By Dolores Balderamos Garcia

Thursday, May 2, 2019

I was in Saint Lucia recently for a conference. It was the second time that I have been to that fair Eastern Caribbean isle. The first time was for a meeting of officials who were working to combat HIV and AIDS. I landed there around 2004 or 2005 at the island’s smaller airport in the northern part of the island, where flights of now cash-strapped LIAT and other sub-regional airlines usually arrive. The international airport, the Hewanorra International Airport lies near the southern tip of St. Lucia, and it caters to flights of larger airlines like British Airways, American Airlines, Delta, Jet Blue and other large carriers. Hewanorra is where our American Airlines flight from Miami arrived. On our descent I was able to catch a glimpse of the famous Pitons, the twin, beautiful peaks which rise out of the ocean near the southwest of the island.

St. Lucia is all of 238 square miles in size. It is twenty seven miles long and fourteen miles wide, and it boasts much natural beauty as a volcanic island of the Eastern Caribbean chain. It apparently changed hands between the French and the British some fourteen times in its colonial history, the sheltered harbour at Castries, the island’s capital to the northwest, being the main reason, since all the ships of each colonial power could fit in the deep and scenic harbour there.

Like so many other small island developing countries, St. Lucia has its fair share of challenges. I sadly experienced one of these in my experience at the Hewanorra Airport. The arrival was not bad, but our departure from the island one rainy afternoon was an awful experience. Check- in counters were teaming with tourists and other visitors, and the departure area was in my view dangerously overcrowded. Every single seat was occupied, and one could barely move without bumping into another person. There must have been over a thousand departing passengers crammed into a space that was meant for perhaps two or three hundred persons. The ladies bathroom was so small and narrow that one had to crawl over other women to get to the toilet stalls, and the space between these stalls and the wash basins was woefully narrow. The terrible overcrowding was, I think, a terrorist’s dream, and something needs to be done post haste.

Now I know that we are having the same problems at our own international airport. We have heard horror stories of hundreds of arriving passengers having to stand in line for hours because only eight immigration officers are on hand to process hundreds and hundreds of people. This too needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.

In St. Lucia the Prime Minister, Allen Chastenet, has just presented the 2019-2020 budget, which does call for expansion of the Hewanorra Airport among various other infrastructure projects.

The Opposition leader, Philip Pierre, has blasted the budget, saying that he has no confidence in the estimates as there is no hope to change the lives of St. Lucians. There is very low growth in the economy, and public trust in the government has long gone, he said. An unprecedented number of government contracts are being awarded without contractors being invited to tender, and waste and graft are rampant. He went so far as to accuse the Prime Minister of Economic Treason, saying that government’s priorities are skewed. Another Opposition member questioned the social cost of the government’s plans and condemned the Chastenet administration for a woeful lack of fiscal responsibility. Former Prime Minister Kenny Anthony in his presentation in parliament lamented that the budget “has no soul. It has no character. It has no moral compass.”

Oh my !! Does all of this sound familiar ?? Belize has recently gone through the budget exercise and debate, and similarly our Opposition has condemned the Barrow government for misplaced priorities and corruption, just as in St. Lucia. We are quite rightly pointing out that our budget does not address the social infrastructure that is desperately needed. Of course airports must be expanded, but focus must go to the well-being of all our people too. We are being told by the Ministry of Health that we must place a moratorium on dying until the morgue space at the Southern Regional and other hospitals can be increased. And yet the government is happily voting multi, multi millions of dollars for roads and highways almost to nowhere.

We have to wonder why it is that there are such similar experiences in St. Lucia and Belize.

The answer my friends must lie in venality and a complete lack of vision to do what is right by our peoples. I would therefore submit that our Prime Minister, like Allen Chastenet, has committed Economic Treason. Watch it and analyse it, and you will no doubt see !!