News Americas, CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Mon. Feb. 3, 2014: The mystery continues. The silence is deafening. But a picture is worth a thousand words as the Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-300 remains grounded in parking lot one at Hewanorra International Airport (HIA), subjected to the elements of mother nature following the Christmas Eve Trough.
Information is not forthcoming, as usual, from an SLP administration that is not transparent and accountable to anyone except themselves. Not even in the recent address to the nation on Sunday, January 26th by Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony.
Though the prime minister’s address didn’t translate to one of his better performances; the search of “a year for renewal” was skilled, with poise and a tone of an act of repentance. Nonetheless, I take comfort that at least the SLP administration is coming to their senses in admitting to the reality that: “The national psyche is languishing without purpose or direction. We are in need of renewal, morally and intellectually. Ideas which we once shunned, we are now able to embrace.”
Clearly the prime minister has shown that he is not only very late to shed light on the fiscal challenges and the spillover effects of a volatile economy, but his ideas and solutions on the way forward are empty. Others conclude, how can one ask for renewal without accountability, restoration and a development plan going forward, with the personnel and capital already indentified? Moreover, his record has shown that he cannot attend to the big changes that are needed for the future development of Saint Lucia.
Essentially, time has run out, and that will give reason to be bold as a people and to rise up politically to rescue Saint Lucia.
The SLP, when in opposition, hammered the UWP, and rightly so, on the economy, opposed the government on their lack of reform, safety and security, their scandalous ways, and painted them unfit to govern Saint Lucia without a vision and a plan. But today, the agents of the SLP administration cannot take the heat, and choose to question the Lucian People’s Movement’s (LPM) loyalty to country and referring to others as “pseudo politicians.”
Simply put, no attempt to manipulating citizens’ understanding of the issues, their expression of ideas or to control the narrative from a socialist frame of mind will escape the rights to freedom of speech and from information dissemination simply to please a despondent SLP administration.
Clearly the winner will be truth itself. And I will draw from US secretary of state John Kerry: “We just can’t let one set of comments undermine that effort.”
In fact, to get an insight into the culture of reasoning that is at stake by the SLP administration that does not know who to turn to and what to do, consider what Senator Dr. James Fletcher, Minister for Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, had to say following the Christmas Eve Trough.
He identified vandalism of river monitors in Saint Lucia as a key factor affecting the ability of automatic data loggers to provide the necessary information on flood warnings during periods of heavy rains. The public, Fletcher stated, needs to understand the importance of having such equipment functional. Fletcher emphasized the need to evaluate existing early warning systems and, where necessary, replace them, in an effort to improve the reliability of such monitors. We also need to have better co-ordination among the various agencies.
Fletcher also cautioned against labelling the recent trough a “climate change event.”
“One of the things that climate change will cause to happen is more frequent extreme weather events. What we had on Christmas Eve was a trough. We have to shore up our defences, what we call climate change adaptation, to allow us to be able to respond better and make our communities more resilient,” he said.
Reading this left me with the thought process that Dr. James Fletcher was delivering a lecture on disaster preparedness, which is good. However, the doctor’s prescription is what the taxpayers of Saint Lucia require from the minister, and other relevant departments that are entrusted to carry out this function.
In this case, were the services delivered? And has this set off alarm bells. Will heads roll? Don’t hold your breath for too long. The minister is an appointed senator and, responsible to Kenny Anthony and not the people of Saint Lucia.
Then you have the National Emergency Management Organization’s (NEMO) Dawn French. Even if she denies it, the Saint Lucian public among others has a keen understanding to know that the emergency services were caught with their pants down, when the disaster struck. Dawn French has admitted that there was no pre-strike meeting of an impending disaster. She also stated that the director of met services had recently retired on December 19, 2013. And the radar in Martinique was down. The authorities in Martinique wasted no time to shoot down that theory, and went on to state that local decision-makers frequently use the public website of the Guadeloupe-based Metayo France in the Antilles as the main source of information.
The last time I checked, Saint Lucia was not a department of France, and so I question if the SLP administration is serious on matters of sovereignty, safety and security of nationals and the 315,000-plus, visitors that continue to grace the shores of Saint Lucia via two international airports, five ports and numerous secondary ports of entry.
Critics wonder if the prime minister would offer a rock-solid reasoning of the state of affairs leading up to the Christmas Eve Trough, but that was a long shot. The prime minister’s address in search of “a year for renewal “is absent of deliberation and substance.
Though I sympathize with the awkward position Saint Lucia is placed in, my mental sense was further disturbed reading what the Cabinet Secretary Darrel Montroupe had to say on the radar situation: “It is quite an expensive piece of equipment…. no system is foolproof. Glitches are to be expected but that contingency plans must be put in place to make regional radar systems more effective, the misunderstanding highlights the need for a more regional and global co-ordination among countries, not only during hurricanes but also during times of severe weather.”
