanus was not ask­ing for money; all he wanted was recog­ni­tion and some form of en­dorse­ment, but his ap­proaches failed to elicit any sup­port from gov­ern­ment. In his strug­gles with the bu­reau­cracy of ECCAA (Eastern Caribbean Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity) in An­tigua, Syl­vanus stood alone, the forgotten avi­a­tion hero who had stood up and spo­ken out for the SLP about the treat­ment dealt to him by the for­mer UWP Min­is­ter of Avi­a­tion. He has dis­cov­ered the hard way that po­lit­i­cal prom­ises are like the “cheque in the mail” – they are all il­lu­sions, smoke­screens of lies and de­ceit.

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