When the untested son of a St Lucian businessman, Allen Chastanet, emerged as prime minister of St Lucia in the 2016 election, I was one of the few people who warned against the creeping takeover of politics by limited business-types, who had been sidelined in the march to Independence. My concern was that in a moment of the crisis of the post-colonial order, we were witnessing the re-emergence of the social and economic forces who had been the beneficiaries of colonialism.
This, to me, was the single most important framework through which the emergence of a politician like Mr Chastanet could be understood.
Ironically, however, the emergence of business-types, who have no social connection to grassroots social movements, are now being presented as beneficial to ordinary Caribbean persons.
Whilst in the post-colonial period it was the mass-based social democratic parties and trade unions which were seen as the legitimate political response to the economic and political hegemony of a small, privileged elite, today, 50 years after Independence, historical amnesia has set in, and a new ideological context supportive of the empowerment of business interests has taken hold.
Thus, the public has been lured into assuming that neo-liberal ideology is neutral, and that the election of businessmen is a “natural”, “logical” or normal development which should raise no concern.
However, it should never be forgotten that the policy options associated with neo-liberalism are in the direct interest of the traditional Caribbean elite.
For example, whilst privatisation is presented as a “common-sense” response to government indebtedness, the unacknowledged truth of the matter is that is a means to facilitate the transfer of wealth into the hands of the already wealthy. In the context of the Caribbean, it is really a crude practice which allows subservient politicians to transfer significant sections of public wealth and power to political friends or capitalist masters.
It is for this reason that the Caribbean should take special note of the decision by the Allen Chastanet government to contract the private firm of Ernst & Young to formulate St Lucia’s 2017/18 budget. This development can be seen as a new material reality, pushing the Caribbean deeper into full neo-liberal takeover.
According to an online report from the St Lucia Times News, this transfer of such a significant slice of state responsibility to a private sector organisation, was justified on the basis that “Ernst & Young already had a working relationship with the government in the area of tax reform. It was only fitting that they continue to assist in the budgetary process”.
The casual assumption that a private firm can have as much legitimacy in fashioning a state budget as a democratically elected government, is the clear sign that our Caribbean governments have capitulated to the very forces against which our Independence projects were built. Eternal vigilance!
By Tennyson Joseph/Nation News