WHAT WOULD JOHN COMPTON THINK?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Peter Josie The au­thor is a former gov­ern­ment min­is­ter who served un­der Labour and UWP ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Last week we were re­minded that Septem­ber 7, 2016 marked nine years since the pass­ing of Sir John Compton, first prime min­is­ter of Saint Lu­cia. As one who had ob­served him closely and had chal­lenged him both in par­lia­ment and on pub­lic plat­forms, I paused to con­tem­plate a dif­fer­ent sort of trib­ute; one be­fit­ting a war­rior and kin­dred spirit. This slant is not to min­imise his con­tri­bu­tion to the is­land’s im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­fras­truc­ture, hous­ing, pen­sion plan and such like. In­stead, it is to ex­am­ine posthu­mously the mind of the man.

As a brash and fear­less en­trant into the po­lit­i­cal arena, I treated my op­po­nents with scant re­gard. I saw them as im­ped­i­ments to the an­ti­colo­nial, anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist rev­o­lu­tion black peo­ple were forced to wage. There were, how­ever, two sav­ing graces in this all-or-noth­ing ap­proach to cleans­ing the Augean sta­bles of lo­cal pol­i­tics, left be­hind by colo­nial­ism. If I say so my­self, a will­ing­ness to learn and a burn­ing de­sire to con­trib­ute to my coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment were my sav­ing graces!

A Saint Lu­cia del­e­ga­tion, com­pris­ing Chief Min­is­ter John Compton and Op­po­si­tion mem­ber Mar­tin ‘Oleo’ Jn. Bap­tise and oth­ers, was on its way to Lon­don via Bar­ba­dos to dis­cuss con­sti­tu­tional re­form. I was on that LIAT flight en route to St. Au­gus­tine, in Trinidad. The flight to Grant­ley Adams (then Seawell Air­port) was bumpy and un­com­fort­able. Upon dis­em­bark­ing in Bar­ba­dos, Jn. Bap­tiste in­vited me to join him and the Saint Lu­cia del­e­ga­tion at the bar to cool our frayed nerves. He lived at Rock Hall Road, Cas­tries, a stone’s throw from me and had the year be­fore sewn me a well-fit­ted suit.

The ex­change of abra­sive lan­guage be­tween Oleo and Compton on their re­spec­tive po­lit­i­cal pul­pits had not pre­pared me for the ca­ma­raderie I saw ex­hib­ited at the air­port restau­rant that day in Bar­ba­dos. On re­flec­tion, that may have been my most im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal les­son: that men can ar­gue heat­edly, pas­sion­ately and at times even go off kil­ter but they should never be­have to­ward each other as en­e­mies.

That les­son was reen­forced many years later when Hil­ford Deter­ville, who was more crit­i­cal of Compton than ei­ther Ge­orge Od­lum or me, wanted a let­ter from Pre­mier Compton for his wife in re­la­tion to a trans­fer from Bar­clays Bank, Cas­tries to Bar­clays in Trinidad. Hil­ford had elected to do a Mas­ter’s pro­gramme (Eco­nomics), in Trinidad and needed the sup­port of his wife. The bank in Trinidad de­manded a let­ter from the is­land’s pre­mier be­fore it would ap­prove and seal the trans­fer deal.

Poor Hil­ford was at a loss. He came to me. Yes, of all per­sons, for ad­vice. With care­less scorn I sug­gested he boldly face Compton like a man, not as a seeker of for­give­ness. Hil­ford was hes­i­tant. He knew how scabrous he had been in his pub­lic crit­i­cism of the pre­mier. In any case, Pre­mier Compton re­ceived him cor­dially and within fif­teen min­utes Hil­ford came out, a broad grin on his face and a let­ter in his hand. That was the Compton whom even his harsh­est op­po­nents got to know.

Still, I was taken aback dur­ing my first bud­get de­bate in par­lia­ment (MP for Cas­tries East) lis­ten­ing to John Compton de­scribe the con­di­tions of work­ers in ba­nana fields owned by Geest Es­tates Limited in the Roseau and Cul-de-Sac val­leys. He hoped the ba­nana in­dus­try would help lift the hu­man mis­ery in the former sugar cane val­leys to new dig­nity. I was not im­pressed, see­ing that it had taken Od­lum and me to lift the level of con­scious­ness in these work­ers through strike ac­tion for bet­ter pay and liv­ing con­di­tions.

Sto­ries of the young and rad­i­cal Compton had led me to be­lieve t he would have set those dark ‘hals’ in which the work­ers then lived on fire, and forced the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment and the sugar cane barons to pro­vide bet­ter hous­ing for these work­ers.

I left Par­lia­ment that day con­vinced that Compton had been aware all along of the is­land’s so­cial and eco­nomic prob­lems but had been pow­er­less to do any­thing revo­lu­tion­ary about it. It had taken me thirty years or more to be fully con­vinced of the cor­rect­ness of that early ob­ser­va­tion. I fi­nally had to ad­mit to my­self that the man was unique. I knew in my heart that there was just one other per­son who might’ve equaled or bet­tered him. But I won’t name him for fear of be­ing ac­cused of ar­ro­gance!

In mem­ory of the pass­ing of John Compton on Septem­ber 7, 2007 at least three ques­tions came to mind which are rel­e­vant, even at this late hour. What would Compton have thought of the pro­posed multi-bil­lion dol­lar in­vest­ment by DSH Star? Would he have in­sisted that the mod­ernising of He­wanorra Air­port be part of that de­vel­op­ment deal? Like many oth­ers, I too have an opin­ion on this mat­ter. But for now I choose to re­serve com­ment.

I also won­der what Compton would have thought of the huge cost over­runs in­curred dur­ing the still in­com­plete re­pairs of St. Jude hos­pi­tal in Vieux Fort. It ap­pears the con­trac­tors had been hand­picked by politi­cians and given a free hand. Would Compton have put the mat­ter in the hands of a foren­sic au­di­tor and, once the au­dit was com­plete, passed the mat­ter on to his At­tor­ney Gen­eral for due process?

Fi­nally, what would Compton have thought of the present gov­ern­ment of Saint Lu­cia and how it has gone about the na­tion’s busi­ness since its land­slide vic­tory on June 6, 2016? I think it was Bob Mar­ley who re­minded us in song that there are more ques­tions than an­swers. What Compton would have thought is still a fair ques­tion to dwell on at this time!

The heated words that Sir John (pic­tured) and Peter Josie pub­licly ex­changed back in the late 70s ev­i­dently were never hot enough to burn out their re­spect for one an­other.

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