Address to the nation by The Honourable Stephenson King on the state of affairs in the government 27th May 2008
ADDRESS TO THE NATION
BY THE HONOURABLE
PRIME MINISTER STEPHENSON KING
THE STATE OF AFFAIRS IN GOVERNMENT
“THE PRINCIPLES THAT BIND US”
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
My fellow Saint Lucians, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Over the last three weeks I have listened with humility, as well known supporters of the opposition party openly sought to blame the recent problems of my government, on incompetence on the part of the Prime Minister. Through it all, I have tried to remain calm, even while arduously seeking solutions in the long-term interests of both my administration and our beloved Country. There were times when I thought I might not survive the attacks that seemed to come from every direction. But I am a man of strong faith, particularly in the truism, “that finally right always prevails over wrong and that good always triumphs over evil”. I also took strength from the experiences of others in situations similar to mine.
I found inspiration in the lives of such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who was persecuted, spat upon, water-hosed, betrayed and imprisoned because he dared to confront the wrongs that others seemed prepared to tolerate and, if only inadvertently, perpetuate with their silence. As so often happens, it was only after Dr King had died on the cross of prejudice that the world came to appreciate his efforts on behalf of humanity, regardless of colour.
What came home to me was that even the great Dr King; my name sake, had his moments of self-doubt, but what had seen him through was his great faith in man’s innate goodness. He firmly believed that the time would come when his sons and daughters, or their sons and their daughters, would enjoy the fruits of his labours—even if, by then, he had himself departed this life.
Another source of inspiration was the man many Americans believe was their country’s greatest president, the man credited with writing the United States’ Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson. Here was a president whose time in office was praised for its simplicity and his vision. And yet this is what he said at his inauguration in 1801.
I quote: “Called upon to undertake the duties of the first executive of our country, I avail myself of the presence of that portion of my fellow-citizens which is here assembled, to express my grateful thanks, for the favour with which they have been pleased to look toward me— to declare a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents and that I approach it with those anxious and awful pre-sentiments, which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire . . .”
Yes, the man many consider the greatest of all American presidents actually considered the job above his talents.
When fate laid on my shoulders the enormous burden of responsibility for this beloved country of ours, I too approached my task with anxious and awful pre-sentiments. And yes, fellow Saint Lucians, I had my own moments when I contemplated the weakness of my powers, in the face of so enormous a charge. But I was sustained by the power of my faith, boosted by the knowledge that many of you were praying, in the best interests of our Country, for the success of my administration.
Conceivably, others before me may have had the same self-doubts—whether or not they choose to admit it. On the other hand, I feel certain that no other Caribbean leader was ever called upon to handle what it was my fate to be saddled with, immediately upon taking office. But, as they say, “let me not rush the brush”. I beg your indulgence while I offer my view in retrospect.
I was not the leader of the United Workers Party at election time in 2006. I did not have the final say — when it came to choosing the election candidates. It is no secret that my party faced its own tribulations in the weeks leading up to December 11, 2006. One of our leading candidates ran a bye-election and won as an independent. It was only later that he was embraced by the United Workers Party. You might recall that even my own candidacy was for a time in dispute, with highly public threats of litigation. In other constituencies there were noisome arguments over who should run and who should not. When the choices had been made, there still remained the lingering bad-blood fallout.
As if to make matters worse, there was also the issue of our leader’s health. Only much later would it surface that he was not nearly as robust as we had imagined, and that in fact he had courageously sacrificed himself, so that we might have a chance of victory in the 2006 elections.
Again, with the benefit of hindsight, we now suspect some crucial decisions may have been made in too much haste. Often he vacillated, sent out mixed signals, or he agreed to things that he might not have agreed to had he been fitter and stronger. By the time we came to the so-called Taiwan affair, our leader was near the end of his allotted time—even though he never once complained. On the contrary, he often took on additional loads for the benefit of candidates in need of assistance. We never suspected the impact on his health.
Suffice it to say that immediately following Sir John’s last journey to New York, I was handed the responsibility of leading the new government—with all its frightening prospects.
