The Allen Chastanet Ultimatum (Part 1 of 2) — commentary by Dr. Anderson Reynolds

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The Allen Chastanet Ultimatum (Part 1 of 2) — commentary by Dr. Anderson Reynolds

As the 17th general elections (18th if you include two elections in 1987 as opposed to one) of the universal suffrage era draws near, many St. Lucians, especially St. Lucia Labor Party (SLP) supporters, are convinced that Allen Chastanet is ruining the country and has proven unfit to rule. The reasons for these views are articulated in Peter Lansiquot’s open letter to the prime minister and in some of David Prescod’s articles in the St. Lucia Voice Newspaper.

However, it is troubling that SLP operatives seem to be using the notion that Allen Chastanet is destroying the country as an ultimatum—Vote Labor or suffer the Allen Chastanet train wreck—and believe that a United Workers Party (UWP) defeat at the polls is a forgone conclusion; meaning, lambasting the prime minister and highlighting his perceived misdeeds are the totality of what some SLP politicians may think they have to do to win the general elections. If so, won’t they be guilty of underestimating Chastanet’s UWP and setting themselves up to suffer a repeat of 2016? It’s also troubling that SLP is giving the impression that the biggest problem facing St. Lucia is Allen Chastanet, and that getting rid of him will return the country to happy days.

Equipped with the Chastanet Ultimatum, SLP may erroneously believe that it doesn’t have to undergo the soul-searching required to ascertain what went wrong in 2016 (and thus avoid repeating history) when it allowed a disintegrating UWP to take over the reins of government, a party that hasn’t found its footing since the mythical John Compton, considered the father of the nation, gave up the party leadership (in 1997). Indeed, the only time that SLP defeated a Compton-led UWP was in 1979, when the SLP ticket presented an unprecedented number of college-educated candidates, not least among them, the great George Odlum, a candidate for St. Lucia’s person of the century, credited for raising the political and social consciousness of the nation to unprecedented heights.
The 2016 UWP that defeated the incumbent SLP was in such chaos that up to a few weeks before elections it was doubtful that Stephenson King and Peter Lenard Montoute, two key politicians and long-serving stalwarts of the UWP, would join the race.

SLP soul-searching is critical because, besides enabling a crumbling and thus ill-prepared UWP to form the 2016 government, in some ways Chastanet is Labor’s creation. Notice it was SLP that introduced the citizenship-by-investment program (CIP) along with its accompanying loopholes. Dr. James Fletcher, arguably the most stellar and nationally and internationally respected minister of the Kenny Anthony government era, has since expressed misgivings about having supported CIP. Notice that the Desert Star Holdings (DSH) agreement, which many viewed as being tantamount to giving the best of Vieux Fort to the Chinese and which Chastanet signed, was on the table long before the prime minister came to power.

Notice also that leading to the 2016 general elections the SLP government had left plenty of unfinished business. Even with a head start the government failed to complete St. Jude’s Hospital in four years, and it could have had an additional five months to work on the hospital had it not called early elections. The assignment of the contract for the Hewanorra International Airport PPP (public-private partnership) project was left hanging allowing Chastanet to abandon the concept. The construction of the Vieux Fort Administrative Complex was started only a few months before elections, making it possible for Chastanet to easily abort the project, which he did. It would appear that SLP left a vacuum which Chastanet was only too happy to fill, which according to many, particularly SLP supporters, has produced undesirable results.

As an example of one such undesirable result, consider the DSH racetrack, which was supposed to be a Teo Ah Khing project. However, after millions of the country’s monies have been poured into the project, after the Vieux Fort landscape has been damaged and compromised, and after it has become clear, and as both Allen Chastanet and Invest St. Lucia has intimated, this is a financially infeasible and unprofitable enterprise, one suspects that Teo Ah Khing has pulled out from the project. Nonetheless, one also suspects that in order to avoid losing face,Chastanet has had no choice but to continue unilaterally with it, leaving many to ask: since when is government in the business of horse racing?

The Chastanet Ultimatum also means that, other than to get rid of Chastanet, some SLP politicians may think that they don’t have to justify why St. Lucians, who soundly rejected them in 2016, should reelect them in 2020/2021. Nor do they have to tell us what they will do differently this time around to merit our vote. Nor how they will better position St. Lucia in this post-covid-19, rapidly technologically changing world. They seem to be displeased with DSH and outraged over Chastanet’s approach to CIP, but they haven’t told us (and may not see a need to) how they plan to modify these programs/projects or whether they plan to scrap them all together. They haven’t told us (and may not see a need to) what they are going to do for our communities; for each electoral district what are the five to ten areas of priority they want to focus on. It seems that this time around SLP’s manifesto may simply have Chastanet conducting a runaway train, with the byline: Don’t worry about what SLP will do for you, worry about what Chastanet will do to you.

