By Melanius Alphonse
Without addressing the root cause of security challenges and economic vulnerabilities, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet endeavoured to promote the opening of Desert Star Holdings (DSH) horse racing track, plans for a home cruise port, the Hewanorra International Airport Redevelopment Project in Vieux Fort; including village tourism, the revitalization of the city of Castries, as viable infrastructure projects as a package designed to boost consumer confidence ahead of the holiday season.
Frustrated perhaps, he reluctantly admitted “crime as one of the glaring challenges” facing Saint Lucia.
However, despite the acknowledgement, depending on full, true and plain disclosure, never to distort or deceive, it takes courage to manipulate, insisting that the economy is strong. In fact, this goes against government statistics that reveal a reversal of fortune, about the pace of growth and economic circumstance.
Excluding rebased figures, there are early signs the country is in a financial crisis and the economy is in period of stagflation, “a toxic mix” when the economy suffers from high inflation [currently at 2 percent] and high unemployment 20.9 percent, youth unemployment at 38 percent and rising. Banana exports to the UK projecting a 60 percent decline in 2019.
When addressing economic outlook, growth, inflation, debt to GDP, financing modules and financial vulnerabilities ought not to be taken lightly.
But in the usual noise and sounding more autocratic, Prime Minister Chastanet systematically ignores social services, education and the healthcare crisis, with the capacity to cripple economic outlook.
And further to the combination of security and economic vulnerabilities, Prime Minister Chastanet sounds pretty oblivious to the risk the country is undertaking, albeit, it fits perfectly with the quadratic equation and Saint Lucia’s strategic realignment, adding to market uncertainty.
Consequently, there is anxiety among entrepreneurs and investors about government’s irrational exuberance, facing more budget cuts linked to national security, amidst a challenging year. And arguably it is not surprising that law and order is out of control.
“Strategically we have taken decisions as a government to strengthen our police force and justice system and we recognize we still have a long way to go. The key however, is to steer our youth away from a life of crime and this takes all of us as a society. Our country’s ability to combat this scourge means all hands on deck for us to be successful. Therefore, we must support the police and each other in efforts to combat crime,” said Prime Minister Chastanet.
The prime minister’s utterance isn’t overly helpful. Evidently, in the midst of the recent crime wave, the message seems to be “the strategy is to say that there is a strategy”.
Moreover, national security minister, Senator Hermangild Francis’ appeal to the perpetrators was simply to desist from violence and reckless endangerment of life.
Meanwhile, promoting an agriculture programme as one of the solutions for crime, whereby young people can rent a small portion of land to grow crops for sale, minister with responsibility for external affairs, Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, said: “It is a long time that our youth have felt that they are marginalized. People need confidence, they need to see things happening, they need to see the result of programs and so it is not a quick fix.”
On a global scale, the greatest threat to prosperity and national interest is foreign interference, espionage and cyber threats. But understandably, a significant portion of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) and security apparatus is mired in community policing, struggling with petty theft and unsolved homicides.
Assistant commissioner of police with responsibility for crime and intelligence, Wayne Charlery, said, “The police are investigating 40 homicides; excluding one police shooting. Thus far, we’ve been able to solve 17 of those cases.”
Commissioner of police, Severin Moncherry, recalled police officers from vacation to increase boots-on-the-ground, admitting: “We at the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force, [RSLPF] have reviewed our plans and our strategies and from all indications it appears that we have not been able to meet some of our intended targets. As a result we are putting in place new plans, new strategies. These strategies will be more head-on, they will be more aggressive and they will be targeted.”
The jitters coming over mixed messages from the authorities resonate in a social media comment: “the bluntness is refreshing”.
However, this barely skims the surface to reflect the pain and suffering inflected on the defenseless, while continuing to make mistake upon mistake.
The key factor is the mindset of policymakers towards national security, which is an incredible patchwork of disrespect, lip service and outmoded methods to fight organized crime.
The repercussions are also a far cry from the current government, when they were in opposition assuring that “we can, and will solve the crime situation”. But upon assuming office, they have become lame ducks, and belatedly realise that extrajudicial killings prosecutions are required, and the promised salary increases for police officers and better working conditions have become a game of chance.
Unsurprisingly, the deficiency of government to measure up to the sort of insecurity that extends in the country defies common sense.
And so, in the symphony of National Day and Christmas season, government attempted a one-off payment of EC$1,500 to the RSLPF, with the stipulation that there would be no negotiations with regard to salaries for the 2016-2019 agreement. Negotiations have not commenced on the 2019-2022 agreement.
The Police Welfare Association, (PWA) has rejected the offer and withdrew from the Trade Union Federation (TUF), an umbrella body representing the majority of trade unions on the island.
“The time is correct where we would seek to make representation on our behalf as a Police Welfare Association and meet with the government from time to time,” said PWA president Travis Chicot.
Arguably, the one-off payment is an insult; but has the PWA shoot itself in the foot to withdraw from TUF? Is this decision part of the prescription for manipulation driven by fear, distrust and discontent that has brought about further isolation?
More disturbing, funding responsibility for the RSLPF has dangerously become the function of charitable offerings, from annual sponsored balls to fundraising activities in Martinique, to purchase a radar unit costing US$ 25,000.
In spite of the economic outlook, there is an aggressive hawkishness by the prime minister to borrow with impunity for the financing of Pemandu, OJO Labs, Fresh Start, The Parker Company (TPC), “all-exclusive” hotels, and land acquisitions for tourist development. There is no denying that new roads are being constructed to facilitate the DSH horse racing track and the amendment to gambling laws, while the nonchalant operation of government illustrates a Catch-22 trajectory along with George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
The recent spate of murders, currently 42 as of writing, is said to involve a crown witness in an upcoming murder trial. This has summoned public chatter on a “witness protection programme” and methods of protecting state witnesses on a small island.
To be honest, it’s an unworkable fantasy, in particular where murder cases and drug trafficking is involved. The result is another unsolved murder.
The options are not clear cut even on a regional basis considering relocation cost and security factors setting up a new life, under a new identity, without a canary telling somebody that something seems odd.
Therein lays values of trust and courage. The latter is continually challenged and usually exposes national security vulnerability, and decisions free of political concerns, while cronies fatten on the goose.
More obvious is the assault on reasoning from the implications of policies that are not heading towards the path of prosperity for the majority, while the prime minister is seemingly oblivious to conflicts of interest and white collar crime that contributes to destabilizing the country.
At moments of great challenges, authentic leadership summons uncommon hardship and, in deep seated resilience, enlarges the lives of others with a sense of moral purpose.
A social media comment nailed it perfectly: “Taxpayers are being volunteered into being responsible for dumb policies and their unrealistic costs.”
It would be at least encouraging to see the authorities in charge of national security and economic policy, remove their heads out of the sandbox, and not underestimate the extent of what potentially lies ahead — but instead work out a viable plan to strengthen economic growth, increase public and private investment, strengthen national security and curb social degradation.
According to Einstein, “The dividing line between past, present and future is an illusion.”