If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck . . .
The wide criticism heaped on the opposition St. Lucia Labour Party for walking out during a crucial budget debate had finally found its mark. After a sixty-day hiatus the opposition meekly re-entered parliament and before the luncheon break no fewer than five of their number had spoken. But that surfeit of speaking had an obvious motive. The opposition understands political theatre and was determined to perform on the Castries market steps that evening before a partisan crowd. What gave the game away was the apparent haste to speak in parliament and not waiting for a response from the government benches. Another giveaway was how they ducked having to confront statements by the Minister of Finance in his budget presentation.
The desire to stop wasteful expenditure and, in the process, discontinue his government’s support for the St. Lucia Marketing Board, the Castries Fisheries complex and Radio St. Lucia was pounced upon for emotional appeal. Wasteful expenditure be damned! Saving taxpayers’ money and investing to create new sustainable jobs seemed the preferred approach of the Chastanet-led UWP government.
A debate by the SLP on the percentage of taxes citizens should pay to help the jobless and less fortunate would have been interesting. One would have liked to hear new and creative ideas from the opposition to develop agriculture, and help the poor with medicines and hospital bills etc, even though for the last five years they had proved ideas-bankrupt.
There is an ingrained attitude within the SLP that government owes ‘de people’ jobs. Failing to deliver jobs, it should give freely the basic needs to the unemployed or, at best, create temporary unsustainable work as a sop. That school of economic and political philosophy was largely sent into abeyance with the collapse of the USSR. Yet, that failed economic system is still the preferred approach of the SLP. It believes the party is greater than the state.
Given the two very different approaches by the UWP and the SLP to governance, one anticipated the 2017/18 budget would be a wonderful opportunity to debate fully the merits and demerits of the two political/economic systems. Highlighting their preferred approach to growing the economy and creating jobs would surely have been the icing on the cake. Alas, that was not to be. One can only speculate and in so doing one is fortunate to have the history of these two political parties for guidance. A cursory glance at the last two decades will reveal that the UWP believes in entrepreneurial development and empowering business people to create employment. The SLP, on the other hand, believes that the State should be central in providing social services and jobs; it should dictate who gets what from the government. In other words, tax those who work and hand out fish rather than teach people to fish.
The SLP in parliament is very economical with the truth. It is not beyond presenting money bills which hide more than they expose. Financial rules and order are easily disregarded; reports of the Standing Finance Committee of the House are not presented; the historic arrangement of who chairs the Finance subcommittee of the House is trashed. The laws governing financial expenditure are fairly strict but, as we have seen, no law is so well written that a political fraudster bent on mischief cannot, with support, circumvent it. This is more so when the Speaker seems insensitive to impropriety.
The preferred game plan of the UWP is, having formed the government, to quickly set about searching for ways and means to attract investors and create jobs. Agriculture, manufacturing and tourism, the original tripod on which progress was built, have been severely challenged. Thankfully, tourism and agriculture are poised to bounce back. Prime Minister Chastanet has made it clear that he intends to pursue tourism to its full extent and use it as a base to re-energize agriculture, arts and indigenous manufacturing.
Before the budget debate ended, the opposition had walked out a second time. They reappeared on the Castries market steps to a smaller than usual, unhappy crowd. There, they spewed their usual hate and illogical nonsense. There was no need to stick to the civility, decorum and language of Parliament. No such niceties are required on the market steps, especially under new Labour. Every wild allegation, every distortion and lie runs wild on these steps. It’s a freefor-all, offered all for free.
The downside of such street theatre is that the average voter is denied an opportunity to accurately assess the performance of the parliamentarians at an officially higher level, and on television. It explains the preference of the market steps by those who were given so much and have returned so little. Labour is aware of that. Why else would the former Minister of Sport be on HTS trying a fourth time to explain his stewardship, even threatening court action? Only on the Castries market steps could a failed politician loudly declare that political fraud should be an offence in law. The supreme paradox was how fittingly political fraud applied to the party making it. Shouldn’t someone have reminded the speaker that such hysterical outburst be left to new entrants into politics? The SLP should be reminded that after five or so years in office, the people have already judged a politician corrupt, a fraud, or worse. That performance reminded of the local story of a girl at the standpipe who suggested to her quarrelsome mother that she should quickly declare another woman a prostitute before she has the chance to so label the troublesome mother.
Sadly, SLP supporters who disagree with the gutter politics cannot say so for fear of being ostracized and declared traitors. After they had fully vented their spleen on the Castries market steps and twisted statements made in parliament by the government to suit their purpose, they still seemed unhappy. Was it because Lenard Spider Montoute had explained so well the excessive spending and the little savings in the funds of the Saint Lucia National Lotteries? The facts and figures that in parliament could not be challenged were easily denied on the market steps where anything goes.
Not a word was offered on the Grynberg lawsuit, or on the IMPACS report. Yet they speak of political fraud? Surely, by now the people of Saint Lucia know a cabal of political frauds when they see one!
“The laws governing financial expenditure are fairly strict but, as we have seen, no law is so well written that a political fraudster bent on mischief cannot, with support, circumvent it. This is more so when the Speaker seems insensitive to impropriety.”