The Uncommon Reality in Soufriere, St Lucia

By : Melanius Alphonse

Melanius Alphonse
Melanius Alphonse

Soufriere/Fond St Jacques is the gem of Saint Lucia’s tourism product, showcasing five world renowned resorts [another is under construction], world renowned landmarks, a world heritage site and serves as the agriculture breadbasket of Saint Lucia. Despite all of this, residents of the town are not enjoying the benefits of the constant song and dance of “outstanding tourism performance”.
Moreover, with government’s constant expression of grief with regard to Saint Lucia’s food import bill that exceeds EC$350 million annually, decision makers have not engaged residents of Soufriere/Fond St Jacques in an extensive way.

What’s happening is modest to influence job creation in tourism/eco-tourism, agriculture and fisheries, and small and medium sized enterprises to protect household income, and improve access to basic services.

As such, this is tantamount to government sanctioned willful blindness and hypocrisy to the inequality that’s ongoing.

The Situation

Decision makers need to recognizing that, fairness in sharing the benefits of growth are crucial socio-economic issues that need to be addressed to aid poverty reduction and, avoid a hairline margin of error to a pending crisis.

On August 4, 2014, I made the following comments in response to a spate of lawlessness:
“Crime is an enemy of business and a good quality of life. It also has the potential to destroy families, and wreck the tourism product that Soufriere desperately depends on. To the gang members: it is better to put your creativity and thought process to learning, developing a product or providing a service to improve life, rather than living a life of crime and a long stay at the Bordelais Correctional Facility.”

Recently, a new round of lawlessness has surged and residents are scared for their lives, making demands on a very strained police force, with the IMPACS report on their minds, to crackdown on criminal activities in perceived “gun war zones” known as: The Gulf, Market Road (where the district representative constituency office is located), Smoke Hill, (originally known as the BomBay), and sections of Palmiste and Fond Benier.

Thereafter, the police locked down certain areas, recovered firearms, made a few arrests and laid charges, a response that only just touches the surface of the epidemic. However, Member of Parliament for Soufriere/Fond St Jacques Harold Dalson described the four-hour police operation as “very good”.

“I believe that in a way it will help to minimize the extent to which residents would feel (insecure) knowing that the police acted at the right time. I believe the police handled the matter well.” He further stated that he plans to meet with residents in a couple of days, and if he finds that persons are still fearful and need extra assurance, everything possible will be done to improve safety in the area, and expects normalcy to return to the community. “If this does not happen, I will intervene personally and try to meet the warring factions and see if I can have a peace treaty arrangement between and among them.”

In the midst of this turn of events, a comment in a news outlet caught my attention:
“Resident also claims that there is always a gun war, whenever there is a fete in the community. We are in Lent and they have no respect whatsoever for the Lord Almighty. The police shouldn’t give permits for these fetes. Start patrolling more often. The only time you would see them in numbers is for the white lady and Maria. We really vex. We need help.”

The white lady and Maria is one of many obscure names for cocaine and marijuana respectively!

Doing more of the same miserable routine is [obvious to a fourth grade student] not going to spur imagination and innovation to identify broader social change. Neither, will it derive the ability to examine specific opportunity in a spirited landscape. The underlining reality is such that there is a profound socio-economic divide and a deep-rooted underground economy that is grossly undiagnosed. The explanation may well be willful blindness that benefits a selective minority!

Catastrophic Leadership

In a recent article, Soufriere’s tourism is relatively untapped, dated February 21, I stated:

“The disclosure by the Member of Parliament for Soufriere/Fond St Jacques Harold Dalson, minister for social transformation, local government and community empowerment to render more of the same traditional methods to solve the lack of economic opportunity and the high cost of living that’s driving unemployment in Soufriere seems a fool’s hope. And, this points, to the politics of fear and the politics of trust [mistrust], to bring in new money to revitalize a dormant economy.

“Moving forward, Soufriere needs to obtain greater access throughout the value chain of tomorrow’s ideas in shifting visitor perception, building quality infrastructure in an ambitious new plan for the Soufriere waterfront, preserving and improving product development, identifying new growth strategies with the option to incentivize investments for further international exposure. In so doing, it goes beyond an urgent prerequisite to reform a broken institution like the SRDF, and set-up a corporation for Soufriere tourism, a council for the economic development of Soufriere and essential marketing components to bring quality choices to travellers and economic viability to a wider cross section of Soufriere and Saint Lucia respectively.

“Soufriere should not be promoted as a place for sale, developing gated communities with expansive ocean views and restricting its residents to the beaches and attractions. Residents are getting angry about that.”

