Best PM of All?
Mirror, Mirror Down The Hall, Who’s The
Whatever else might be said about the talk-show host Timothy Poleon, that he is among our more talented TV inquisitors is undeniable—a fact never clearer than when the individual on the other side of his questions is determined to score by any means necessary, as politicians are wont to do.
Two or three weeks ago, Chairman Moses JnBaptiste appeared on Poleon’s
Newsmaker Live TV show, conceivably to contribute to the opposition party’s publicity blitzkrieg aimed at delivering a do-or-die mother of all protest marches. Before long the MP had let slip out of his well-oiled mouth his flatterer’s contention that the best prime minister Saint Lucia ever had was named Kenny Anthony.
I fully expected the host to feign sudden deafness; to pretend he had not heard what his audience certainly had, and doubtless dismissed as, well, partisan drivel. But on the Wednesday night in question Tim was evidently in a mood to play cat and mouse. Eyes blazing with incredulity, he gently pushed back: “Are you saying Kenny Anthony was a better prime minister than even Sir John?”
JnBaptiste was true to form, aimlessly tossing at Poleon soufflé after puffed up soufflé in his mindless determination to justify the unjustifiable. The back and forth served further to prove how little politicians care for truth that does not serve their agendas. But then, days later I would discover myself recalling, reason unknown, the Moses JnBaptiste interview and the serious question it had thrown up, if inadvertently: Which of our former prime ministers best served the nation? (Let us agree at this point to leave out the current office holder; he is still new to the game, having barely started the third year of his constitutional lustrum. As for Mikey Pilgrim, let us be especially generous and declare him hors concours!)
It occurred to me that perhaps Moses JnBaptiste believed himself to be telling his whole truth when he placed Kenny Anthony at the top of Saint Lucia’s imagined Mount Rushmore. I concluded that “our best prime minister” resided, as do so many other matters of opinion, in the eye of the beholder, whether or not bloodshot. Then, as if further to prove there really is nothing new under the sun, I happened upon a “Presidential Historians Survey” that C-SPAN had conducted in 2017. It turned out that 91 historians were engaged in this project that ranked the former leaders on “ten attributes of leadership.” These ranged from the moral categories of crisis leadership, moral authority, pursued equal justice for all, to the more technical ones of economic management, administrative skills, performance within context of times, and setting an agenda, and included relations with the public, Congress and other governments.
Commented presidential scholar Richard Norton Smith: “The golden age of the presidency, according to this survey is 19331969. Five presidents from this era each rank in the top ten, which tells you something about the criteria historians tend to use. It reinforces Franklyn Roosevelt’s claim to be not only the first modern president but the man who, in reinventing the office, also established the criteria by which we judge our leaders.”
If we on this Rock of Sages should adopt the above-listed criteria as the yardstick by which to measure our leaders up to June 2016, how would they stack up? Let us start with the “moral categories.” When it comes to crisis leadership, what immediately comes to the informed mind is the period 1972 through 1982. John Compton was in the hot seat at the birth of
the pesky but short-lived St. Lucia Forum, when first were heard the rumblings from the banana valleys. He barely made it back to office following the 1974 general elections and it was hardly a surprise when in 1979 Allan Louisy replaced him as prime minister. In consequence of the so-called leadership struggle with George Odlum, Louisy finally agreed under intense pressure from within to hand over the reins of power to his attorney general Winston Cenac—the camel that cracked the SLP camel’s back. Two years after Allan Louisy’s Labour Party took office, a battle-weary Saint Lucia was left little choice but to limp painfully back to the polls. The unforgettable year was 1982.
So, who best weathered the leadership crises of 1972-82? While you’re busy separating the chaff from the chaff, dear reader, you may also wish to consider which of our prime ministers had the least (if any) moral authority to lecture impressionable children and their mostly very young mothers about the pitfalls of free-forall sex and teen pregnancies, uncontrollable outbursts of anger, accountability, and other things good, including thou shall not steal, commit adultery or accept bribes?
We come now to my favorite category from the Presidential Historians Survey: “Who Pursued Equal Justice For All.” Was it John Compton? Allan Louisy? Kenny Anthony? Or have our politicians always cared about the people’s constitutional rights, regardless of party affiliations? It can hardly be a secret that our leaders have routinely influenced the way our police carry out their duties, here and there negotiating or outright ordering the release of a suspect or the occasional turning of a blind eye.
Some have even persuaded the police to conduct daylight raids on homes painted red or yellow, for no other reason than to embarrass owners or occupants. So the appropriate question might be: Which of our prime ministers was most guilty of such practices? Who cared the most about citizens being equal under the law? Who worked the hardest to establish legal aid, a functioning judiciary and a police department trained in accordance with the day’s demands?
When it comes to finance, I feel tempted to say the proper management of a nation’s economy demands, first of all, the existence of an economy. But I’ll resist the devilish temptation. Better that I point out that as far back as I’ve taken an interest in such matters, prime minister after prime minister has warned about the cost of “spending more than you take in,” as if indeed the advice they offered applied to everyone else, and not those who determine (often surreptitiously!) how money from the Consolidated Fund is spent.
Maybe here the question should be: Which of our former prime ministers was most accountable? Who cared most that government accounts were always up to date and tabled in parliament? During whose tenure were the most meetings convened by House finance committee? Which of our prime ministers was most widely perceived as honest, an exemplary family man, ever faithful to his marital vows? (Interesting to note, our prime ministers have all been married men—unlike several members of parliament best known for their endless sowing of wild oats!)
I feel confident, dear readers, that with the slightest effort you can provide your own questions for a prime ministerial survey. I’m also well aware, to cite the usual parlance in these circumstances—and despite that nothing could be more obvious—that “Saint Lucia is not America!” In all events, who wants to make Helen great again when in truth we’ve always been happy to sell her as cheap whore?
The preceding is but a small reminder that the number of potholes filled in with concrete during a term in office, or the number of citizens who participated in activities best described as “disguised unemployment,” do not determine a good prime minister.
By the way, I seem to recall Moses JnBaptiste gasconing to Timothy Poleon about what separated Kenny Anthony from his fellow prime ministers: “When Dr. Anthony took office there was mud everywhere. People often had to carry their shoes in their hands.” Evidently muddy feet were more socially acceptable pre-Anthony than were muddy shoes! I can only imagine the Kennylation of former farmers and other Micoud North commuters while buying at Vieux Fort supermarts imported substitutes for what they once produced— before their “muddy” farming environment was transformed into a concrete jungle!
Should Gros Piton be turned into St. Lucia’s Mount Rushmore, whose face would decorate the iconic peak? George Charles, John Compton (left to right), Mikey Pilgrim, Vaughan Lewis, Kenny Anthony, Stephenson King, Allen Chastanet?