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Interesting challenges for new Lucian government

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St Lucians are beginning to settle to their new political reality; life under a new Prime Minister, though not under a completely new government. Included in the new Cabinet, announced by PM Allan Chastanet this week, are several Ministers who had served previously under former Prime Minister Stephenson King, himself a senior Minister in Chastanet’s Cabinet. It is not often that one experiences a former party leader, ousted by his successor, yet willing to serve under him for the apparent good of the nation.{{more}} Mr King must be complimented for this demonstration of statesmanship.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the opposition Labour Party, there has also been a leadership change, with Dr Kenny Anthony giving up his post as party leader and long-time Deputy Phillip Pierre succeeding him, at least until the party’s next Convention later this year. His will be, the task of not only overseeing the post-election “licking of wounds”, but more importantly laying the groundwork for the rebuilding process which the SLP must go through if it is to survive and be relevant to St Lucian politics.

The Cabinet choices make interesting reading. In the first place, 10 of the 11 elected Parliamentarians, save and except former SLP Parliamentarian Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, have been appointed Ministers, along with five Senators. The non-appearance of her name on the Cabinet list has led to much on-going speculation in St Lucia as to what role she will play in the new government.

Interestingly, and somewhat strangely, the new Prime Minister has added the External Affairs Ministry to his other portfolios of Finance, Economic Growth, Job Creation and the Public Service, leading to some predictions that Flood-Beaubrun may yet be named to the External Affairs Ministry, as it is rare to have the Prime Minister also in charge of foreign affairs which requires much external travelling.

Also of much interest, is the adoption by PM Chastanet of what seems to be a new trend in the region, inventing grand terms for ministries which are in reality mere functions under bigger portfolios. We here in SVG for instance, have noticed PM Gonsalves’ use of such terms as “National Reconciliation” in his choice of ministries, with not even public servants having a clue as to where this fits in the scheme of things.

Chastanet is playing this ball too. His full portfolio is Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Economic Growth, Job creation, External Affairs and the Public Service, but one of his senior Ministers, Guy Joseph, has responsibility for Economic Development. One can reasonably ask therefore whether Economic Development does not include or, indeed assume, economic growth and job creation.

Similarly, another senior Minister, Leonard Montoute, has the grand titles of Minister of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth, Sports and Culture. What are the functions to be performed under “Equity, Social Justice and Empowerment”? Couldn’t the PM just say that his government would be based on the cross-cutting principles of equity, social justice and empowerment?

The new government faces formidable challenges, based on its own campaign about the economy. St Lucia used to be envied by a lot of its neighbours but the global economic malaise has hit it just like the rest of us. Pointing to the hardships facing the St Lucian people, the now governing United Workers Party (UWP) had identified the imposition of the VAT tax as being a major problem. The ULP has promised to reduce VAT in the first place and to eventually eliminate it entirely, a promise that PM Chastanet has pledged to keep.

It will be interesting to see, in the context of global and regional trade realities, how he will be able to do this and yet secure sufficient revenue to keep the ship of state afloat. It is a populist demand which goes down well with the electorate but which would be difficult to implement without other forms of taxation.

Another matter of regional interest will be St Lucia’s position on LIAT. Allan Chastanet is a long-time critic of LIAT, a proponent of his country seeking a non-LIAT solution to regional air travel. If this position becomes government policy, how is it going to square with other OECS states with strong stakes in LIAT?

Finally, to the credit of the new St Lucian leader, he has been able to overcome very personal attacks in the election campaign, including those of a racial nature. These backfired as did others against Dr Anthony in the past and against PM Gonsalves here in SVG. Incidentally, for the new “Black Power” advocates here, celebrating Chastanet’s victory, how does it square up to be welcoming Chastanet as Prime Minister, when one contends that Ralph Gonsalves is “too white” for such a position?

Talk about contradictions?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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