“Some people think life is a dream/
So they making matters worse.” — Crisis, by Bob Marley
Of all the government ministers we currently have, I find it easier extracting a comment or two from just a few, especially when the information being sought is very important. Agriculture Minister Moses Jn. Baptiste, Youth and Sports Minister Shawn Edward, Commerce Minister Emma Hippolyte and Energy and Science Minister Dr. James Fletcher are but the only ones who seem to have an idea of what’s really going on in their respective ministries.
The other ministers don’t even bat an eye before telling me – and I’m assuming other reporters as well – that the technical people in their respective ministries might be best suited to speak on the matter, be such matter minor or major. Maybe they don’t know it by now, but invariably the technical people the media often get referred to have the faintest idea as to what they can speak on for fear of jumping the gun or stepping over the minister’s fine line. Maybe those technical people need to brief their ministers more often.
If one were to quiz the Agriculture Minister randomly about what’s being done in his ministry at the moment, don’t be surprised if he went on uninterruptedly for about fifteen minutes giving a summary of initiatives being undertaken as well as the challenges his ministry faces. The Youth and Sports Minister will not hesitate to tell you that he’s hoping the Prime Minister graciously increases his ministry’s budget during the next fiscal cycle. The Commerce Minister will try her best to explain what her ministry is doing to ease the squeeze of doing business here. Last – but not least – Energy and Science Minister Dr. Fletcher appears to be always expecting the media being around the next corner waiting to ambush him: he’s always prepared with a clearly-articulated narrative on how to keep the country green or pursuing renewable energy resources.
The other ministers, however, don’t seem to be at liberty most of the time to give even a brief comment on matters affecting their ministries. Ironically, these ministers are the very people who literally beg reporters to use their open channel of communication before reporting untruths. The very ministers who advocate transparency and accountability on one hand refuse to give an iota of information to the press when asked. Quite often, it seems that authorities here appreciate responding to rumours spread by some media outlets and social media rather than being proactive in the first instance.
What is interesting is that information the media has been begging for over the past few weeks is now coming to the fore via certain public officials. Invest Saint Lucia has now made it clear that due diligence was done into the operations of Lambirds Academy. As to why hundreds of students were on their way here to occupy classrooms that were designed for way less than that is still a question left on the clothesline to dry. Education Minister, Dr. Robert Lewis, also came out spitting fire on the media in the past few days, accusing the Fourth Estate of spreading half-truths about the truths many Saint Lucians are desperately waiting on to come to light.
It would be difficult at this point to point any accusatory finger at any person or institution regarding the Lambirds Academy matter. However, in a society whose culture has become increasingly suspect of un-kosher-like behaviour from politicians, saying nothing when something smells really acrid is almost tantamount to the first stage of a cover-up. I mean, when was the last time you heard anything about the case file for the Review of the Financial Operations of Town, Village and Rural Councils completed in September 2013 that was given to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)? One can easily expect a similar fate for the IMPACS Report that has ostensibly given the DPP more work than her crammed office can handle.
Sometimes I get the impression that the United Workers Party (UWP) messed up so badly during their last term that the current administration deems it a tacit carte blanche to get away with minor infractions. That a former group of UWP Cabinet colleagues could sit in chambers and dole out tourism-related perks to a sitting minister actually warranted an inquiry before Saint Lucians got some truth speaks dog-eared volumes of a system that suggests it is working when it clearly doesn’t. We certainly didn’t like politicians treating us like adversaries then and we definitely don’t need that now. But no matter what the crisis is, that “Y’all didn’t hold them up to scrutiny” card seems to fly.
Since this whole Lambirds Academy fallout began on February 27, there has been just one press conference on the matter. That press conference was held on March 3 at Chesterfield where Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police, Frances Henry, gave sparse information to the press. Since then, the press has had to play catch-up, interviewing the stranded students whose pronouncements seem to anger local authorities hell-bent on not saying much, anyway. Maybe it would have to take about 60 Indian, Filipino and Nepalese students stuck here trying to sneak off to Martinique by boat and having their boat capsize mid-way to get authorities to have a serious sit-down with the press instead of dispatching pithy press releases.
The whole situation continues to take a turn for the worse. Now seven students have been reported missing since last weekend. Police said yesterday that the students have been detained by Grenadian police. The plot on this whole Lambirds Academy matter thickens by the day and the media will continue to follow the script as best we can.
If you asked me, the last thing we need is another government minister coming out on television venting his or her frustration that the media is just there to make the government look bad. We’re used to the accusation by now, so we’re just doing our part to prove our accusers wrong.