If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck . . .

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Peter Josie

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.”

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