|The true state of Taiwan-St Lucia relations....oh yeah, and Lucian agriculture, too|
If there was one thing everyone hoped the United Workers party couldn’t mess up from 2006-11, it was agriculture. Agriculture was so messed up, it couldn’t get any worse. Plus, Flambeau was the party of the banana economy, of agricultural revolution, not to mention that they were best friends with Taiwan, which has one of the most amazing experiences in history of creating food security and agricultural exports from the ground up – all within 20 years.
But in spite of the best public relations to paint the situation as getting better, things got worse. The major culprits were Hurricane Tomas and that damned black sigatoka. At least, that’s what it looked like on the surface.
Once Labour got into power in 2011, it was thought that farmers would despair, looking forward to another period of decline. All of this was happening at a time when everyone agreed that agro-processing was one of the keys to employment, food security and reversing the foreign exchange balance.
According to Arsene James, farmers in his constituency have despaired. Flambeau left a number of agro-processing facilities in or near his seat for Labour to finish.
|Arsene James, moments before making a bad move|
“But it seems there is a deliberate move to frustrate all projects initiated by the UWP in Micoud South constituency” he told Parliament in mid-April. “The women of Micoud who are waiting for the Anse Gers agro-processing plant are suffering, while the building is finished and the equipment languished for 18 months. Both the building and the equipment for the cocoa fermenting plant, all going to waste...”
There was also a meat processing plant near his constituency with a completion balance of one million dollars scheduled for opening in March 2014, which was also part of his complaints against Labour’s inefficiency and downright vindictiveness in agriculture.
Current agriculture minister Musa JnBaptiste seemed to confirm that Labour was vexed against all projects initiated by Flambeau: “We want to erase all of your mistakes as quickly as possible,” he told Parliament, directly after James spoke.
|Musa JnBaptiste - not usually the right guy to mess with|
The agriculture minister confirmed that what James had alleged was true and that all three of the plants should have been opened or close to opening. He confirmed that the delays were due to government inefficiency and perhaps something even worse – something that smelt like short-changing the people of St Lucia.
What JnBaptiste told Parliament – which James somehow managed not to – was that the former UWP administration had been making cost-cutting design changes to the agro-processing buildings. The changes were so severe that the Taiwanese designer was alarmed and recommended that if the project was continued, the buildings might collapse.
The changes were made without consulting the people who financed the buildings and equipment – the Taiwanese Embassy. Even Ambassador Tom Chou was forced to put in writing his discontent.
“In a letter to then agriculture minister Ezekiel Joseph dated September 8, 2009,” JnBaptiste told Parliament, “the ambassador complained that ‘the disparity between the original design and the implemented one is a unilateral modification.’ He went on to say, ‘the structure might collapse.’”
It was a stunning turn of events.
Suddenly, Labour and Taiwan were on the same side, both on the record making the same complaints against the Untied Workers Party. It almost seemed like James had walked into a trap. Ever since the handing over of the Mental Wellness Facility, Taiwanese officials had been whispering their discontent with the Flambeau government’s inefficiency and questioning their development priorities. Now, it seemed like the Flambeau’s old friends were having new ideas all along.
“We want to make sure that Taiwanese dollars are well-spent and properly accounted for – something that I’m not sure the other side (the UWP) can say.”
Has Flambeau just lost their best friend in politics?
|Okay, maybe no kissy-face. But how about holding hands under the table?|
Is Labour ready to get into bed with their old platform enemy?
Labour members have always said they had no problems with Taiwan, singling out only their ambassador Tom Chou for disapproval. Now that Tom Chou is fading into history, are Labour and Taiwan finally ready to kiss, make up and save St Lucian agriculture?