Saint Lucia
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Same old story save for the names and the recycled reptiles! 

At the 19th Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in June 1997, George Odlum was in fine fettle. A mischievous smile lighting up his stage visage, he addressed his audience of less than forty. “I appear before you today as a recycled product,” he said. “The people of Saint Lucia, in recent elections, have recycled me from ambassadorial to foreign ministerial material. I hope this assures you of the commitment of my country to the principles of sustainable development.” Less than a month earlier, he had been one of Kenny Anthony’s magnificent sixteen who won places in the 17-seat parliament.  

Back at the ranch, in his first address to the nation, the new prime minister announced that all but seventy of the four hundred inmates at the island’s recently burned-out prison had been temporarily relocated to secure quarters. To alleviate related problems, he had also authorized the appointment of additional prison personnel. His government had been taken aback by “the callousness and the neglect suffered by inmates under the United Workers Party administration” that had failed to keep repeated promises to construct a new prison and to tackle the problems of the magistracy and the police. He boasted that his government had wasted no time since taking office on May 23. Already several proposals were under consideration, all designed to address the island’s law enforcement needs in the short, medium and long-term. The need for a new prison was “even more urgent than before.”

In July the prime minister addressed travel agents and business executives at a luncheon in New York, hosted by Air Jamaica CEO Butch Stewart. The prime minister acknowledged it no longer made sense to market Caribbean tourism only on the basis of the region’s natural beauty and its close proximity to the United States. It was more than ever imperative that the product reflected the demands of the customer. “Price is not the only determining factor when it comes to choosing destinations,” said Anthony. “Value is more likely a combination of price and expectations.” While air fares to Saint Lucia discriminated against properties below a certain standard, the challenge his government faced was how to implement a plan that reflected the constraints while encouraging the right kind of development.

He took the opportunity while in New York to announce plans for the construction by Super Clubs of a 500-room resort before the end of 1997. In the meantime, there was the scheduled reopening of Jalousie Plantation Resort in Soufriere. In his campaign that had delivered into his hands a record mandate, Kenny Anthony had been a prominent protestor against the project. Now his government and the resort’s Iranian owners were singing in perfect harmony, with Anthony as conductor. Also “moving along nicely” were discussions with an unidentified major American hotel chain.

Still in July, the former prime minister Sir John Compton adamantly declared his refusal to pay his taxes until the Kenny Anthony government did something useful about the parked vehicles on the sidewalk near the entrance to his William Peter Boulevard law offices. He complained about the pot-holed adjacent street, the unsanitary environment and the kitchens-on-wheels that operated in the vicinity and rendered his office atmosphere similar to that of a roadside cookhouse. A day following Compton’s publicized threat, beloved newspaper editor Guy Ellis resigned from the prime minister’s advisory council, for unspecified “personal and professional reasons.” Kenny Anthony quickly replaced him with a notoriously cantankerous Rastafarian market vendor.

With no opposition to speak of (the sole survivor of the elections debacle, Louis George was more often than not hospitalized with severe diabetes) the incumbent party hosted several conferences with constituency groups in preparation for its annual Conference of Delegates, slated for 2 November 1997. Of special interest was a workshop intended to sensitize participants to the party’s media relations policy and “to examine the local media environment.” Also scheduled, the presentation to the House on July 29 of a report on the state of the island’s economy by the Caribbean Development Bank’s Allan Slusher and the former Director of Audit, Emma Hippolyte.

At the recalled session the House passed an amendment to the Domestic Violence Bill that provided for “standard forms for bench warrants, summonses, orders and related matters.” The bill was presented by the Minister for Women’s Affairs, Sarah Flood-Beaubrun. In his endorsement of the proposed law, the tourism minister Philip J. Pierre said it underscored the new government’s determination to put an end to the “scourge of violence against women that those recently ejected from the House never took seriously.”

It was hardly a secret that Pierre’s comment was directed at yet another election casualty. For several months he had been engaged in highly publicized divorce proceedings, during which his estranged English wife accused him of holding a gun to her head and kicking her down a flight of stairs in the presence of their two small boys. Then gender affairs minister Desmond Brathwaite’s notorious response: “I did not kick her. I only pushed her with my foot.” Presumably in its determination to wipe out “the scourge of violence against women,” the new government had strengthened the family court, established during the previous administration’s tenure, but “woefully underfinanced.”