The unpardonable resurgence of lawlessness, the continued record unemployment and, the failure to define a path for growth and development has a direct correlation to leadership. And coupled with partisan politics, you have a malignant void of moral guidance, bad governance and economic chaos that is suffocating everything Soufriere/Fond St Jacques can potentially become.

This predicament is further substantiated by a defensive posture that is shrinking the business environment. Thus perpetuating structural uncertainties on the horizon that diminish the offensive mindset needed to define a new path. A path that require, a sharp focus to keep-up with socio-economic anomalies, to scale up the end-to-end experience of agri-business, cultural arts and the travel industry [core features of Soufriere/Fond St Jacques] to counter emerging trends.

Unquestionably, this is happening during the worse combination of political leadership in the history of Soufriere/Fond St Jacques – Member of Parliament, Harold Dalson, and “misfit” executive, at the Soufriere Regional Development Foundation (SRDF). Whose primary job is to make decisions with good enough understanding and direct observation, that is influenced by data, in addition to having core competence, curiosity and courage.
Taking the right actions

It is quite visible that incompetent leadership and backward ideology have contributed to indiscipline, and continued lawlessness will serve to hold back economic liberalization, resulting from a lack of courage to peruse visionary leadership.

Therefore, there is a need to scale up the vibe in Soufriere/Fond St Jacques, an agricultural hub, a cultural incubator and the primary travel destination on the island with a growth framework that should take the form of:
• Strengthen skills development, communication technology that identify and recalibrate ideas to removing impediments to investment, and incentivizing specific sectors to yield high returns and lift economic growth.

• Efficient agricultural production is essential to residents’ economic revival. Which means, strengthening the Fond St Jacques credit union and farmers’ cooperatives to join hands in a functioning domestic market with corporate structures for agriculture and other related services. From agronomists, extension officers, management of farms, agri-processing, marketing, logistics and distribution to link value chains to realize financial returns.

• In turn, this would pave the way for much needed investment in trade and infrastructure, strategic reserves of food and water, enhance information technology and further develop our human resources.

• But this is not all; the need for a better flow of credit for housing, small and medium-sized businesses is going to add to the ingredient for economic growth.

In the midst of chaos there is opportunity to address rising inequality and lawlessness, and focus on the need to commit capital and investment that should not have taken years and still shows no sign of action. And so, doing better means breaking away from captive weakness and offer practical options that are exceptional yet relative to basic needs that are missing!

• An art museum and a cultural/visual arts centre is an incubator to house a cultural hub, whereby Soufriere Action Theatre (SAT) can scale-up cultural revitalization.

• The Soufriere library needs a modern makeover with the inclusion of conference facilities and a lecture hall.

• The town square is a historical piece of real estate, with enormous untold stories, that awaits an artist’s dream.

• It is essential to protect the environment; therefore, a well designed park is an economic leap forward to complement leisure activities, and to further stimulate the imaginative, in the corridor of economic rebirth.

• A cutting edge centre for science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and targeted training in skills trade is an immediate necessity for future development.

• Research and development is a vital tool capable to enrich the existing strengths of the town and make up for weaknesses. Therefore, R & D in the travel industry and agriculture should be a high priority and a much better broadband architecture than we have now.

• Old Trafford is a developer’s dream waiting to contribute to the socio-economic revitalization of a civic area, servicing the travel industry, with terminals from sea and land, a bus terminal to service all domestic transportation hubs, shops, paid parking, family attractions, executive office space, loft condos and amenities, immersed beautifully in full view of the Caribbean Sea, the Soufriere River and the Pitons in the distance.

• The waterfront is an underdeveloped landmark crying out for a well-executed ecological and hip design, where agriculture, tourist, cultural, educational and infrastructure development could spark a fuse and light-up economic initiatives suitable of a World Heritage Town.
The Argument

Soufriere needs big ideas that express modern thinking and distinctively remote from the present “licence to discriminate” politicians and “misfit” accomplices. Saint Lucia needs good government that puts the public good above their own personal interests in a democratic system to achieve equality, stability, order and justice.

But, to achieve peace, order and good governance, conditions need to prevail that model disciplined and farsighted leadership to address current challenges and deliver results.

It was Daniel Burnham who said: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood… Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble logical diagram once recorded will never die… Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.”

History has shown how leaders may be repurposed to attain an offensive mindset, with the courage to act and, to venture into unchartered waters, but the core incompetence of the governance of Soufriere/ Fond St Jacques and Saint Lucia to act with courage to empower and enrich lives, for the future, via the litmus test of performance, exceeds the need for a fixer.

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