It’s been some time since I’ve penned an open letter but the performance from our leaders over the last couple months has shown the tectonic storm we are facing with the glaring lack of leadership before us in the region.
The political, economic, educational, social, legal, and democratic institutions all around us are failing or simply just not what we thought them to be. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed one particularly shocking thing about our economic environment in the Caribbean: we have been operating on a razor-sharp edge. Despite how shiny and substantial tourism was, just within a couple of months into this disease and the industry was headed for bankruptcy.
This is no different for us in Saint Lucia and I’m not here to cast blame on any political party for the mismanagement of the country’s finances but we must seize this opportunity to hold our leaders accountable to any decision which they make to move us out of the storm.
Judging from the national address this past Sunday by our prime minister, this administration has left us wondering whether we were listening to details on the economy or a eulogy. A leader of a country should unite us across constitutional rights enshrined in the constitution, despite our differences of sex, gender, religion, economic and social characteristics. The display of the sign of the cross by the prime minister distanced himself from many and insulted those of other faiths in the country or no religiosity; it also laid question to the separation of church and state.
In this light, our leaders must show the vision needed to take us away from this economic cliff, they must embody the serious leadership qualities it requires to reason with us, citizens, and have the frank political will to implement the tough decisions of this time. This didn’t seem apparent at this week’s debate on the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure 2020/2021 in the House of Assembly which left much for the imagination. It is for this reason that I ask that we shouldn’t be blinded by the reality around us and recognize that we have a formidable task ahead of us. We must unite and find a way to ensure that over the next two months, until the end of June, we are not working towards a “business as usual” model but one that is transformative and aware of the inequality and ecological challenges in the near future.
It is exhausting each year to read a 700-page document to understand what is forthcoming from any sitting government, but it was insulting that neither side of the House had the good faith to mention that this fiscal year, ministers would be accepting a 60% salary increase. You see, many on both sides will justify the pay increase from $93K to $153K but why stay silent during the debate? When the vast many have been laid-off, face reduced income, and just have no idea where their next income will be generated, you all said not a word, not a word! This is all against the backdrop, that the disbursement of money from the stabilization package to the neediest has been similar to the drought we are facing. It is disingenuous and insulting to the people of Saint Lucia, to say nothing.
For the last couple of weeks, we have been hearing the drum calls for the reopening of the economy.
I don’t think we underestimate the challenges ahead of this “economic recovery committee” which comprises the private sector council, the unions, and the Opposition but we demand that this public body provide the names of its members, provide notice of its meetings, provide access to those meetings to the press, and make the minutes of the meeting public. We still live in a democratic country, which many of us value and expect the values of accountability and transparency to be at the forefront even during a State of Emergency.
This brings me to my final area of concern. Why haven’t the media been granted the ability to attend daily briefings or ask questions in a contained setting? Now more than ever your communication team should be engaging and ensuring the freedom of the press is enshrined in the COVID-19 communication response. Instead, we are spoon-fed information from the Government Information Service (GIS). We do not live in a country where the only source of information should come from the state-run media and not allowed the rigors of democratic institutions and values of transparency and accountability. Can we free the press?
It would be remiss of me not to mention that the budget was as exciting as watching paint dry and failed to inspire, innovate and indicate how the youth of today and tomorrow will take this country into the future. It’s the same ole “business as usual” models and not once did I see a project which would invest millions into the every-day lives of those in the creative industries and showcase the artists, writers, designers and visionaries just waiting to secure capital to become self-determined, independent and emancipated from being undervalued.
Its time to re-group and reframe our economies and I trust we as Saint Lucians will take the time over the next coming months to pay close attention to the decisions of all our leaders.
A luta continua
Akim Ade Larcher