I also took responsibility for keeping a concerned nation abreast of Sir John’s condition. It was no easy task. Ours had never been a culture that demanded intimate details about government ministers. Always it had been the norm simply to announce this or that official was on sick leave. Oh, how times have changed. Suddenly the public was demanding to know precisely what was wrong with our prime minister and how long he might be away from his office. It did not help, when what I said publicly about Sir John’s condition conflicted, for reasons beyond my control, with press reports supplied by cooperative hospital sources.
By the time Sir John returned home to St Lucia—even though we hoped for the best—it was fairly obvious that his return to office was doubtful. In the meantime, I was caught between respecting his and his family’s privacy and honoring the people’s right to know. In the middle of that came the removal of the MP for Choiseul, from Sir John’s Cabinet.
Then came Sir John’s passing. I was pleased to hear the Leader of the Opposition, when he called on our country to forget partisan politics and unite in our grief and support for Sir John’s family. Obviously there are some things that bind us together, regardless of political persuasion. Sir John’s death impacted not only his immediate family; it was also a tremendous loss for our nation.
But no sooner had the burial been completed then it was once again politics as usual. If earlier it had not been clear enough, it soon became inescapably evident that one gentleman, talented as undoubtedly he is, was destined to become my government’s Achilles heel. I speak of Senator Ausbert d’Auvergne. He came under persistent attack by the opposition and others who insisted that his personal and official record rendered him unsuited for his position in the government. Some of my colleagues privately expressed their concerns to me.
Additionally, his private and professional relationship with some of his Cabinet colleagues left much to be desired. It all came to a head when the MP for Choiseul decided not to support my Budget, on the grounds that it represented only the thinking of Senator d’Auvergne. That certainly was not a fair statement. Nevertheless, it had its obvious impact on the government’s morale.
Meanwhile, I was consulting with my advisors, on how best to deal with the problems confronting the government. Then came the official withdrawal of support by two MPs for my position as leader of government. The two publicly vented their opinion of Senator d’Auvergne and blamed me for what they described as his overwhelming influence on the government, despite not being an elected MP and consequently directly accountable to the electorate. The opposition party, not surprisingly, attempted to capitalize on the evident rift and increased the pressure on the administration, for not off-loading Senator d’Auvergne.
I worried a lot, and lost a lot of sleep over these events. I was especially perturbed by the growing public perception that the government appeared to be so occupied with protecting its own interests, that there was little time left for the people’s business. More related trouble arrived in the form of threats, by two other ministers, to withdraw their support for my leadership, if Senator d’Auvergne was not asked to resign and if the MP for Choiseul was not reinstated. We convened several well publicized meetings, in our effort to restore harmony among government MPs. Last Tuesday evening, with yet another meeting scheduled for Wednesday, I addressed the nation. My purpose was to reassure you - my people, that things were manageable and to allay your fears. Alas, I have to admit, that was a mistake on more than one count.
Certainly, I was more tired, and more stressed out than I realized. I’m afraid I exercised poor judgment. I advised my speech writers what I planned to say that evening and left them to put it all together, while I attended to other matters of state.
As everyone knows by now, almost everything went wrong. Caught up as I was with preparations for the weekend’s OECS Heads of Government Meeting, I found myself unable to keep to the advertised time of my address to the nation.
Several times, I expressed uneasiness with the drafts of the speech prepared by my writers. Despite my several edits, more than one error slipped through. Still worse, by the time I got before the NTN cameras, I was in no shape to properly deliver such an important speech. It would’ve been so much better, had I issued an apology to the nation and postponed the scheduled address. I did not, and paid the price. I paid heavily. In my address, I indicated that Sir John had given a televised interview during which he had referenced the firing of the Choiseul MP. In fact, he never did and I should’ve caught the misstatement. Amidst the confusion I did not, until it was too late to do anything about it.
