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

I n times not nearly as bruis­ing as present, Prime Min­is­ter John Comp­ton of­ten promised barely com­pre­hend­ing cit­i­zens that un­der his lead­er­ship Saint Lu­cia would never land in the jaws of the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund, “be­cause two male rats can­not in the same hole co­ex­ist." With sus­pected mal­ice afore­thought, he de­liv­ered the quoted words in un­pro­cessed kweyol!

The line no longer has mean­ing at this time when same-sex mar­riages raise no eye­brows, even at the Vat­i­can; when the planet’s most prom­i­nent women with their im­pec­ca­bly painted faces openly ref­er­ence the as­sets of their sim­i­larly dec­o­rated wives; when ma­cho su­per­star ath­letes can overnight turn into femmes fa­tales wor­thy of the cov­ers of fash­ion mag­a­zines, and male cou­ples pro­duce and raise their own off­spring.

It would ap­pear gen­der flu­id­ity has caught on even in the an­i­mal king­dom. Ear­lier this month “gay pen­guins Sphen and Magic made world head­lines af­ter they wel­comed their own baby at a zoo in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia.” (This par­tic­u­lar tid­bit ac­cord­ing to the BBC!) So who can say for cer­tain what may be go­ing on un­de­tected in what rat holes?

I re­call with­out dif­fi­culty one of the rea­sons the ear­lier cited prime min­is­ter of­fered for pur­su­ing in­de­pen­dence from Britain: “We will be free to make our own de­ci­sions, among them the abil­ity to bor­row as we please from the IMF.” Yes, so said the very prime min­is­ter who would later swear never to share the quar­ters of a samegen­der fel­low rat. In 1979 he had also im­plied the IMF was a panacea de­nied us, thanks to our re­la­tion­ship with our re­stric­tive Mother Coun­try.

Speak­ing of rat idio­syn­cra­sies: While Comp­ton was cam­paign­ing for what he knew full well had al­ready been deter­mined by White­hall, the Labour Party, then in­clu­sive of Ge­orge Od­lum and Peter Josie, did what op­po­si­tion par­ties do best. Re­sult? An ill-in­formed coun­try at war with it­self, os­ten­si­bly for the right to be or not to be free.

We need not re­visit the ex­pen­sive fi­as­cos that pre­ceded 22 Feb­ru­ary 1979. It is worth men­tion­ing, how­ever, that it was not John Comp­ton who showed up at the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly to hear Saint Lu­cia of­fi­cially de­clared an in­de­pen­dent na­tion. No, that spe­cial priv­i­lege went to one of the lead­ing protesters against the cam­paign for “free­dom from Bri­tish in­ter­fer­ence in our af­fairs.”

Politi­cians are un­com­monly chameleonic. In time Ge­orge Od­lum would say the Labour Party was never against in­de­pen­dence from Britain, that what con­cerned them was in­de­pen­dence while Comp­ton was still leader of the is­land’s gov­ern­ment. For his part, a straight-faced Comp­ton in op­po­si­tion re­vealed, dur­ing a lec­ture at the Cen­tral Li­brary in Cas­tries, that the so-called Mother Coun­try had sim­ply grown weary af­ter so many

years of breast­feed­ing her in­sa­tiable adopted chil­dren. In­de­pen­dence, said Comp­ton, was just an­other eu­phemism for “you're on your own now; learn to swim or drown.” (An­other irony, when you con­sider Eng­land's his­toric pi­rate re­la­tion­ship with the naïve lead­ers of is­lands of the Caribbean!)

To re­turn to the IMF. This is how it de­scribes it­self: “An or­ga­ni­za­tion of 189 coun­tries work­ing to foster global mon­e­tary co­op­er­a­tion, se­cure fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity, fa­cil­i­tate in­ter­na­tional trade, pro­mote high em­ploy­ment and sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth, and re­duce poverty around the world.” At first glance it would seem, save for the global di­men­sions, that our gov­ern­ment and the IMF share the same as­pi­ra­tions: fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity, high em­ploy­ment, eco­nomic growth, keep­ing poverty at bay.

But sel­dom are ap­pear­ances as they seem. Not for noth­ing was John Comp­ton fa­mously wary of any re­la­tion­ship with the IMF and its no-free-lunch poli­cies. The idea of the IMF es­sen­tially run­ning the af­fairs of Saint Lu­cia was to Comp­ton al­to­gether anath­ema; a re­flec­tion of his man­age­rial skills; tan­gi­ble proof that he did not have the qual­i­ties de­manded of the cap­tain of a ship of state. Keep­ing Saint Lu­cia out of the hands of the IMF was for Prime Min­is­ter John Comp­ton a per­sonal am­bi­tion.

