Letters & Opinion

PM Chastanet Is Bad News For Saint Lucia!

By Stephen Lester Prescot
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I FELT that way from the onset when Allen Chastanet became Political Leader of the UWP and could possibly become Prime Minister of our country. My position was based on his dismal, money-wasting performance as Minister of Tourism under the Stephenson King administration. As it turns out, after watching the Prime Minister in office for the past two years, most Saint Lucians are now silently whispering or loudly echoing my long-held view of him.

Regrettably, I had opined back then that Chastanet was nothing more than a loud-mouthed salesman with a recognisable surname in Saint Lucia — compliments of his successful businessman father. Indeed, this still remains the most respectful and politically-correct way that I can describe him.

It came therefore as no surprise to me when, after holding office for just over a year, some people referred to him as “a not too bright Prime Minister.” A Saint Lucian holding a regional position told me she had heard and seen enough at regional and international gatherings to also characterise our Prime Minister in such a manner.

For example, one individual quoted his Miami conference statement that his country’s patrimony is really its credit rating, a statement which had left the region’s people in a state of disbelief. The same sentiments were reportedly expressed by some US officials in Barbados after he told a Barbadian reporter that the US government was deporting about 800 criminals yearly to Saint Lucia. The actual figure is closer to the single digit, eight (8).

Interestingly, Mr Chastanet’s most daring, unsubstantiated claim, which he has stated repeatedly, is that government should be run as a business. This hollow argument, as far as I am aware, is espoused only by Allen Chastanet and no one of any worthy repute in the disciplines of politics, economics, finance, or philosophy. Where did the Prime Minister get this theory from? Donald Trump?

I can mention many more embarrassing gaffes which he has uttered, as well as unconventional display of behaviour and broken promises to the Saint Lucian people. For instance, it has always been common practice that heads of missions are appointed by the government of the day. Since Independence in February 1979, when Saint Lucia assumed responsibility for its foreign affairs, Sir John Compton, Sir Allen Louisy and Dr Kenny Anthony have made those appointments.

However, unlike any opposition leader before him, Allen Chastanet felt the need to attack serving diplomats. This was a serious breach of sensible behaviour and convention. Diplomats are mandated to implement policy directives from the government in office, without bringing their offices into disrepute and cause international embarrassment to their country. As foreign based state representatives, diplomats are precluded from even defending themselves from political attacks. That said, all political parties have kept such persons out of our contentious local politics.

The UWP under Mr Chastanet did not care to uphold that very important principle. He personally joined his party hacks in launching attacks on some foreign-based diplomats. The UWP accused those diplomats of pocketing huge remuneration packages in the tune of over $1 million each per year. The party ran a prime-time add with those accusations in June 2015, the same evening of the budget presentation. As it turned out, which they knew at the time, those accusations had no basis in fact. Those were fabrications intended to stir-up anger among the populace at a time of tight fiscal measures. I call it blatant dishonesty on the part of PM Chastanet while breaking with sensible convention.

Then, just a few days ahead of the June 6, 2016 general elections, Chastanet told the local press that the foreign missions were loaded with political appointees. If elected to office, he said, he would replace all mission heads with career public servants as charge’ d’affaires and reduce the staff at the missions to save the country $5 million per year. Those savings would go towards reducing the country’s debt burden. Under his stewardship, he promised, the country would never see political appointees as heads of missions.

Today, every single mission head in London, Toronto, New York, Washington, Miami, Havana, and Taipei is a political appointee and not a career public servant. Needless to say too, his administration has not replaced any mission head with a charge’ d’affaires.

In addition to those appointments, the staffing at some missions has been expanded to include the wife of a minister at the Miami Consulate. Most new mission heads have been given a higher remuneration package than their predecessors and, as a consequence, every foreign mission’s budget has increased significantly.

This is what Saint Lucians got from PM Chastanet in fulfilment of his election promises on that subject. He has never explained to the nation his contradictory actions vis-à-vis his public promises that were also documented in his party’s manifesto.

In two years, the Chastanet administration has been unable to complete the Soufriere Town Square, but has found the funds to build a community centre and sporting facility at Sarrot and a concrete road in Dugard, Ti Rocher to the tune of $900,000 and $18 million, respectively. Doesn’t that speak to executing his political priorities instead of prudent spending of state funds, as funding was secured and readily available to complete those now ill-fated projects.

No good reason has been provided by Prime Minister Chastanet for stopping the construction of the Administrative Complex in Vieux Fort – a project which the southern constituencies had waited years for, to relieve them of the burden of having to travel to Castries to access the majority of government services and documentation which they required. The senseless stoppage of the Administrative complex was done at a cost of over ten million dollars ($10million), which had already been spent on site preparation and other preliminary works.

At the same time, we have been given dozens of questionable and conflicting reasons for not bringing St Jude Hospital to completion — although this is a big project, financing had been secured to bring it to near completion.

What are the reasons for not completing a relatively small project like the Soufriere Town Square which was 85% complete? Is it that too much money and time has been expended? Too much money is needed to complete it? A better location has been identified? Are there major design and functionality deficiencies? Will it take less time and money to build a new town square at a new location? Are there no DCA approved drawings? Or proper approvals by the Fire Department?

Like the St Jude Hospital Reconstruction project, is it the combination of all of the above?

The list of stopped projects and the amount of wasted public funds are too many to deal with in this article. I have mentioned a few projects just to illustrate Mr Chastanet’s deliberate “stoppage” policy that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars in wastage, as well as his less than truthful fabrications to justify his actions.

In 2016, backed by rich, self-serving foreign financiers and assisted by unsuspecting party supporters, Mr Chastanet was able to use his social standing to get elected as Prime Minister. But it takes much more than that to govern at such a strategic level.

It is now evident, even to those who had doubts but were willing to give him a chance, that Mr Chastanet does not possess the requisite intelligence, sensibility and dexterity to do a good job as Prime Minister. He has tried to bluff his way through, but it can’t and won’t work. His administration refuses to hold any meaningful consultations with key stakeholders on critical policy issues in health, education and tourism, among other sectors. His governance is devoid of any modicum of transparency and accountability which are principles owed to the people of Saint Lucia.

This is the simple reality facing us in Saint Lucia today. We must accept this unfortunate situation and deal with it. We must act with alacrity to deliver our country from this expensive misadventure.

Allen is bad news for Saint Lucia!!!

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