ON Tuesday April 28, 2015 the Government of Saint Lucia was caught flat-footed and completely off-guard by the opposition during the annual budget presentation. The opposition went dead silent as if to prove their silence outside parliament, is planned and deliberate. Understandably, silence is a tactic which the electorate fed on the Odlum/Josie pablum of the seventies and eighties disavow. Never mind the Book of Proverbs or, William Shakespeare or, even Charles Dickens; some people don’t get it that, there’s a time for everything under the sun – a time to build and a time to tear down; a time for crying and a time for laughing; a time for speaking and a time for …
After the Prime Minister had gone through his tiring list of promises and figures – the fourth in as many years – Mr. Speaker then put the motion to the House for its consideration; – to debate, to reject, or to choose silence. No one stirred – not a word, not a word, not a word; not even from the government benches. One expected his Ministers to jump in triumph singing hosannas to prop-up their shattered ‘leader.’ But the old cat and mouse game of government MP’s waiting silently for the opposition to first speak had finally backfired. It was time it did!
By closing off the debate and adjourning the House, Kenny Anthony had proven what everyone knows about him – he is lost! On seeing the silence of the opposition a wise prime minister would have suggested a brief recess, in order to consult his MP’s and the Leader of the Opposition – separately, of course. On resumption, his MP’s would then further explain the budget, even though the opposition still remained mute. By adjourning the House when he did, Kenny Anthony demonstrated disrespect for parliament and disdain for the people of Saint Lucia. He still arrogantly assumes that his majority gives him a right to do as he pleases and without consultation.
To say that Mr. Speaker and Prime Minister Anthony both looked stunned would be a severe understatement. The taciturn opposition surprised move worked. Hallelujah! Their silence caught everyone, except those who had helped plan it, flat footed and off guarded. Their silence took me back to former Prime Minister Allan Louisy who once said that, ‘Silence can be both a tactic and strategy.’ Who knew then the depths of the venerable past Prime Minister?
The reaction of the government was predictable. Their spin doctors rushed to the airwaves spinning their web of deceit while trying to explain ‘their’ government’s flat footedness, and gauche response to the opposition silence. Some media joined the frenzy. Did any of those who rushed to the media with their partisan (and personal) criticisms first determine the reason(s) for the opposition’s silence?
By refusing to follow Kenny Anthony’s script the opposition had finally found the courage to roar like lions. By their studied and determined silence they had struck a telling blow to Mr. Arrogance. That may well be the turning point in local politics. By their silence, the opposition may also have rendered more reasons for reflection on the island’s fledgling democracy, as the more dramatic and theatrical grabbing and throwing of ‘the Mace’ in a former time, had done.
I watched fascinated at the facial expression and the inelegant body language of a Prime Minister caught flat footed, at his own game. He seemed ill at ease. By comparison, his actions and utterances were quite unlike that of the deceased George Odlum, whose words appeared to exude from his entire being, moving crowds and parliaments alike, to savour his rich cadence and command of the language.
Perhaps Kenny Anthony has deliberately chosen to avoid imitating the man he once described as the Great Satan. We will never know the truth! Alas, Satan the original, whether great or small, had conquered the power of persuasion, before excessive pride did him in. Politicians ought to bear this in mind.
Every politician worth his salt aspires to a mellifluous flowing of words and complementing rhythms that captivate. He knows that words are the tools of his/her trade. But perhaps there are too many competing messages in poor Kenny Anthony’s confused mind to allow for beautiful speeches. Perhaps the Budget presentation with its mass of confusing figures, made him look lost. Whatever the reason, one hopes that the Prime Minister has finally come to accept that, there is no nice way to tell people who are hurting from his government’s excessive taxes and wrong-headed policies that, ‘it’s his fault!’ It’s easier to blame the world economy and everyone else, except himself and of his government, for the island’s economic misery.
The Prime Minister should have been seeking understanding and empathy, rather than baiting and taunting the opposition – and his own Ministers. It was a distractive side show, which did him no good. A better approach would have been to project equanimity rather than ridicule. A more studious and professional budget presentation would have accentuated the tough economic times and call the nation to a higher and nobler national cause. Hunger, joblessness and crime are real demons awaiting exorcism from a better prepared Prime Minister, exuding empathy and understanding.
Perhaps it is such lack of love and understanding which took the wind out of the budget presentation. The silence of the opposition merely accentuated that failure. It repudiated the government’s inability to deliver ‘better days.’ By their silence the opposition may have reminded the Parliament (and the electorate) that speech is silver and silence gold!
In the not too distant past Budget debates were high drama, rich eloquence, appropriate gestures and speeches which thundered as a hundred waterfalls and dropped a pebble in the placid pool, it had created. It was the best of times for many. These debates did not always end with a ‘hero’ walking into the glowing orange of a Caribbean sunset but, the island prevailed and people felt that something good was happening because the budget was about them – and theirs.
The politicians then seemed to have mastered the art of light footedness and the quick re-partite. Not so today! At its worst, no former Prime Minister ever behaved as if the Parliament of Saint Lucia was his play thing, to do as he pleased. Leaders understood that politics was also a game of musical chairs. Today, there is an arrogant and egotistical display which seems to assume that the Prime Minister’s chair was bequeathed to him by family. It may also explain his refusal to dine and socialize with other parliamentarians after he was kicked out of office in 2006.
This budget reminded me that politics often turns on unpredictability. The opposition’s silence had caught the government flat-footed and confused. The Prime Minister obviously does not share the ideals of the Westminster-style parliament demands. He craves a job for which he is temperamentally, unsuited.