Again, whose responsibility is it to have these systems ready and functional? Is this the level of competence the taxpayers of Saint Lucia are on the hook for? Is this the type of efficiency that is reflective of a government of accountability and transparency? Is this the situation that may have resulted in the confusion of not knowing if both airports we open or closed? Did flight VS-98 receive clearance to land?
There are numerous questions that will require answers in relation to the Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-300 episode that are not only worrying to local authorities but international operators was well; from runway safety, passenger security, airport communication, equipment readiness, weather analysis, airport operation; to better understand how the damage sustained to the aircraft came about.
This will be very revealing, as there are substantial cost implications, insurance liability and a potential economic impact based on the results of the investigation. Was anyone monitoring the river banks and the water ways that surrounds HIA? Who was and is responsible and was there a dereliction of duty?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is keeping an eye on the investigative report that could have huge economic implications for Saint Lucia.
But wait, I can hear the agents of the SLP administration rumble. Why can’t he wait and, why is he talking about it? But then, why should the agents get upset with the messenger! Here’s my take – earn your merit and get the job done, the people of Saint Lucia depend on you!
The Virgin Atlantic episode is a big issue but, as usual, it is not the people’s business until they are called upon to pay either for bad decision making or policy deliverables that are not in the best interest of the country.
With the eye of the world focused on the Virgin Atlantic report, investment dollars that Saint Lucia badly needs to drive enterprise and to create employment could dry up considerably. Segments of the US, UK and major Canadian cities that are supporting the island’s tourism product are closely monitoring the SLP administration’s policy direction.
Therefore it is in the best interest of the government of Saint Lucia to expedite remedial deficiencies without delay, and to remedy the institution of governance, and an aging bureaucracy. Otherwise the proposition of further stagnation of the Saint Lucian economy is not a matter that should be taken lightly.
With so much at stake, some are worried about the legal risk, and some fear for the tourism basket of goods and services that account for well over two-thirds of the Saint Lucian economy. Likewise, an SLP administration that is not conducive to attracting high quality investments and substantial capital flow.
But whatever standards that are displayed, it is important to remember that personnel determine policy. Ideally, one would have expected “a year for renewal“ to be used as an opportunity to restructure Saint Lucia’s economy with substantive proclamations that would lead to reconstruction of the deliverables that misfired on measuring tools; misfired on communication that delivered double talk on government policy, and to re-focus on a renewed policy on trade agreements, development issues and investment that is urgently required to bring jobs economic growth and development opportunities to Saint Lucian.
Therefore it is unacceptable that, after 34 years of independence, Saint Lucia is still in the wilderness as to its policy direction and a clear aspiration as to what the people, government and country seek to aspire as a sovereign state economic, socially and environmentally.
In delivering the fiscal reality, the prime minister’s unusual motionless posture was something of uncertainty. He looked in great pain and unable to advance the best socio-economic opportunities to lift the spirit of a resilient people, to help the economy create jobs, keep taxes low and to balance the budget, bringing to mind the unsettled environmental landscape and the fiscal reform measures that threaten the economy, in the face of promised better days.
Instead the speech more or less tried to solidify perceived partisan political advantage of the SLP socialist philosophy and that of a prime minister contemplating his legacy.
It is one more step that the SLP administration has lost its finesse, and in the process dealt the people of Saint Lucian a double red card. One at the polls with a “the blueprint for growth” and now with the double talk of “a year for renewal” without accountability, restoration and a redevelopment plan going forward.
But guess what, this may have just pass over the SLP administration’s head like a flying saucer!
In this era of transparency, the awkward variable put forward of vandalism of river monitors, radar was down, equipment was compromised or probably misfired communication, sounds too familiar. Six lives were lost; property was damaged and, in some cases, totally destroyed. People are homeless and jobless and the downward spiral of the economy that is prone to external shocks remains amorphous by incompetent SLP government of “Ti canal projects” and socialist ideology.
If these, among others, are not addressed with urgency, indications are that not only will it hurt the national interest via the withdrawal of development projects and capital flows but, sadly, Saint Lucia’s ability to define its socio-economic development for future generations looks dim like flambeau light.
While everyone awaits the Virgin Atlantic report and the official enquiry into the airport management and the infrastructural failings, e.g. blocked culverts following years of inattention that may have led to the flooding in the first place, this is not something that is going to go away anytime soon and, if insurance premiums are raised or FAA sanctions applied, airlift and airfares will become prohibitively expensive.
Saint Lucia can ill afford a flight advisory and the detrimental effects on the economy now and in the future.
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) www.lpmstlucia.com critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org