AFTER spending an enjoyable weekend with friends and family in Anse la Raye, I decided to take an evening drive back home to Vieux Fort. We made a brief stop at La Haut Plantation restaurant, overlooking Soufriere before heading home.
Upon arriving at the traffic lights near the Fire Station, I observed some bright lights and equipment on the Soufriere bridge which appeared was being demolished; an arrow pointed to the left. The main artery to Soufriere that I had traversed a few days earlier was no more, and we had to go through New Development to make our way home. There was no prior notice to road users.
It later dawned on me as I drove that the election bell of 2011 had been rung, after years of intense debate over the alleged indiscriminate spending of the ruling party. The spending on the Choc to Gros Islet main road, repairing of the Allan Bosuquet Highway, building of a ridiculous box culvert at AnseGollette, repairing of the Desruisseaux main road, the Daher Building purchase, Hewanorra Redevelopment Project and now a four million dollar bridge in the height of the tourist season, not to mention the eve of elections.
By the time I arrived home, social media was blazing with photos and comments about the bridge’s destruction. Again the opposing party added its voice to the debate and more particularly the exorbitant cost of the single lane bridge which spans about 60 feet over the Soufriere river on the eve of elections.
With the passage of time, it would be revealed that there were plans to replace some of our aging bridges which had served us well; a well built bridge has a fifty year life span. Their age and weaknesses were exposed after the passage of Hurricane Tomas in 2010, which caused major infrastructural damage and disruption to the island. Life for some in St.lucia will never be the same.
The elections were held peacefully on November 28, 2011 and the then opposition was elected to govern the country for a five year term. Upon the assumption of office, the citizenry was informed of the dire economic situation that the country was facing and that there was need for belt tightening. It would appear that overnight the promise of ‘better days’ had been an illusion and our civil servants were requested to bear some of the burden by taking a five percent pay cut. The unions in true fashion, were up in arms against the idea and threatened industrial action if government proceeded with the idea without the necessary protocols.
A similar event occurred in Grenada in 2005 when the government, led by Dr. Keith Mitchell, sought to impose a five percent reconstruction levy or tax on goods and services, to assist with its recovery effort after the island wide devastation caused by two hurricanes. The opposition in usual fashion, ably supported by the unions, rejected the call and planned mass protests if the government proceeded to implement the proposed measures. In the end, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet of Ministers agreed to a compromise of three percent for a three month period and thereafter an increase to the originally proposed figure. One should not oppose for opposing sake, the general good of our country must be paramount at all times.
The ruling government when in opposition critised the spending of $4 million on the Soufriere bridge and other infrastructural projects undertaken by the then government. Within months of assuming office, they too seemed to have embarked on a spending spree, $5 million on the Bonne Terre boxed culvert, $11 million on the Bois d’Orange Bridge, $29 million on the BanseLaborie road, $6 million on the Clarke Street, Vieux Fort Main Road, 23 million for the Choc bridge, $60 million was approved for a Resource Center in Vieux Fort and most ludicrous of, all an office costing $40 million for the Prime Minister near a hairpin bend at La Toc. I am yet to find anyone in or out of government to defend this decision.
The three northern bridges down for replacement were all over 30 years old and were made of corrugated iron culverts about seven feet in diameter. Is there any sound economic or engineering reason why they were not replaced with a twelve foot culvert given the advances made in technology and engineering to date, not to mention our need for belt tightening at this time?
I am convinced that larger culverts in the three locations mentioned would save the tax payer millions that could be used elsewhere for the general good of our country. My rough estimates revealed that the Bonne Terre culvert with four lanes would cost about $1 million, a four lane Bois d’ Orange culvert would cost about $1.2 million and a four lane Choc culvert would cost $1.5 million.
The question is why cause our tax payers to spend the additional $34.8 million which could have been utilized in other areas demanding immediate attention?
Our country, as far as I am aware, has no natural resources other than its people and the land. It therefore baffles me to see that our future generations are being saddled with such a debt burden when prudence should be exercised.
A country with visionless leaders is doomed to perish and unfortunately most of the current crop of politicians are only concerned about themselves, and lack the vision and leadership qualities to take our country forward. This selfish disposition is mirrored through every strata of our society hence our current predicament. The wrong values are being inculcated in our younger and impressionable generation; our morals are being compromised.
I proffer here a few meaningful undertakings that a caring government with vision could undertake with the $34.8 million savings by using culverts along the Gros Islet highway:
The agricultural sector would welcome a $3 million injection which could be used to retool and educate our farmers in our belated effort at reducing our exorbitant food import bill, intercropping while rehabilitating our banana fields with effective marketing assistance.
The Victoria Hospital would welcome a $3 million injection for the purchase of medication, beds and other much needed equipment.
The police force would welcome a $1 million injection for purchasing much needed vehicles and equipment for its day to day operations.
Some of the savings could be used to add an additional two kilometers to the four lane road up to the Bois d’Orangebridge to relieve daily gridlock.
Alternatively, the realized savings could be used to convert the Blue Coral white elephant into a downtown hotel and conference center which would bring much needed life to our dying city.
Some of the funds could be used to construct a two or three storey bus terminal in the gardens to relieve the congestion in our city streets.
The tourist board would also welcome a $1 million dollar injection to go towards making St. Lucia the Conference Tourism Capital of the Caribbean by setting up a Caribbean Convention Bureau. These are but a few of the things a prudent administrator with vision could have done with the savings accrued at a time when belt tightening is needed.
Our current and future leaders must be forever cognizant of our limited resources and always endeavor to make prudent spending decisions that can assist with reducing the hemorrhaging which continues to afflict our beloved country.