The les­sons of Hi­lary Beck­les fell on deaf Kenny ears

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rick Wayne

Allen Chas­tanet: Will the new prime min­is­ter em­power the cit­i­zen to lead?

‘No po­lit­i­cal party in the Caribbean can af­ford to alien­ate sec­tions of the com­mu­nity. No po­lit­i­cal party can see it­self as re­spon­si­ble for all the so­lu­tions and all the an­swers to a coun­try’s prob­lems. Any po­lit­i­cal party that pro­motes in­ter­nal con­flict, that gen­er­ates un­nec­es­sary divi­sion among the cit­i­zens, is a party that turns its en­er­gies against the society. And it should be ban­ished from the society!’

The fol­low­ing is taken from the blog of the Race and Re­sis­tance Net­work, posted by a Will Ghosh on 28 Jan­uary 2016: “On the evening of Tues­day 26 Jan­uary Pro­fes­sor Hi­lary Beck­les—the Vice Chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of the West Indies and chair of the CARI­COM Repa­ra­tions Com­mis­sion—gave a lec­ture at the Martin School in Ox­ford on the sub­ject of Slav­ery and Repa­ra­tions: Bri­tain’s Black

Debt. That morn­ing he spoke to a small group of Ox­ford stu­dents at New Col­lege on his am­bi­tions for the repa­ra­tions move­ment and the historical work that un­der­pinned his ac­tivism. Direc­tor of the C.L.R. James Cen­ter of Cricket Re­search, and a mem­ber of the West In­dian Cricket Board, Pro­fes­sor Beck­les be­gan the con­ver­sa­tion on the front foot: the Slav­ery Abo­li­tion Act (1833), one of the most racist pieces of leg­is­la­tion ever for­mu­lated in the Bri­tish par­lia­ment—which re­quired the pay­ment of 20 mil­lion pounds to the slave own­ers in com­pen­sa­tion for loss of prop­erty, and that the slaves them­selves serve out an un­paid six-year ap­pren­tice­ship as fur­ther de­fray­ment of their own­ers’ losses. Not only were the slaves left home­less and un­com­pen­sated for their suf­fer­ing but they were also forced in ef­fect to pur­chase their own free­dom from a group (and within a wider society) they had helped make rich. The cen­tral anal­ogy that Beck­les posited was this: imag­ine a woman who has for many years been abused by her hus­band, who has been sub­jected to phys­i­cal vi­o­lence not least when she has tried to as­sert her own in­de­pen­dence and lib­erty. She fi­nally leaves him. But when her free-at-last eupho­ria sub­sides, she finds she has con­signed her­self and her chil­dren to poverty, sep­a­rat­ing them from the fam­ily wealth and in­fra­struc­ture that she helped to cre­ate. For Beck­les, this metaphor serves to de­scribe both the post-eman­ci­pa­tion and postin­de­pen­dence pe­ri­ods in West In­dian so­ci­eties. As he later ex­plained: ‘I wanted to link the repa­ra­tion de­bate to the cur­rent eco­nomic un­der­de­vel­op­ment in the Caribbean, where the sheer weight of the colo­nial mess has threat­ened to over­whelm even the best ef­forts of the re­gional au­thor­i­ties.’ ”

Shortly be­fore this coun­try’s 2005 gen­eral elec­tions, that is to say, some eleven years ear­lier, Hi­lary Beck­les had ad­dressed the in­cum­bent Saint Lu­cia Labour Party’s con­fer­ence of del­e­gates in Vieux Fort, if mem­ory serves. He con­fessed he was es­pe­cially wor­ried about where our re­gion was headed. “We have to ask our­selves whether our in­sti­tu­tions as we have them are ca­pa­ble of tak­ing us into the fu­ture,” he said, “and whether as cit­i­zens we are sat­is­fied that we are vi­able as in­di­vid­u­als in the fu­ture world.” He ex­pressed grave con­cern about “the process of gov­ern­ment and the in­sti­tu­tions in society.” Also about “the re­spon­si­bil­ity and the iden­tity of the Caribbean cit­i­zen in re­fash­ion­ing our civ­i­liza­tion for the fu­ture.” The world we lived in was “ruth­less and mer­ci­less with re­spect to so­ci­eties that are in­flex­i­ble and un­re­spon­sive,” he said. “We needed to un­der­stand this, to feel it, and come up with some idea of how we are go­ing to pro­ceed.”

Be­fore an au­di­ence that in­cluded Prime Min­is­ter Kenny An­thony, his Cab­i­net and in­vited for­eign of­fi­cials, Beck­les sounded an omi­nous note: “We need to know that the price for non-ad­just­ment, for non-com­pli­ance, for knowl­edge de­fi­ciency in the world ahead will be great. We can­not as­sume all so­ci­eties will sur­vive; we can­not as­sume all so­ci­eties will be co­her­ent and not dis­in­te­grate. We are speak­ing about im­me­di­ate ac­tion within our space.”