This Time Around Don’t Let the Politicians off the Hook

In this political cycle, the St. Lucia Labor Party (SLP) campaign slogan seems to be: Chastanet has to go. However, as a Vieux Fortian, the question I have for the would be SLP Vieux Fort district rep and the would be SLP government is: what are you going to do for my beloved district? Meaning, other than replacing the Allen Chastanet administration, other than the Chastanet Ultimatum—Vote Labor or suffer the Allen Chastanet train wreck—what plans do you have for Vieux Fort. But I would like to go further (and I would like all districts/communities in St. Lucia to follow suit), and present what Vieux Fortians would like to see take place in their district, and I would like to hear what steps (not STEP—Short Term Employment Program) a SLP government would take to implement them.

For example, let me present what a thirty-year-old, born and raised Vieux Fortian, said when I asked him over the phone what more could Kenny Anthony have done for Vieux Fort. “Kenny could have (1) build a proper bus terminal, (2) a cruise ship berth, (3) a proper food market, (4) better sporting facilities and a sport academy, (5) modernize the Vieux Fort library, (6) bring certain government facilities to the South, like passport office, etc. (7) more manufacturing industries, (8) upgrade and revitalize Port Vieux Fort, (8) a greater focus on agriculture, (9) develop the waterfront as an attraction, (9) and the list goes on.”

Bear in mind this is just one person’s off-the-cuff list. But it suggests that each district has definite ideas of what they would like to see happen in their community. So I would like to call upon all communities and tell them, that although they may agree that Chastanet is unfit to rule and UWP has to go, don’t let SLP off the hook, don’t let them use the Chastanet Ultimatum to compel you, threaten you, intimidate you to vote them in. As a prerequisite for your vote, insist on what they will do for you. The John F. Kennedy credo—ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country—is highly commendable, one I took to heart since childhood, but, sadly, I have come to realize that in St. Lucia it may simply open you up for politicians to exploit you, to use you as their tool.

In this regard I would like to call upon Vieux Fort’s Friends of Labor and the great defender of Vieux Fort, the Vieux Fort Concerned Citizens Coalition For Change (VFCCCC), to remind them that now is the most advantageous time to present their development plan for Vieux Fort to the would be SLP administration and the would be SLP Vieux Fort South district rep. Now is the time to harvest your decades of steadfast loyalty to the Labor Party, which your district rep has called defiance. Now is the time to hold your support as an ultimatum to insist that they address the development needs of Vieux Fort as per your proposed development plan. For once, defy the history of Vieux Fort always being dictated to by outsiders, and grab the initiative. You have been so resolute, and rightly so, in opposition to the terms and conditions of the DSH agreement, which I think is atrocious to the interest of Vieux Fort and St. Lucia (see The Pearl of the Caribbean) but what guarantee do you have that your party will discontinue Chastanet’s Dubai Palm Island and Miami Beach dreams? After all, the agreement Chastanet signed was drafted under the Kenny Anthony Administration. This time around let us stop being subservient to the system, and insist that the system work for us.

The notion of supporting and voting for a political party no matter what (which Dr. Kenny Anthony calls defiance), even defending its misdeeds or remaining silent in the face of its misadventures is detrimental to the country, is tantamount to rewarding bad behavior; and, as any parent will tell you, the worst thing you can do in raising children is to reward their bad behavior. It is this that may have emboldened Allen Chastanet and given him cover to, according to SLP supporters, run roughshod over the country. And it is this that enables district reps to smugly ignore/neglect our development imperatives, knowing full well their votes are secure.

Therefore, don’t be like the avid Labor supporter who to my disbelieving ears (he was a teacher who headed labor unions) told me he doesn’t care about the issues, all he cares about is to give Chastanet enough rope to hang himself and for SLP to get back in power. What good, may I ask, is such mentality to your community, to your country.

