The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - The au­thor served in both Labour and UWP ad­min­is­tra­tions. By Peter Josie

Time was when the poor on this is­land car­ried them­selves with a cer­tain dig­nity and self-re­spect. Such was con­sid­ered an up­lift­ing at­tribute. Half a green lime would cut off any of­fen­sive odor from the armpits. Crushed char­coal gave the teeth a white clean sheen aided by the pith of chewed sug­ar­cane. A cake of blue soap was up to the task of wash­ing the most soiled clothes us­ing a scrub­bing board. Neat clean cloth­ing, prop­erly worn, added lus­ter to the pride of the wearer who had taken care to shower and comb his or her hair.

At that time, poverty was not a death sen­tence against those who had no money. In­stead, it was a con­cern, which forced peo­ple to take a closer look at their sit­u­a­tion and re­solve to work hard to bet­ter it. Low pay­ing jobs were never a bar­rier to progress. It was where every­one be­gan the up­ward climb to a bet­ter life. To work with pride and pur­pose whilst re­fus­ing to treat any man as in­fe­rior or su­pe­rior was the quiet re­solve of those de­ter­mined to change their economic sit­u­a­tion for bet­ter.

There was no gov­ern­ment Min­is­ter to turn to and no civil ser­vant to bend the rules to­wards cor­rupt­ing the colo­nial sys­tem of gov­er­nance. Those who un­der­stood the sys­tem and played by its rules sur­vived and pro­gressed. It was partly the de­pen­dence on their hands to earn an in­come, which was the ba­sis of the self-pride and self dis­ci­pline felt by many. Even in a back­ward colo­nial pe­riod where poverty was ram­pant and the word en­light­en­ment un­known, few cit­i­zens both­ered to com­plain. Peo­ple just worked, and worked hard!

What do we see to­day as we ap­proach thirty-eight years of po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence from colo­nial rule? Can we say with op­ti­mism that the jour­ney to progress and en­light­en­ment con­tin­ues apace? Or are the crooked and self­ish po­lit­i­cal lead­ers we once trusted slow­ing us down? How has the demo­cratic vote been used to se­cure fi­nan­cial gains and progress? Let’s be clear, there has been much progress in ed­u­ca­tion, in in­fras­truc­tural devel­op­ment, in health, agri­cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. But there are still too many young peo­ple fall­ing prey to drugs and sense­less vi­o­lence and crime. Who will teach the youth that crime does not pay?

Who will con­vince them that crime is a nar­row path that leads to an early grave? There are too many va­grants on the streets of our towns and vil­lages. Is there no one em­pow­ered to give a hand-up and stop the rot? Va­grants con­tinue willy-nilly to de­grade the city and the places they in­habit. It’s time to stop the lip ser­vice and find so­lu­tions to the de­cay.

This is­land has ob­vi­ously pro­gressed since in­de­pen­dence in the qual­ity and de­sign of new homes. Suit­able ac­com­mo­da­tion for those who can­not af­ford to build needs more ur­gent at­ten­tion. A re­cent tele­vi­sion show, ‘Open Mike’ had some in­ter­est­ing things to say about the devel­op­ment of bet­ter, more suit­able high-rise apart­ments in Cas­tries and its en­vi­rons. As in most coun­tries, cities at­tract peo­ple in search of a new life. But the pace of hous­ing devel­op­ment of­ten falls far short of de­mand. Cas­tries is no ex­cep­tion. It is cry­ing out for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of ideas such as dis­cussed by John Peters, an engi­neer, on that par­tic­u­lar TV show.

Many young and work­ing per­sons find city life more at­trac­tive. It’s con­ve­nient to ac­cess gov­ern­ment of­fices and ser­vices, schools are of­ten within walk­ing dis­tance. It means less money on trans­porta­tion. There has not been a thought­ful and well-planned at­tack on the ex­pan­sion of Cas­tries since the at­tempt by CDC to re­build the town fol­low­ing the Cas­tries fire of 1948. It’s there­fore time for a new thrust.

There has been more than enough talk of re­design­ing the outer lim­its of the city and adding new life and new high-rise build­ings for those most in need of suit­able ac­com­mo­da­tion. Per­sons who are pay­ing at­ten­tion ap­pre­ci­ate the par­lous state of the na­tional econ­omy and the coun­try’s debt bur­den. But it’s time to put the past be­hind us and forge ahead and do some­thing fu­tur­is­tic, imag­i­na­tive and bold to save the is­land’s cap­i­tal from fur­ther de­cay.

There­fore, any imag­i­na­tive plan in­clud­ing the build, own, lease and trans­fer (BOLT), idea or any com­bi­na­tion of pri­vate and public sec­tor ar­range­ment that would break through the quag­mire that holds back the devel­op­ment of Cas­tries, is des­per­ately needed at this time. The gov­ern­ment work­ing with the Cas­tries City Coun­cil and pri­vate in­vestors, lo­cal and for­eign must be pre­pared to break new ground to stop the rot and in­spire hope. It must do what­ever it takes to break new ground and con­struct mod­ern high-rise apart­ments in and around Cas­tries and else­where on the is­land.

Growing the na­tional econ­omy and cre­at­ing new jobs is an ob­vi­ous pri­or­ity for the new Allen Chas­tanet UWP Gov­ern­ment. Whilst its en­er­gies are fo­cused on the econ­omy, the gov­ern­ment must not lose sight of the fact that in­vest­ment in hous­ing and in­fra­struc­ture in Cas­tries is an av­enue to achieve part of its stated agenda.

Cas­tries needs up­lift and it needs it soon­est. The city to­day is al­most un­de­serv­ing of the birth­place of No­bel Lau­re­ates Derek Wal­cott and Arthur Lewis. Those who dis­agree would do well to re­mem­ber that Cas­tries is judged as much by the num­ber of flashy cars on its roads as by the over­whelm­ing stench that as­sails the nos­trils of residents and vis­i­tors alike. This de­cay will lead to death if it is al­lowed to con­tinue. We may al­ways have the poor amongst us but they must be helped up and made to see that pride and dig­nity need not be lost at­tributes even among the poor.

The late Henry Louis Mencken was an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist, satirist, cul­tural critic and scholar of Amer­i­can English. He was re­garded as one of the most in­flu­en­tial Amer­i­can writ­ers and prose stylists of the first half of the twentieth century.

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