Mak­ing the Pos­si­ble Im­pos­si­ble!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

So far as I can tell, mir­a­cles have never been our strong suit. Which is not nearly the same as say­ing we are not self-con­vinced of our nat­u­ral abil­ity to make the pos­si­ble im­pos­si­ble. We take pride in brag­ging that once we’ve made up our mind it can­not be changed, save by rum-and-pork-in­spired dreams. Or by some tooth­less voodoo priest­ess whose fa­vorite places to visit naked are grave­yards at the witch­ing hour.

That few of the fruits of our be­lief in bush be­liefs have come to fruition serves only to strengthen our con­vic­tion that not­with­stand­ing our per­sis­tent ef­forts and lofty am­bi­tions we are in­ca­pable of know­ing what’s best for us, there­fore must rely on spir­its. As one de­parted prime min­is­ter knew only too well, there is more to this buck pass­ing than most of us would ad­mit.

“We’ve lived with our prob­lems for such a long time,” Sir John used to say. “We can rat­tle them off at first sight of a whisky glass. Still no one will con­front the ob­vi­ous ques­tion: ‘Why do the same crip­pling prob­lems con­tinue to plague us?’ ” And then the prime min­is­ter would add: “We de­lib­er­ately avoid the ‘why’ ques­tion be­cause we know full well the an­swer will be an ac­cus­ing in­dex fin­ger pointed di­rectly at us. We know what must be done; we’ve al­ways known what must be done. But we’ve never had the courage to do what must be done; not even for the sake of our chil­dren!”

Comp­ton of­ten prof­fered ev­i­dence sup­port­ive of the na­tion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to avoid at all cost the man in the mir­ror. Not that he was par­tic­u­larly fa­mous for tak­ing the bull by the horns if to do so threat­ened his ca­reer. He too knew the prob­lems; knew what would be the wall-to-wall con­se­quences if he per­mit­ted them to take root. But the panacea he pre­scribed was of­ten more des­per­ate talk—sel­dom re­me­dial ac­tion.

Con­sider this from his June 24, 1992 Bud­get Ad­dress: “The re­cent cen­sus and the re­cent elec­tions were re­veal­ing, chal­leng­ing and fright­en­ing. In these elec­tions we saw the power of mo­bi­liza­tion of the young peo­ple. We saw their de­ter­mi­na­tion. We saw their en­thu­si­asm. We saw the hope in their ex­pres­sions as they sang ‘Look Into My Eyes.’ When we did as their song re­quested we saw the fu­ture of Saint Lu­cia . . . theirs was not a song of rev­o­lu­tion. It was about co­op­er­a­tion; about work­ing to­gether for the com­mon good. The ti­tle of their song was ‘Ev­ery­thing I Do.’ It is this haunt­ing re­frain we must al­ways re­mem­ber as we con­sider this bud­get and give ex­pres­sion to their hopes, their re­al­ity, their dreams.”

As for the cited cen­sus, it had un­cov­ered a na­tional pop­u­la­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 140,000, 50 per­cent of which lived be­tween the Culde-Sac river and Pointe du Cap— mak­ing Saint Lu­cia one of the most heav­ily ur­ban­ized coun­tries of the OECS, with ex­tremely heavy pres­sure be­ing placed on the ser­vices of the Cas­tries Basin. (A quar­ter cen­tury later, the sit­u­a­tion is much worse: 57 per­cent of the na­tion’s pop­u­la­tion is spread out be­tween Cas­tries and Gros Islet.) Fifty-six per­cent of the 1992 pop­u­la­tion was be­low age 25 and some 47.8 un­der 19.

“Con­se­quently,” Comp­ton rea­soned, “in the next ten years or so, at the present rate of pop­u­la­tion

“As I write Gryn­berg is be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Set­tle­ment of In­vest­ment Dis­putes. Le­gal fees paid so far by tax­pay­ers to­tal to over $3 mil­lion.”

in­crease, Saint Lu­cia’s econ­omy must be de­vel­oped and or­ga­nized to sup­port a pop­u­la­tion around 175,000.” (He came close to hit­ting a bulls-eye. The is­land’s pop­u­la­tion cur­rently hov­ers around 174,000.)

“With our present very nar­row re­source base,” said the prime min­is­ter in 1992, “depend­ing on only two im­por­tant ranges of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, this is a daunt­ing task. The timid may con­sider it a fright­en­ing prospect. [Is this where Kenny An­thony sourced his 2006 de­scrip­tion of an elec­tion can­di­date who needs no in­tro­duc­tion?] The bold will con­sider it chal­leng­ing. But in any event we must pre­pare our coun­try for this even­tu­al­ity and al­lo­cate our re­sources to build the schools, to train the teach­ers, to pre­pare our health ser­vices to cope, and to or­ga­nize our econ­omy to pro­vide the jobs. This then is the task ahead.”

