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A Listener’s Issues - August 23, 2004

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A Listener’s Issues


Good Day, Saint Lucia!

I have opted today, to change the rhythm of our conversations by responding to a very interesting letter from a listener, Mr Desmond Benjamin.

After complimenting the Government for its work in education and providing opportunities to young people in self-development and self-employment, he posed the following three questions:

(1) Why is it that the much-talked-about organically grown bananas, which are much-sought-after and would obtain higher prices, not taken advantage of by St. Lucia?
(2) Why doesn’t the government send a very strong no-nonsense message to perpetrators of crime, that the government will show zero tolerance to criminality?
(3) What concrete plans does this administration have with regard to our environment?

Let us now take Mr Benjamin’s questions in turn, but start with the organically grown bananas.

Why No Organic Bananas

The fact is, there are many impediments to the successful production of organic bananas. First of all, any farm that wishes to produce organic bananas must first be certified and this certification is currently being carried out by the Soil Association of the United Kingdom. In general, a three year conversion period is required for organic certification, during which time no synthetic material can be used on the farm or come into contact with the farm or fruits grown on the farm – not from direct application or from accidental application such as drift or run-off. During this time, organic production methods are used, but no price premiums are received. What this means is that for three years, while the farmer converts his farm to organic, and uses no synthetic chemicals whatsoever, he will have to bear the higher costs of production, suffer the lower yields, but receive no increased price for his “converting” fruit.

The organic farmer must employ labour-intensive weed-management methods, such as using cutlasses or weed-eaters. The labour that is required to control weeds mechanically or by cutlass or weed-eater is likely to be 100% higher than what is required for chemical weed control. So this on its own would increase our costs of production.

WIBDECO and Sainsbury’s have been trying for the last three years to establish an organic farm in Grenada on what is called the River Antoine farm. This farm has experienced numerous production and labour-related problems, to the extent that there have been several delays in the launching of WIBDECO’s organic banana line.

So you see, Mr Benjamin, the production of organic bananas is not as simple as it appears. Banana companies believe that it makes much more sense, given our current methods of production, and the costs of our production inputs, to take greater advantage of Fair Trade bananas and the higher prices that the Fair Trade label provide.

No-Nonsense Message to Criminals

The next question Mr Benjamin asked concerned crime. Let us repeat the gist of his question. “Why,” he asks, “doesn’t the government send a very strong message to the perpetrators of crime?”

Only recently, I was advised that a group of “Concerned Vieux Fortians” felt that Government was “soft” on crime and somehow, I was restraining the police from carrying out their duties. When I asked a representative of the Group to tell me what the Government should do that it is not doing, I could get no answer.

The Government has never sought to restrain or control the police in the performance of their duties. It is simply not true that the Government refuses to allow the police to go after the criminals. On the contrary, I have repeatedly urged the police to deal firmly with the criminals in our midst, but always in accordance with our laws. The Government is constantly urging, encouraging and facilitating the police in the performance of their duties.

I have said before that convicted killers and murderers will be hanged once all appeals are exhausted. No convicted murderer can be executed if there are appeals pending before the courts. Government has to respect and obey the law even when it disagrees with the decisions of the judges.

If “no nonsense statements” helped to reduce crime on each occasion they were made, then I would certainly make them frequently. The harsh reality is that crime will only be reduced when:

(1) Greater emphasis is placed on preventive measures, such as more effective patrolling of the city, towns and neighbourhoods;
(2) The rate of detection of crimes increases significantly;
(3) The community speaks firmly and decisively against crime and offers no sympathy to criminals or criminal activity;
(4) Police officers and law enforcement agencies deal fearlessly and decisively with infractions of the law, however insignificant;
(5) The new Criminal Code comes into effect and the stiffer penalties prescribed by it are applied;
(6) Drug Lords are identified, the gangs are broken up and the drug culture destroyed;
(7) Our courts understand that while the rights of accused persons must be protected, nevertheless the community requires protection from criminals. Sentences should be firm and in accordance with the law; and
(8) We take personal responsibility for fighting crime. For example, we ought not to be afraid to report to the police cases of illegal possession of firearms. The gun we allow the criminal to conceal might well be the gun that will be used to “snuff out” our lives.

Government too, has to do its part. It has to provide the police with resources and equipment. It must ensure that appropriate laws are in place. It must provide training to police officers to enable them to face the emerging complexity of crime.

We must not be afraid! We must fight the criminals at every turn and on every occasion!

Caring for Our Environment

The third question posed by Mr Benjamin invites us to consider whether we care about our environment.

By and large, I agree with him that we need to do much more about our environment, even though we have had some successes. For example, we have closed the old dump sites and constructed modern landfill operations in Deglos and Vieux Fort. Garbage collection has been introduced island-wide and efforts are being made to teach our communities how to handle human waste. Caretakers have been employed to maintain the sides of our roads. The Government intends to enact legislation to encourage the proper disposal of plastic bottles. Earlier this year, Parliament enacted a new Waste Management Act to strengthen the role of the Waste Management Authority and to deal with some burning problems such as the disposal of derelict vehicles.

But to truly protect our environment we need to do much more. St. Lucia needs an Environment Protection Act to bring to an end some of the current practices which have caused severe harm to our environment. Two examples spring to mind, the mining of pumice in or close to our rivers, and the washing of vehicles in rivers.

So much more needs to be done. If our country is clean, then we will think more positively about it. We have a beautiful island, in some ways unique. We must jealously guard and protect it.

So, Mr Benjamin, I hope I have responded adequately to your three questions and that all our listeners will have shared in what we have spoken about today.

Until next Monday, may God bless you all.


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