Still in July, more bad news found Desmond Brathwaite. Justice Suzie d’Auvergne agreed he had defamed the former House opposition leader Julian Hunte in a newspaper article. Noted the judge, Brathwaite had by the words complained of conveyed that Hunte was “an alcoholic who is incapable of properly conducting himself after imbibing, becomes violent and picks fights.”   She awarded Hunte damages in the sum of $15,000, with costs of some $80,000.

August saw another court appearance of warring politicians. This time it was the recently elected prime minister Kenny Anthony who had filed lawsuits against Dennis Dabreo, a newspaper publisher, and Peter Josie. Both defendants had contested seats in the 1997 elections and failed to save their deposits.

The month delivered good news for the owners of HelenAir Caribbean. The airline’s marketing director Arthur Neptune announced his company had inked an interline agreement with Butch Stewart’s Air Jamaica and was about to launch a campaign “aimed specifically at American travel agents.” For his part, Stewart was confident HelenAir would make it much easier to travel between the region’s smaller territories. By mid-August the well-received news had been forgotten, thanks to the announcement that Governor-General Sir George Mallet had appointed a commission to enquire into a number of instances of alleged corruption—including unauthorized payment out of the Consolidated Fund to Ausbert d’Auvergne under an agreement signed by Prime Minister John Compton and an official of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.” The Cabinet of Ministers had approved the appointment of Monica Joseph as the enquiry’s sole commissioner.

Also down for investigation was the payment of some $11,000 to Shirley Lewis, wife of Vaughan Lewis, Kenny Anthony’s immediate predecessor, as were the circumstances of the sale of approximately twenty-six acres of beach-front in Roseau Bay by Model Farms Limited to Genesis Limited, and the arrangements entered into by former sports minister Desmond Brathwaite with Klohn-Crippen “for preparatory work on a national stadium.” Expected to last four weeks, the enquiry was slated to begin on August 28. The opposition party’s reaction was predictable: “We hope the commissioner, despite her disappointment with the OECS political directorate and other senior officials at not having received an extension of her contract as Puisne Judge some years ago, will not affect the impartiality normally characteristic of such service.”

The enquiry was advertised as proof that the Kenny Anthony government intended to keep its election promises. Especially titillating was that it had fallen to the governor-general to announce the investigation of corruption allegations against the government he had served for over forty years as deputy prime minister!

The month closed with another important public announcement: According to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, Saint Lucia had broken ties with Taiwan in favor of “full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.” A communiqué from the local Embassy of Taiwan expressed sadness at the government’s decision to side with the PRC in not recognizing Taiwan as a separate country. “We would be happy to co-exist in Saint Lucia,” noted Chargé d’Affaires Hu Fu-Chung, “but the Chinese do not want this. The decision is quite regrettable. After the general election, the government made it clear it wished to extend the country’s international relations. When the new government came in, we had assurances that our relationship with them would deepen . . .”

It soon would emerge that shortly before the 23 May, 1997 elections, and unknown to party leader Kenny Anthony, George Odlum had struck a deal with a visiting group of Chinese officials. According to sources close to the government, the new prime minister was in his office   negotiating with the Taiwanese ambassador what it might take to retain Saint Lucia’s diplomatic relationship with Taipei when a member of the ambassador’s entourage, who had been waiting outside, entered the room. He spoke in Chinese to the ambassador who listened in silence. When his aide had left the room, the ambassador informed a shocked Kenny Anthony that his foreign minister George Odlum had just announced in New York Saint Lucia’s decision to sever relations with Taipei.

The new governor-general took the Oath of office on 17 September 1997, George Mallet having outlived his usefulness. Calliopa Pearlette Louisy had earlier been the principal of Sir Arthur Lewis Community College. By the prime minister’s measure, her appointment as governor-general marked “a special day for Saint Lucia and for her native village, Laborie.” The new occupant of Government House “exemplified the heart and soul of the country,” she had “excelled educationally and otherwise, and had been part of the process of beautifying the culture of our country,” said the prime minister, himself also a former school principal.