He cited the usual de­mands for in­creased pub­lic sec­tor salaries and wages, pro­nounced them un­re­al­is­tic and out of tune with the coun­try’s cir­cum­stances. Whether in the pri­vate or pub­lic sec­tors, he warned, “salary de­mands must be based on greater pro­duc­tiv­ity and bet­ter qual­ity, and the delivery of higher stan­dards of ser­vice.” The price paid for ig­nor­ing such prag­matic ad­vice was to be seen all around the re­gion, the prime min­is­ter said. Thou­sands of work­ers had been sent home; hun­dreds of busi­nesses large and small had folded.

He of­fered more bit­ter pills, heav­ily sugar-coated: “We must, re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion or pref­er­ences, all work to­gether to­ward a com­mon goal. The first step in solv­ing any prob­lem is to rec­og­nize it ex­ists.”

Con­fronted by the same demons, by now close to full grown Prime Min­is­ter Kenny An­thony talked about “reestab­lish­ing con­fi­dence and co­op­er­a­tion with the pri­vate sec­tor.” The fol­low­ing is taken from his 1998 Bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion: “In re­cent years it has be­come fash­ion­able for gov­ern­ments to ar­gue that the re­spon­si­bil­ity for gen­er­at­ing in­vest­ment, em­ploy­ment and growth in the econ­omy must be shared with the pri­vate sec­tor.”

Alas what passed for gov­ern­ment be­fore the Saint Lu­cia elec­torate handed him and his Labour ad­min­is­tra­tion full con­trol of the farm had “mo­nop­o­lized the in­vest­ment agenda, un­der­tak­ing ill-con­ceived and ill-ad­vised projects in the pri­vate domain.” The new prime min­is­ter said many projects had been un­der­taken “with­out ap­pro­pri­ate di­a­logue or dis­cus­sion, draw­ing down in­dis­crim­i­nately on fi­nan­cial re­sources which should have been avail­able to other sec­tors in the econ­omy.”

Kenny An­thony of­fered the as­sur­ance his gov­ern­ment was “ac­tively pur­su­ing new chan­nels of di­a­logue, a new frame­work for co­op­er­a­tion and re­newed re­la­tion­ships based on con­fi­dence and trust.”

If only the om­ni­scient spir­its had cho­sen to warn us . . . or was it that their warn­ings went un­heeded? As it turned out even as the new prime min­is­ter was ush­er­ing in a new era of di­a­logue and trans­parency, he was sur­rep­ti­tiously en­gaged with two canny de­vel­op­ers in what would be­come known as the Rochamel Af­fair, soon to be fol­lowed by Fren­well and what to­day is known sim­ply as Gryn­berg. So much for the os­ten­si­ble game-chang­ing prime min­is­ter, to whom had been en­trusted the fu­ture of 16 out of 17 con­stituen­cies in May 1997, and who had sworn never to be like “the gov­ern­ment that had mo­nop­o­lized the in­vest­ment agenda . . . that had un­der­taken, with­out ap­pro­pri­ate di­a­logue or dis­cus­sion, sev­eral ill-con­ceived and ill-ad­vised projects.”

As I write Gryn­berg is be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Set­tle­ment of In­vest­ment Dis­putes. Six years the Colorado oil­man claimed the Saint Lu­cia gov­ern­ment breached the con­tract they had inked in 2000, in to­tal se­crecy. Le­gal fees paid so far by tax­pay­ers to­tal to over $3 mil­lion. Then there’s the mother of all ironies: the man at the cen­ter of the Gryn­berg dis­as­ter, who for the sec­ond time was tossed off his prime min­is­te­rial perch al­most a year ago, is busily at­tempt­ing to fire up the at­mos­phere, lead­ing demon­stra­tions against the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, is­su­ing tele­vised shock­ing state­ments about a for­eign de­vel­oper still in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the gov­ern­ment. Among his charges, a lack of trans­parency on the part of his re­place­ment.

In­deed, a re­cent front­page story in the Voice quoted him as hav­ing promised a gath­er­ing in his con­stituency “there will be no peace un­til the DSH agree­ment has been rene­go­ti­ated”—pre­sum­ably to his sat­is­fac­tion. In his own time as prime min­is­ter he had con­ducted sim­i­lar ne­go­ti­a­tions with Desert Star Hold­ings for two years—as usual, in ab­so­lute se­crecy!