There were other slip-ups, all of which, to my embarrassment, have already been pointed out by one TV host. But behind the darkest cloud there is usually a silver lining. Rick Wayne’s TALK last Thursday, was especially hurtful for me, but it was also most instructive. If earlier I had been convinced that Sir John fired the Choiseul MP for disobeying his strict orders regarding St Lucia’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan, during the TV show new arguments were put forward, that suggested to me that maybe, yes, just maybe, the matter could be interpreted differently to cause Mr Rufus Bousquet’s suspicions. However, it will serve no good purpose to go into the details at this late hour. Suffice it to say that the one person who might’ve cleared away all speculation is no longer accessible. In any event, after watching the show I decided to reconsider my options. I determined that the people deserved better. My ministers deserved better. It was time to move on.
In the best interests of both the nation and the government, Senator d’Auvergne’s resignation became inevitable. It seemed to me that he had inadvertently created a platform that serviced the selfish and counter-productive interests of the opposition. Besides, there could be no denying that the senator’s presence in the Cabinet was proving to be uneasy to some of my government colleagues. With regret, I accepted Senator d’Auvergne’s resignation, despite his obvious attributes and talents.
On Saturday evening, following receipt of Senator d’Auvergne’s letter of resignation last Friday, I met with MPs at the official residence of the prime minister. As has been reported in a press release from the government’s public relations office, we had an amicable, often heated discussion that lasted well into the early hours of Sunday morning. I am happy to report that the result was well worth the effort. My government is finally re-united in purpose, with both the Honourable Rufus Bousquet and Marcus Nicholas agreeing to re-establish their support for me as Prime Minister. We have rededicated ourselves to delivering on our promises to the electorate. We know only too well that valuable time has been wasted and we will do our utmost to catch up. In the circumstances, I have also agreed and decided to reinstate the MP for Choiseul, as is my prerogative. However, in the weeks ahead I will be making announcements in that regard.
The matter of the police is progressing satisfactorily. In the meantime I have been assured that things are already back to normal. You will receive an update on that next week.
On the economic front it is my intention to address you in greater detail on the initiatives of the Government to stimulate the economy.
Finally, let me return to Dr Martin Luther King Jr. His life exemplified self-sacrifice, in the interest of black people everywhere. In pursuit of his goals he paid with his life. My own goal, is to be worthy of the trust invested in me by the people of St Lucia. As earlier mentioned, despite our political differences there are some areas in which we are united. While my government represents the will of the majority, still, my ministers and I bear in mind the sacred principle that our Constitution gives the minority, equal rights that must be respected at all times. All of us are equal before the law; all of us must be protected by the law.
I implore you, my fellow St Lucians, to acknowledge that none of us is perfect; that we will all fall short sooner or later. Let us, then, friends and fellow St Lucians, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore that harmony and affection, without which freedom and life itself are but dreary things.
Let us remind ourselves that every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We are supporters of the United Workers Party. We are supporters of the St Lucia Labour Party. And some of us support no party at all. But, we are all St Lucians. And as St Lucians we all want prosperity for our people, and for ourselves.
Contrary to self-serving opposition rumour, our Country is not in crisis. I repeat: Saint Lucia is not in crisis. I will be eternally indebted to you, my fellow St Lucians, our Police; in particular, for keeping your heads, even as some of us appeared to be losing ours. Let us, with confidence and courage, pursue together the principles that bind us. Especially in these stressful times, let us come together in maintaining those principles, for the good of all.
I cannot promise you, that I will never again have a lapse of judgment. After all, I am not Superman. I am just an ordinary man charged with an extraordinary responsibility. It is a job that I cannot possibly carry out successfully without your cooperation and your support.
Many fought and died for the principles we share. Should we ever wander from these principles in moments of error, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to prosperity for all Saint Lucians.
If I may again quote Thomas Jefferson: “I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right; I shall often be thought wrong, by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground. I ask your indulgence for my own errors, which will never be intentional, and your support against the errors of others, who may condemn what they would not, if seen in all its parts.”
The storm that for the last few weeks threatened us has passed. We have come through much stronger for the experience. We are more than ever determined to achieve our national goal: a prosperous St Lucia for all.
May that infinite power that rules the destinies of the universe, lead us to what is best.
And may the good Lord richly bless all.
I thank you.
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