By Earl Bousquet
Two weeks short of its first 100 days in office, the government of Saint Lucia continues to face the usual scrutiny of any new administration – except in this case, prime minister Philip J. Pierre is facing added scrutiny, not only because he isn’t a lawyer or doctor, or because he’s someone so-many have learned to both love-and-hate, praise-and-criticize.
Instead, it’s (mostly) because he’s not the usual politician – or prime minister.
In his first 86 days in office, prime minister Pierre has been praised and dissed almost equally (depending on where one’s ears are aired), supporters and critics just-as-divided over why they like or dislike him and/or his style of government.
The new prime minister – and old hand at winning elections – is being praised across the political aisle by those who applaud his oft-repeated promise not to victimize known supporters of the new opposition in the public service.
But critics (including supporters) feel he’s too trustworthy of senior public servants who advised and/or ‘colluded’ with the previous administration and facilitated the style of governance Pierre and the ruling Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) opposed fiercely in opposition.
Pierre hasn’t been credibly accused of creating ‘Jobs for the Boys’, but his every appointment is so-described by veiled and masked online critics.
Some supporters accuse him of ‘taking too long’ to appoint (or reappoint) unemployed ‘Labourites’ dismissed or otherwise ‘victimized’ by the last administration after taking office in June 2016.
Under attack from within and without for not doing like friend and foe would wish, Pierre was most recently attacked by all for appointing a retired senior public officer to head the nation’s new COVID-19 Management Center.
But Pierre, who (like his predecessor Dr Kenny D. Anthony) has won his Castries East seat in six consecutive general elections and served in the leadership of both party and government since 1997, is being careful about making major new appointments.
Less than a month after the United Workers Party (UWP) took office in 2016, SLP supporters in government jobs and considered ‘political appointees’ by the new ruling party received a common letter from prime minister Allen Chastanet’s then administrative Attache Nancy Charles, saying she’d been ‘directed by the prime minister’ to terminate their appointments ‘with immediate effect’.
Fast-forward five years and prime minister Pierre is today trying his best to show it doesn’t have to be that way, but is still being accused (by supporters and opponents alike) of not doing the usual.
There’s also some political pushback by senior public officials who don’t see eye-to-eye with the new prime minister.
He recently met with senior public officers, including permanent secretaries, to urge them to help the government deliver on the winning party’s election promises that the majority voted for at the July 26 polls.
This is a traditional practice in the UK, but the Saint Lucian prime minister was reportedly told, in no uncertain terms, by one permanent secretary, that his ministry is already pursuing an economic development policy approved by the previous administration.
While some political opponents persist in painting him as someone else than those who voted for him actually know, prime minister Pierre simply avoids responding to nay-saying critics, instead concentrating on delivering election promises at every sitting of the new Saint Lucia parliament (to date).
But, accused of (almost) everything except corruption, he’s also thus far kept steady hands on the wheel of the Ship of State during the transition, taking decisions determined essentially by his determination to deliver on election promises and the challenges of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
Pierre’s insistence on ‘following the science’ and being guided by the doctors and health experts on national COVID-19 prescriptions has been laughably ridiculed by opposition critics, some of who’ve referred to the new prime minister as a ‘Mad Professor’.
Even his promise not to make vaccination mandatory has been taken with a pound of coarse Caribbean sea salt by those simply waiting to pip by saying he’s unprepared for an unavoidable but potentially politically costly event, natural or not.
But quite apart from medical and health professionals, the prime minister also got support from The Voice newspaper – the country’s oldest – which, in an editorial captioned Trust the Science (dated August 28, 2021) offered numerous reasons why science not only works, but must be trusted.
The editorial ended taking vaccine doubters and conspiracy theorists to task, saying: ‘It might be rude, but is nevertheless undeniable that failure to take the vaccine is stupidity bordering on lunacy.’
All-in-all, the new Saint Lucian prime minister sounds like a rebranded breed of politician: an old guard pitching for a youth economy, with a two-thirds parliamentary majority in his back-pocket but not in any hurry to change the Constitution, not appointing friends and family and promising inherited political appointees he won’t ‘make them cry’, warning that conflicts-of-interest will not be tolerated under his watch, guaranteeing all constituencies they will be cared for by the government he leads — and not-at-all undoing anything good done by the previous administration.
All curved balls have been thrown at him, yet prime minister Pierre has ducked the googlies and remained focused on pipping his critics by silently or quietly delivering on the promises that put his party (and the two independent candidates) into office on July 26 – and guaranteeing opposition supporters and constituencies not represented in Cabinet they will be treated like equal citizens of Saint Lucia.
Interestingly, the things (principles) Pierre, the prime minister is being pilloried for, should be among the usual goals of any politician seeking to offer genuine representation across partisan boundaries.
But then, Pierre isn’t just any politician…
Veteran local politician Peter ‘PA 1’Josie, an old political friend-turned-foe, was widely quoted (ahead of the last election) as saying, Pierre wasn’t cut out to be a good prime minister because he was not cut from the usual political cloth.
Josie is right …
Just look at Pierre the member of parliament and the prime minister’s record, especially on self-employment and representation, performance in office and re-election!
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