As if echo­ing the 1992 John Comp­ton, Kenny An­thony in 1998 had re­ferred to pub­lic sec­tor wages and salary in­creases. He em­pha­sized at the time that he had cal­cu­lat­edly made no pro­vi­sion in his bud­get for the next tri­en­nium be­cause it was not his “wish to com­pro­mise on­go­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions” be­tween his gov­ern­ment and pub­lic sec­tor work­ers. On the other hand, he said, it would be re­miss of him not to em­pha­size the crit­i­cal na­ture of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, since wages and salaries made up “52 per­cent of the cur­rent bud­get, the sin­gle largest com­po­nent of cur­rent ex­pen­di­ture.” The more things change . . .

Be­sides, the ne­go­ti­a­tions were “crit­i­cal be­cause of the del­i­cate state of the econ­omy.” His gov­ern­ment re­mained op­ti­mistic about fu­ture prospects . . . but the econ­omy had been in re­ces­sion for sev­eral years. What­ever we do, he pleaded, “de­vel­op­ment on a sus­tained ba­sis must not be jeop­ar­dized. Some breath­ing space is still re­quired for the fledg­ling green shoots of growth to take firmer root.”

And yet in 2007, when a broke Prime Min­is­ter Stephen­son King, at his wit’s end, pleaded with pub­lic ser­vants for more time to meet their de­mand for in­creased salaries and wages, Kenny An­thony and his red army took to the steps of the Cas­tries mar­ket to in­sist King “pay de peo­ple dere money.” Af­ter just two years in op­po­si­tion, An­thony de­clared him­self freshly re­turned from Pur­ga­tory and ready once more to lead.

He’s at it again, only this time it ap­pears he re­cently grad­u­ated from some hellish boot camp and now is de­ter­mined to turn the DSH is­sue into a po­lit­i­cal foot­ball game that will end ei­ther when he has scored the win­ning goal—or when suf­fi­cient blood has been shed.

As stated ear­lier, the first two years of ne­go­ti­a­tions in­volv­ing the Kenny An­thony gov­ern­ment and Desert Star Hold­ings were con­ducted in the reg­u­lar fash­ion. Most Saint Lu­cians heard of Desert Star Hold­ings only when Allen Chas­tanet an­nounced dur­ing a tele­vised press brief­ing that his gov­ern­ment had signed a so-called frame­work agree­ment with the com­pany. The an­nounce­ment was quickly fol­lowed by a leaked copy of the doc­u­ment that soon was turned into a weapon of mass de­cep­tion.

Once again many of us ap­pear hell-bent on mak­ing the pos­si­ble im­pos­si­ble. Last Fri­day, dur­ing an in­ter­view with his party chair­man and show host Claudius Fran­cis, a fawn­ing caller asked the for­mer prime min­is­ter to ex­plain what he had meant when he said the 2016 elec­tion cam­paign would be a war be­tween the Labour Party and the Chas­tanets, Allen and his fa­ther Michael. As much as his out­ra­geous pub­lic state­ments have be­come com­mon­place, Kenny An­thony chose to re­spond with a ref­er­ence to his party’s most re­cent demon­stra­tion march: “What I meant is what you are see­ing now!” So does that mean the war he led against Allen and Michael con­tin­ues? Who will be the new ca­su­al­ties?

Cit­ing this mes­sage from The Rise and Fall of Na­tions, by Mor­gan Stan­ley In­vest­ment Man­age­ment’s chief global strate­gist, Ruchir Sharma, seems a fit­ting way to end this col­umn: “The pain caused by any cri­sis will in­duce many coun­tries to de­mand change—but not al­ways to em­brace hard reform.” With Saint Lu­cians clam­or­ing for con­sti­tu­tional change, then prime min­is­ter Kenny An­thony side­lined the Suzie d’Au­vergne Com­mis­sion—on the ground that the thou­sands of Saint Lu­cians who con­trib­uted to its re­port were “too ob­sessed with the power of the prime min­is­ter.”

Allen Chas­tanet must de­cide: Will he too be solely con­cerned with his own po­lit­i­cal sur­vival? Or will he show re­spect for the peo­ple’s 11-6 in­vest­ment in his lead­er­ship, at any rate more than was shown them by an­other leader handed a 16-1 man­date!

Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet: He promised dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion cam­paign, and upon his elec­tion to of­fice on June 6, that Saint Lu­cia could not sur­vive much longer the con­se­quences of busi­ness as usual. The ques­tion many are now ask­ing is: For how much longer can he keep at bay those most re­spon­si­ble for the na­tion’s bleak fis­cal sit­u­a­tion and who are de­ter­mined at all cost not to al­low him to hold of­fice much longer!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.