He warned that glob­al­iza­tion had cre­ated “a po­lit­i­cal cul­ture that we need to un­der­stand. Gone are the days when gov­ern­ment was seen as the most im­por­tant force in devel­op­ment. Gov­ern­ment is now seen as the fa­cil­i­ta­tor; the en­abler. The en­gine of growth and devel­op­ment in any society is the cit­i­zen. The role of gov­ern­ment is to em­power the cit­i­zen to lead devel­op­ment.”

Ad­di­tion­ally: “There is now an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness, in­tel­lec­tual and com­mer­cial class. All of the pro­fes­sions of knowl­edge are be­ing in­ter­na­tion­al­ized and you can move from one society to the other across that space. Any society or cit­i­zen who is not part of that space falls off the edge and is sent into so­cial and eco­nomic back­ward­ness.” He noted that at least a quar­ter of the Caribbean’s work force was vic­tim­ized by hard-core un­em­ploy­ment, while the re­gion’s economies re­mained de­pen­dent to vary­ing de­grees on fi­nan­cial sta­bi­liza­tion from the IMF, the World Bank or other mone­tary in­sti­tu­tions. The ques­tion that needed to be an­swered, he averred, was: “Given our back­ground can we as a peo­ple go into the fu­ture with our in­ef­fec­tive sys­tems?”

As for pol­i­tics as we’ve known it, this was the les­son Pro­fes­sor Hi­lary Beck­les handed the in­cum­bent Labour Party’s con­fer­ence of del­e­gates in 2005: “We have to look at the process of or­ga­nized pol­i­tics that al­ready has di­vided our so­ci­eties far too deeply. We now find our com­mu­ni­ties have been torn and tor­tured by party pol­i­tics. Fam­i­lies are di­vided. Vil­lages and streets are di­vided, leav­ing so­ci­eties un­able to con­struct strong civic or­ga­ni­za­tions through which we can pro­mote in­de­pen­dent devel­op­ment . . . What has emerged

as pol­i­tics in the Caribbean is re­ally the ram­pant, un­re­stricted, un­de­vel­oped mas­culin­ity that has con­tam­i­nated gov­ern­ment to ex­clude women be­cause they are the more so­phis­ti­cated sex . . . I be­lieve the peo­ple in the Caribbean are turn­ing their backs against divi­sion, tur­moil, ir­rel­e­vant con­flict, non­sen­si­cal op­po­si­tion and they are look­ing for co­he­sion. I be­lieve they know the win­ner-takes-all ap­proach to party pol­i­tics can­not be sci­en­tific; can­not be ra­tio­nal and makes no sense. We must for­get and sup­press the is­sues that di­vide us and find the is­sues that bind us. Let us find com­mon ground and build on it.”

The room was es­pe­cially quiet when Beck­les in­toned: “No po­lit­i­cal party in the Caribbean can af­ford to alien­ate sec­tions of the com­mu­nity. No po­lit­i­cal party can see it­self as re­spon­si­ble for all the so­lu­tions and all the an­swers to a coun­try’s prob­lems. Any po­lit­i­cal party that pro­motes in­ter­nal con­flict, that gen­er­ates un­nec­es­sary divi­sion among the cit­i­zens is a party that turns its en­er­gies against the society. And it should be ban­ished from the society. We are look­ing for lead­ers who are not vin­dic­tive, not par­ti­san, and who will mo­bi­lize ev­ery good for so­cial devel­op­ment.” Not long af­ter the pro­fes­sor’s visit the Saint Lu­cia elec­torate voted the SLP out of of­fice in fa­vor of the United Work­ers Party un­der Sir John Compton.

It re­mains con­jec­tural whether Beck­les had any hint that his warn­ing to Kenny An­thony had ear­lier been given the prime min­is­ter by his own late for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter Ge­orge Od­lum: “You have man­aged to do in just three years what it took the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion 40 years to ac­com­plish: you’ve alien­ated the church, the pri­vate sec­tor, the peo­ple!”

Shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice on June 6, 2016 the new prime min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet an­nounced, as he had dur­ing his six-week snap-elec­tion cam­paign, that while he planned to run the coun­try’s af­fairs “like a busi­ness” it would not be busi­ness as usual. He took the op­por­tu­nity not long af­ter­ward to say the work force he in­her­ited was not nearly ready for the modern work place, that while un­der con­struc­tion one lo­cal ho­tel was left lit­tle choice but to im­port over 50 per­cent of its per­son­nel. And al­though he did not ac­tu­ally say so, his ref­er­ence was to lower ech­e­lon con­struc­tion site la­bor­ers.

