FIRM AND PROGRESSIVE LEADERSHIP
Last weekend’s Voice editorial drew attention to the commendable steps by Castries Mayor Peterson Francis (and his councillors) to rid the city of garbage and general lawlessness. The steps to consult the police, city businessmen and elders are timely and wise. It takes one who knows the city firsthand, and who feels for its continuing degradation, to act as the new mayor has. The assault on Castries by the monopoly parking of taxis and transit vans needs urgent rectification.
The clean-up work proposed by the Castries Council should be accompanied by a suitable slogan: “God don’t like dirty.” The Mayor’s plans brought to mind a Cabinet meeting many years ago during which spending priorities for the island were discussed. The consensus was that the main social problem of Saint Lucia is its poor, unplanned and congested housing on the margins of Castries. That situation, developed over time, has resulted in increasing lawlessness in the disposal of garbage and human waste.
Since that recalled Cabinet meeting the mentioned problems have exacerbated rather than diminished. As if to add insult to injury, and further downgrade the city of Sir Arthur Lewis and Hon. Derek Walcott, there is, in addition, an evolving way of saying things (and dressing up?) which is injurious to the French Creole and the Standard English spoken on the island. The creeping insult is working its way into the society as rape and lawlessness.
In 1979-82 the government discussed in Cabinet a suggestion that Castries city be divided into four or five boroughs, each represented by three elected councillors who would choose from amongst the collective a mayor. It may be argued that contested city council elections every three or four years is the most democratic and legitimate approach to taking strong corrective action to clean up Castries and beat back lawlessness and its attendant vices.
This is not to suggest that a strong city council appointed and supported by an equally strong and determined national government is incapable of meaningful change. Indeed, the steps taken so far by Mayor Francis and his selected councillors prove that a determined and experienced bunch can work together and return the pride in the capital its residents once enjoyed. The new mayor has begun his work with the understanding that man-made problems – including indiscriminate garbage disposal - can be solved by men and women on a mission to restore order, cleanliness and pride.
In this regard, it may be more than coincidence that the Mayor’s call to clean-up the city comes at the same time as central government issued a message to the general public that persons visiting its offices must dress appropriately. The government would do well to follow the approach of the city council in consulting with others in its bid to upgrade the dress code. The insistence on a dress code for persons visiting government offices should be extended to persons visiting clinics, hospitals and health centres. Such a step will hopefully get people to think, and to take themselves, their government offices and their country more seriously.
Another matter which caught the attention in last weekend’s Voice newspaper was an article by one John Peters on VAT reduction. Mr. Peters made the interesting (and courageous argument) that a reduction in VAT ought to be postponed for at least one year until the government can right the dire straits in which the economy finds itself. VAT has generated much debate on the island and many persons are looking forward to some relief as promised. I, for one, have suggested a cut in VAT of seven-and-one-half percent over the government’s term in office, if not at once.
For my part, the government must bite the bullet and begin with a small initial cut in VAT as soon as possible. That cut should then be increased next year and the following year and so on until the wicked VAT is beheaded.
Previous to Mr. Peters’ suggestion, Dr. Ubaldus Raymond, Minister in the Ministry of Finance, had publicly indicated (Voice of August 20 headline) how terrible things are with the finances of the country. Every indication since that time, including figures divulged by the Minister for Economic Development, Guy Joseph (on TALK with Rick Wayne), seems to point to the correctness of Mr. Peters’ suggestion. Government has little elbow room in which to correct the damage inflicted by the reckless management of the past regime.
I, however, remain convinced that government must make every effort to reduce VAT as much as possible this financial year. Taxation must be such that the taxpayer is willing and able to pay. Experts at the Caribbean Development Bank plus the IMF and the island’s technocrats will determine the best and most equitable tax to replace lost VAT. One which comes readily to mind is the departure tax at Hewanorra Airport. It was a most asinine, childish and amateurish move by the former SLP government to abolish that tax when they returned from Purgatory in 2011. It hurts to the bone that an example has not been made of political fraudsters who so recklessly spent public funds. One continues to pray that the firm and progressive leadership displayed by Mayor Francis will be emulated throughout the country by those in leadership positions.
The City Council, elected and selected, has long been a major headache for Central Government. By popular account much of what the council does is “garbage”, albeit not the type usually referred to as street litter. But recently installed Mayor Peterson Francis has promised an all-around clean-up!