I would also like to call upon the media and all 17 of St. Lucia’s electoral districts to insist on nationally televised and social media plug-in debates between the district rep candidates of each district, and a debate between the leaders of the contesting political parties. This way, side by side, we can compare what the candidates plan to offer their districts and the country. Its time we move beyond the noise, bluster and hype of political public meetings and zero in on the stuff that really matters—what exactly has the politicians instore for us.
For those interested in ideas on the development of Vieux Fort, please take a trip to the following website for a plethora of development ideas and plans for Vieux Fort: https://www.jakoproductions.com/vieux-fort/. And for ideas on national social and economic development, please visit: http://www.oursaintlucia.com/

As I have mentioned elsewhere, there is no shortage of development ideas/plans for Vieux Fort and St. Lucia, but there is a shortage of political will and desire. Of course, the politicians will complain that as a small, poor country our hands are tied; there is much we want to do, but so few means to do it with. But this is misleading at best. We are a poor country but within one or two terms in office our politicians have metamorphosed from hand-to-mouth bus drivers to multi-millionaires. And the idea is not to sit down and wait for the government to do for your community but to partner with your district rep and together find answers.

Once upon a time we all thought that the country was too poor to establish enough schools for all of our children to attend secondary school. Yet, no sooner had Dr. Kenny Anthony and his Labor Party come to power (in 1997) after a 33 year drought (interrupted by 3 years of ill-fated SLP rule), miraculously we had enough schools for everyone to attend secondary school; so much so that today we have an overcapacity of secondary schools. Now, looking back, one is almost tempted to say that the population was deliberately kept uneducated to serve the interest of the politicians. Think of the lost opportunity of generations upon generations of our citizens denied a secondary school education. What does this say? It says often our development or progress is not a matter of resources but a matter of will and desire. If our politicians were as keen to develop the country as they are keen to win our votes and engage in economic extraction then our country would be on a much higher plane.

Each year millions of dollars come to the country’s doorsteps in the form of development grants. To access these grants, we have to identify projects (often community based) and present proposals. Sadly, each year millions of these dollars remain untouched and return to their donors because we fail to prepare and present the requisite proposals. If so, how can we say that our biggest problem is limited resources?

Just as our once-upon-a-time shortage of secondary schools wasn’t a matter of poverty, St. Lucia’s economic stagnation isn’t a matter of limited resources nor a matter of a lack of knowhow. As Peter Prescod lucidly points out, “clear prescriptions” for the ills of our economy was articulated by Dr. Reginald Darious, former permanent secretary in the ministry of finance, which have since been echoed by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the IMF, and Dr. Kenny Anthony in his May 24, 2013 budget address. For details of the prescriptions, which I find both reasonable and doable, please follow David Prescod in the St. Lucia Voice Newspaper. None of the prescriptions have been implemented, not because of a lack of resources or knowhow, but because of a lack of will and/or desire.
Now, forgetting that they have been in power for three of the past five terms and for two of these terms they had an overwhelming majority, SLP politicians and supporters will tell you, don’t worry, we will deal with all this afterwards, let’s not fight among ourselves, the priority now is to get rid of the Allen Chastanet “monster”. Stop the Allen Chastanet train wreck.

But you know too well what happens when you allow politicians to use you as their tool. You help perpetuate a vicious cycle. Election time they come begging for your votes as if it is a matter of life and death, they come like Jesus Christ, so humble, so sincere, so generous, so they-have-seen-the-errors-of-their-ways, only to discard you and treat you with disdain as soon as they get in power, engage in economic extraction at your expense, and then after five years come begging yet again for your votes.

VFCCCC and other community groups, it is, as now, when they come begging for your vote, regardless of the Chastanet Ultimatum, that you can exert your greatest influence. Unless they can commit to a definite plan of action for your community and country, refuse them your support, refuse to attend their rallies, refuse to get on their platforms. Hold them up to the plan of action throughout their term in office. When they don’t uphold their end of the bargain, shame them if you have to. March against them if that’s what it takes. Placard them if that’s all you can do. Hold them accountable. The same way they are holding the Chastanet Ultimatum over your head, hold your conditional support as your bargaining chip. There is no other way.

The final part of The Allen Chastanet Ultimatum will be published later this week.

Dr. Anderson Reynolds

The author, Anderson Reynolds, was born and raised in Vieux Fort, St. Lucia, where he now lives. He holds a PhD in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida. He is the author of four books, including the memoir, My Father Is No Longer There (2019) and three award-winning and national best-selling books, namely the creative nonfiction, The Struggle for Survival: an historical, political, and socioeconomic perspective of St. Lucia (2003), and the novels The Stall Keeper (2017) and Death by Fire (2001). Dr. Reynolds’ books and newspaper and magazine articles have established him as one of St. Lucia’s most prominent and prolific writers and a foremost authority on its socioeconomic history.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the management and staff of St. Lucia News Online and its parent company, Andrews Media Services Corp.)

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