The more things change: Back in the late 80s John Compton had cau­tioned the na­tion against its de­pen­dence on low-pay­ing, foot­loose, fly-by-night jobs. The na­tion was des­per­ately in need of ap­pro­pri­ately skilled and ed­u­cated work­ers, the prime min­is­ter said. His suc­ces­sor Vaughan Lewis echoed Compton’s mes­sage in 1995. While de­liv­er­ing his only bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion the one-year prime min­is­ter re­vealed that the lo­cal work force was in­ca­pable of car­ry­ing out what at the time was uni­ver­sally con­sid­ered me­nial jobs, a sit­u­a­tion he said was re­flec­tive of the na­tion’s woe­fully in­ad­e­quate ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, never mind the mil­lions an­nu­ally in­vested in it. As for the three-term Prime Min­is­ter Kenny An­thony—who was first elected to of­fice with­out op­po­si­tion in 1997—in what would be his fi­nal bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion he ac­knowl­edged “73 per­cent of our work force can­not ac­cess avail­able jobs.” Count on it, he too was re­fer­ring to bottom-rung con­struc­tion jobs.

By now, dear reader, you must be think­ing: Surely our suc­ces­sive lead­ers and their clos­est ad­vi­sors re­al­ized our main prob­lem has al­ways been ed­u­ca­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, ed­u­ca­tion. Why, then, has the sit­u­a­tion re­mained un­changed? This week, a sar­cas­tic se­na­tor as­sured me it had changed— “for the far worse!” Ac­tu­ally, Beck­les had ad­vised his guests in Vieux Fort that the key to a fruit­ful fu­ture was ed­u­ca­tion. Re­cently re­turned from a visit to Sin­ga­pore, he re­called the gov­ern­ment’s ex­pressed de­ter­mi­na­tion to be “the most in­tel­li­gent is­land on the planet by 2010 be­cause ed­u­ca­tion will be the key to main­tain­ing po­lit­i­cal power. Even car­pen­ters would be re­quired to at­tend univer­sity to do pro­grams in car­pen­try and ar­chi­tec­ture.”

I imag­ine you are won­der­ing yet again, dear con­cerned reader, when will some­thing salu­tary be done about the qual­ity of cit­i­zen we’ve been pro­duc­ing for at least fifty years—the best of whom ev­i­dently have had no use­ful im­pact on our econ­omy, on our ed­u­ca­tion, agri­cul­ture, en­vi­ron­ment, health ser­vices and so on? Al­most ev­ery­thing that was wrong with our na­tion be­fore In­de­pen­dence, that is to say, be­fore there was ac­cess to higher learn­ing, is to­day worse than it was pos­si­ble to imag­ine in rel­a­tively prim­i­tive times.

Our self-de­clared “best brains” are demon­stra­bly in­ter­ested only in be­com­ing HOGs and po­lit­i­cal whale­suck­ers. Few have be­trayed any ap­petite for the “em­power the peo­ple” phi­los­o­phy that Hi­lary Beck­les pas­sion­ately rec­om­mended eleven years ago. The bet­ter ed­u­cated among us con­tinue to be ad­dicted to pub­lic ser­vice em­ploy­ment at the ex­pense of the fast with­er­ing pri­vate sec­tor. Save for John Compton (let us leave Al­lan Louisy out of this; in his time as prime min­is­ter he was lit­tle more than a pup­pet in the in­ept aca­demic hands of am­a­teur pup­peteers) our mainly UWI trained lead­ers have ap­peared to share a pe­cu­liar mind­set haz­ardous to life in sim­ply beau­ti­ful Saint Lu­cia.

Allen Chas­tanet? Not­with­stand­ing the knee-jerk re­views of his more ob­vi­ous ad­ver­saries, he con­tin­ues to present him­self as some­thing of a rene­gade, an out­side the box thinker, osten­si­bly in the na­tion’s best in­ter­ests. But even as he seeks to clear away the ac­cu­mu­lated de­bris be­tween him and his cam­paign prom­ises, his sup­port­ers grow in­creas­ingly restive. Al­ready he has ex­hausted the first twelve months of his five-year term. Doubt­less even to­day’s unin­spired 14-year-olds are won­der­ing what next? Over and over the aca­demics have proved to be lit­tle more than dis­pensers of hot air. Will the busi­ness­man-prime min­is­ter dis­cover the courage to re­move by what­ever means nec­es­sary the ear­lier cited road­blocks? And if he should—in de­fi­ance of the ad­vice of­fered an unim­pressed Kenny An­thony by Hi­lary Beck­les back in 2005—fol­low in the muddy foot­steps of his self­cen­tered pre­de­ces­sors, what then? Dr. James Fletcher has put to­gether some ideas he be­lieves can pro­vide the so­lu­tion many have long prayed for. We’ll dis­cuss some of them next time around. Stay tuned.

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