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Can we not learn something from St Lucia?


Over the years we have been hearing complaints about the state of Kingstown, about the prevalence of crime and the fact that criminals now operate fearlessly in broad daylight and even in well populated areas.{{more}}

We certainly have not forgotten the robbery and shooting of a policeman in the area between the Post Office and the First Caribbean International Bank; neither in broad daylight, too, a daring robbery on back street near to the Bank of St Vincent and the Grenadines, a shot passing alarmingly near to calypsonian Defoe who sells phone cards in the vicinity. The criminals now operate with seemingly absolute freedom and lack of fear. Noises are heard about the playing of loud music and at least, recently, there has been some attempt to tackle this. We keep complaining about drivers on the road, certainly not limited to mini-van drivers because there are some absolutely crazy drivers who operate as though they should be the only ones on the road.
The state of Kingstown that we talk about occasionally involves sadly still, people urinating anywhere they feel like, vendors mushrooming by leaps and bounds. The economic situation is in a total mess and the unemployment problem has crept into and perhaps bears some responsibility for the kind of frustration that feeds crime. A gentleman told me that if he goes into Kingstown and someone steps on his toes, he will immediately apologise, for everyone now appears to be on edge. A simple argument could easily lead to death. To top all of this is a heightened sense of irresponsibility and a selfish and ‘don’t care’ attitude. It is a frightening situation where some people are even afraid to go out and certainly not to be in crowds, lest they happen to be in the right place at the wrong time.

Why am I saying all of this? First of all, we appear helpless and are even beginning to feel that we have lost control. Those who offer solutions often fail to realise that we have gone beyond what might have been conceivable years ago. The presence of more police on the streets is necessary, but I doubt if by itself it will put a stop to anything. Others have been asking for volunteers to clean up Kingstown. I am not sure if they have thought of what they will do the following week when things get back to square one. My point is that the solutions are not easy ones and moreover we should not be looking at these matters in isolation, for they probably feed on the same things. I was in a conversation with friends last week, talking about the state of Kingstown. There were many suggestions thrown out. Then, one of the friends who had been a part of that conversation sent me a day or two after, a news item from St Lucia. It was captioned “Vision for the Future – National Commission Launched.” We agreed that they were moving on the right track.

A National Commission, made up of 14 St Lucians with the objective of establishing a 20-year vision and development plan for the island had been launched. I was impressed when I saw that the head of the Commission was agreed on jointly by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition. The piece went on to state that St Lucia was undergoing rough economic times marked by increasing debt and unemployment and with the “main productive sectors enjoying fluctuating fortunes.” It stated, furthermore, that problems persisted in the social sector “many of which are believed to be closely linked to the downturn in the economy.”
St Lucia is looking at its problems not as isolated ones. The Government sees the links and realises that they feed on one another and are part of a broader template. The Prime Minister indicated that the process was geared “to build sustainability, to achieve self-reliance and self-determination and earn the kind of international respect and cooperation that comes from the principle management of our affairs.” Prime Minister Anthony certainly has his own set of issues in St Lucia where the politics of the country is concerned but there is a kind of political sanity coming from him that is admirable. He seemed to have learnt from his last stint on the Opposition benches and appears now to be a much more sober individual.

This is certainly the way to go, developing a vision for the future of the country, something not to be done in the short term, five-year slots which our politicians fancy, but longer term. The fact that the Commission appears to be broad-based and that the Government and Opposition agreed on the selection of the head of the Committee augurs well for its future. This does not mean that you sit back and wait on this 20-year vision. You have to continue to tackle the problems that you face. What has been set in motion is a collective approach. Once there is that vision, then it is easier to plan, because some of the solutions are not short- term ones and you have to know where you want to go.
This appears to be the way we should go. Once the way forward comes out of a collective approach, then it is easier to get the people to support and defend it. Would it not be good to see our Government and Opposition agreeing on something like this? Or are we too sunk into our ridiculous posturing that the economy has never been better since the 1990s and that things are relatively good, with only a few hiccups here and there. What is needed is a sense of maturity and love for country. Then we can begin to put in place what is necessary.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.