Fast forward to the present: Two years after taking office, Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre, and for undeclared reasons, still has not appointed a governor general. In the meantime, the son of the original Labour party leader, George Charles, has been temporarily occupying the gubernatorial throne. However, the prime minister has confirmed one of his most solemn election promises. At any rate, he has promised yet again that his government remains committed to the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate repeated serious allegations against former prime minister and current House opposition leader Allen Chastanet. Also, his former Minister for Economic Development, Guy Joseph. If and when a related prosecution does actually get underway, it will likely bring to mind the 1998 Commission of Enquiry that an accused and exonerated John Compton had described as “a vicious election promise to my enemies, a vendetta, an attempt to publicly shame me and my family in the name of dirty politics.”

Several weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced in parliament that he had received from the president of the Police Welfare Association a letter complaining on behalf of members about sexual harassment by the acting police commissioner. The letter the prime minister referenced was by his account a copy of an original addressed to Commissioner Pelius, and dated June 5, 2023. She has since retired, reportedly without a response to the PWA president’s letter. Last week, in response to reporters’ questions about the acting commissioner’s immediate future, the prime minister several times repeated his response: “He’s acting! He’s acting! He’s acting!”

The matter took a curious twist last Friday, when a similar question was put by journalists to the MP for Micoud North. In stark contrast with the prime minister’s earlier statement—that he had received a letter “full of allegations but no evidence to act on”—former police officer Jerimiah Norbert told reporters: “You cannot leave allegations hanging over somebody’s head forever. Something must happen. It does not auger well for the [police] organization. But the Welfare Association is within its rights to represent members making allegations . . .”

On 8 March 2022, the Pierre government introduced amendments to the existing Domestic Violence Bill, making Saint Lucia “one of the few countries in the Caribbean to provide legal protections to people in same-sex relationships who experience domestic violence . . .The Act also expands the definition of domestic violence to include economic and sexual abuse, harassment and cyber-stalking, coercion, threats, intimidation and a wide range of harmful behaviors. For victims and survivors, access to justice and access to services are now explicitly available to everyone without discrimination. The Act’s Clause 5 mandates that public officers and service providers are not to treat victims and survivors in a discriminatory manner, on the grounds of, among other things, their sex, gender, marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

As for the government’s relationship with the House opposition, suffice it to say its leader has had on at least two occasions since July 2021 to seek comfort in the law courts. He recently appeared, successfully, before the Privy Council in relation to a suit filed by a government MP. To end on a brighter note, the government recently announced monetary assistance was on the way from friends in Saudi Arabia that would permit finally the completion of St. Jude Hospital after some 14 years of empty promises by three different administrations. The rehabilitation of the Beijing-financed George Odlum Stadium, which was put into service as a hospital “for three months or so” following the fire that wiped out St. Jude fourteen years ago, is also on the Saudi-supported government’s new Santa Claus list.

Oh, I almost forgot. A developer who had found himself the prime target for much political and racist abuse throughout the 2021 political campaigns recently had good reason to celebrate when a court decided the government had unlawfully shut down his project in the area of the Pitons. Perhaps worse, the prospect of the area losing its Heritage Site status looms. Ironically the foreign developer was represented in court by Peter Foster QC, a prominent Labour Party empathizer and former House speaker.  

Meanwhile red- and yellow-tinted (tainted?) Saint Lucians have declared war on themselves, this time over several weather-beaten hospital shells built in 2016 by Kenny Anthony’s Labour Party government, and in 2021 by the now opposition United Workers Party led by Allen Chastanet—at an estimated cost of $300 or $400 million. Once again, we are busy hurling mindless threats at one another, whether via Facebook or from privileged parliamentary perches, oblivious of the uncontrollably escalating cost of living. Never mind the bloodletting that in just eight months has claimed 50 lives, including young mothers and at least one toddler, we carry on as is if possessed by an insatiable devil vampire.

Yes, indeed. It’s the same old dirge by the same talentless screamers, all blissfully unaware as they scream off-key from their vari-colored rickety stage that they finally have become their own audience.