It may well be asked: if one of the IMF's ad­ver­tised main func­tions is to lend money to coun­tries in fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, why was Comp­ton so deter­mined to avoid the or­ga­ni­za­tion? Michael Man­ley, in a 2001 doc­u­men­tary en­ti­tled Life and Debt, of­fers a hint of how the IMF process op­er­ates: “What you re­ally need is to sit down with them and say, 'Look, can I work out a five-year pro­gram? And in the mean­time I'm strapped for cash, so can you help me up-front get out of the cash bind and then put in the con­text of a long-term de­vel­op­ment plan?' And they say, 'No, long-term de­vel­op­ment is your prob­lem. We are here to see who you owe the money to; why you're in a bind; and we lend you money in a very short time-frame at full in­ter­est rate to get you out of the bind.' And then they im­pose on you tremen­dous re­stric­tions on what you can spend. And you say to them, 'But if I do it that way, when I fin­ish re­pay­ing you I'm gonna be in the bind all over.' They say, ‘Not our prob­lem!' ”

Nev­er­the­less, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Do­minica, Gre­nada and Belize have all ac­cepted IMF sta­bi­liza­tion pro­grams as a con­di­tion for re­ceiv­ing fi­nanc­ing. The lat­est to join the club is Bar­ba­dos un­der Mia Mot­t­ley, who re­cently an­nounced that sev­eral state-owned en­ti­ties will be re­struc­tured or shut down as part of phases two and three of the Bar­ba­dos Re­cov­ery Plan, start­ing the next fis­cal year.

Sev­eral gov­ern­ment de­part­ments in­clud­ing the Cul­tural In­dus­tries De­vel­op­ment Author­ity, will be ab­sorbed into other agen­cies. The Bar­ba­dos De­fence Force's sports pro­gram will con­tinue, but with­out gov­ern­ment fund­ing. Sched­uled to be sent home are work­ers from the gov­ern­ment's pub­lic af­fairs depart­ment, which com­prises the Caribbean Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, the Gov­ern­ment Prin­tery and the Bar­ba­dos Gov­ern­ment In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice. MCTV will re­main but is be­ing re­struc­tured. The list of changes is long.

As I watched this week's par­lia­ment in ses­sion, dur­ing which the fi­nance min­is­ter sought ap­proval to bor­row close to $141 mil­lion for var­i­ous pur­poses, I sensed in my liv­ing room the pres­ence of John Comp­ton. And I knew not whether to pray or cry for Ar­gentina. Noth­ing I heard from the MPs on Tues­day, de­spite per­mit­ting my­self some ir­ra­tional ex­u­ber­ance, if only per­chance to pro­tect my san­ity, sug­gested a guar­an­teed pos­i­tive change in our cir­cum­stances any time soon.

Try as I might, I could not re­call a time when the word most of­ten thrown around the House was not “bor­row.” Even from the ear­li­est days of John Comp­ton. Alas, while he had put down in words the fu­ture as he en­vis­aged it—free of cos­met­ics—and rarely of­fered in­tel­li­gence as­sault­ing per­fect­storm pos­si­ble so­lu­tions, he too tended to take the easy road to nowhere; not the right road, re­gard­less of at­ten­dant risks. While Comp­ton talked in­ces­santly about the Mi­caw­ber for­mula—“An­nual in­come twenty pounds, an­nual ex­pen­di­ture nine­teen six, re­sult hap­pi­ness. An­nual in­come twenty pounds, an­nual ex­pen­di­ture twenty pounds ought and six, re­sult mis­ery”—he left in place the most vo­ra­cious gob­blers of gov­ern­ment rev­enue.

Although we face re­al­i­ties far more com­plex than ex­isted in the time of Charles Dick­ens, there can be no es­cap­ing the bot­tom line: a gov­ern­ment that year af­ter year self­ishly spends more than it takes in is on a fast track to the poor­house. In­evitably, it will ar­rive at the IMF's door.

The ques­tion is: Which gov­ern­ment will dis­cover the courage to risk a con­fronta­tion with the CSA? Which gov­ern­ment will find the strength to re­mind the peo­ple that since 1979, at least, we've been on our own aboard our rick­ety ca­noe, with only one or two lifebelts long past their shelf life—in in­creas­ingly tur­bu­lent wa­ters.

To in­voke Comp­ton one more time: “We can­not af­ford every year to keep pay­ing for peace with the unions.” Who among our lead­ers will openly ac­knowl­edge it is high time we as a na­tion learn to swim, how­ever late in the day. Count on it, what we refuse to do for our­selves will be done for us. Bar­ba­dos is the most re­cent vic­tim of this in­con­ve­nient truth too long ig­nored. Will Saint Lu­cia be next?

Will Prime Min­is­ter Chas­tanet, like his pre­de­ces­sors, con­tinue to pay for peace while ig­nor­ing the killer re­al­i­ties that con­front the na­tion? Or will we suf­fer the ob­vi­ous con­se­quences of too much talk­ing with­out fol­low-up ac­tion!

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