R. Rose
January 14, 2014

Christmas flooding creating political storms

The unseasonal weather which wrought so much havoc Christmas Eve night in St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines is leaving its mark on the political landscape in both countries. The response to the floods has been the subject of criticism in the two sister states and is generating political storms where relations between Government and Opposition are concerned.{{more}}

In St Lucia, a row has broken out at leadership level within the opposition United Workers’ Party (UWP), following the acceptance by Leader of the Opposition Stephenson King, of an invitation from Prime Minister Kenny Anthony to attend a meeting to discuss a national response to the damage caused by the flooding. King, who was succeeded as Prime Minister by Anthony after his party’s defeat at the last general elections, is the constitutional leader of the Opposition in Parliament, having won his seat. However, last year his UWP elected businessman Allen Chastanet as Leader of the party, though Chastanet has no seat in Parliament.

For some time since, a rift has been growing between both men, with speculation of the development of factions within the UWP. According to the St Lucian newspaper, THE VOICE, “King’s acceptance to attend a meeting with NEMO (National Emergency Management Organisation) called by Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, without first informing Chastanet, seems to have been the final straw which pushed Chastanet into accusing King of hurting the UWP.” The UWP leader has written a strong letter of reprimand to King, which has made its way into the public domain.

Chastanet, while conceding that King did call him to brief him about the meeting, said that this “was after the meeting” and contends that the UWP executive should have decided collectively “who should have attended on the party’s behalf.” This has been rejected by King, who said that as parliamentary Leader of the Opposition, he was entitled to respond to the invitation.

The situation in St Lucia is in contrast to that which obtains in the politics of its southern neighbour, St Vincent and the Grenadines. Here, the row is between Government and Opposition and revolves around a very different scenario – the lack of an invitation from Government to the Opposition to participate jointly in any post-disaster recovery plans. Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace has chastised Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves for not inviting him to participate in any recovery discussions at the national level.

Two weeks ago, this column lamented the single-party approach by Government. In the issue of January 3, I wrote, “… what a message would have been given to our divided people if, in a tour to assess damages, both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader would be jointly heading it.” Critical comments have also been made in the media, while last week, the People’s Movement for Change (PMC) made a public reappearance and made a call for a bipartisan approach to the relief and recovery efforts.

Sentiments similar to my comment quoted above were made by PMC chairman Oscar Allen in saying:

“Can you imagine how much animosity would be dissipated if Vincentians saw the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader travelling around the country together, examining the damage and speaking to them together in true and genuine concern for their well-being ….” It would have been most interesting if Gonsalves had issued an invitation to Eustace, Kenny Anthony style, interesting indeed, given the history of reaction on the part of the Opposition to initiatives from the Government. The most recent instance was its reaction to Gonsalves’ attempted nomination of deputy Opposition Leader Godwin Friday for the post of Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly.

It is painful that both sides are apart on such a vital national issue, Gonsalves calling himself “General” and charging that all “must report for duty.” This has irked Eustace, quite predictably, and he has in turn accused the Prime Minister of demonstrating on a number of occasions that he is not interested in any unified approach with the Opposition.

So,p the divide continues, even in times of national disaster. Neither party seems prepared to eat humble pie and put the interests of Vincentians first. If we can’t unite at a time like this, what hope is there for us?

Whether St Lucia or SVG, whether it is Anthony and King or Gonsalves and Eustace, we must go beyond political boundaries in order to save the nation. We can’t have partisan relief and recovery efforts, with each side with an eye to the next general elections. Those are the dangers that the Constitutional Review Commission warned about as being inherent in our political system, but detrimental to our march forward. We have not heeded the message and are paying for it now.

Renwick Rose is a community activist

and social com- mentator.