Tuesday, July 28, 2009

St. Lucia Carnival & Conflicts of Interest

I’m not in St. Lucia right now so I wasn’t at St. Lucian Carnival – I’m in Barbados listening and watching Crop Over from the sidelines – but I was keeping an eye on Lucian Carnival as I do every year, and I came across an article that struck a chord with me: Toni Nic holas of the St. Lucia Star newspaper wrote a pretty specifically critical article giving names of persons who seemed to be responsible for the various ‘offenses’.
Photo courtesy of ijnanya at http://www.sxc.hu

So for my international readers, you may be asking “And what’s so unusual about that?” Well, thing is, in St. Lucia for sure, we don’t often do that. Lucians, am I right? It is still fairly unusual for us to be specific in the press when we’re criticising persons – except perhaps politicians. It’s not that it doesn’t happen, but mostly its vague and doesn’t involve things like stating that you believe there’s been a conflict of interest in awarding contracts for a statutory body’s activities.

So I was pleased to see a journalist being brave enough to do so –
especially since when I was part of the same organization, Cultural Development Foundation, as a Board Member, I had put a proposal in to the Board to do a series of workshops for training and product development in the arts & crafts sector. The project had been in effect, approved, until one member of the Board pointed out that it would present a conflict of interest. It wasn’t huge money – but it was significant enough. We all stopped, thought about it and agreed. I felt strongly that the project was important for St. Lucia - and also for my business, I wanted the work. So here I was, with a choice to make.

I resigned so that I could be awarded the contract.

As fate would have it, I didn’t get the work as general elections were called and as is the norm, the Board was dissolved until the new Government could review and appoint a new one.

In my various roles in various organizations I’ve seen a good number of cases where conflicts of interest happen and even more where the public perceives they happen, even when they don’t. In a small country where limited numbers of specialized services exist, it’s inevitable. But it shouldn’t be inevitable that those in positions of power take the cake for themselves and leave the others with mouldy breadcrumbs. And that’s what happens when we allow these things to be.

We have grown enough that in the vast majority of cases, there’s another provider who could do whatever job.

In that same article online I was disappointed to see a comment from “real st. Lucian” stating:

“crabs in a bucket, is what we are. we black people just like to fight each other down. toni nicholas should be the last one to point fingers! come on people let us come together as a people - to embarrass the man like this through the media is not exactly a peace strategy - ask yourself, what would Jesus do;”

Why was I disappointed?
Well, again, in my time in various organizations and indeed in all work areas too, the one thing that I have found consistently strangles any attempt at real development and improvement is the concept you should not speak out publicly (whether in the press or to a Board or to a membership, stakeholder group etc) about mistakes or wrongdoings.

We confuse criticism with ‘fighting each other down’. We confuse standing up for what’s right with not ‘coming together’. We confuse public criticism with ‘embarrassing the man’.

And before anyone thinks ‘Oh, it’s ok for Finola to say these things, she doesn’t live here anymore, she doesn’t need to get work here’ Wrong. I may not live in St. Lucia now, but I sure hope to get work there again. I know that is a fear that holds a lot of people back from making open criticism.
I’m just fed up of seeing so much development potential tossed by the wayside and trampled into the garbage-filled drains by people’s wrongly placed loyalties and stifling fears.

It’s not just this apparent case with CDF, it’s all over – supposed Development Agencies/Departments where staff provide services that the businesses their organization exists to serve can and should be providing – eg accounting, graphics, photography to name a few. Whether they do this at discounted prices (so effectively undercutting their other clients) or at un-naturally high prices (because they can, in order to get whatever help, you must for instance, have a Business Plan). Government & Agency employees who go to all the training and development activities overseas and then don’t even pass on what they ‘learned’ when in fact it would have been much better for a member of whatever-sector-they-exist-to-develop went instead. Don’t even start on the funds for development that never get promoted to the sectors but instead are applied for by those same officers…it has happened over and over again and it will keep on happening if we don’t change.

And to be fair let me also say that there are those who do take their jobs and responsibilities to their sectors very seriously and indeed do good jobs. That doesn't change the fact that there are also those that 'make bobol' whether small or large.

We need to start opening our eyes and realizing that the fact is that if we don’t point out – in the open – when we see wrongdoing, WE will be the ones who keep losing. And yes, in order for people to be able to take on that responsibility, we also need to stop crying down those brave enough to do it.

If we think there’s a case for the reporter or whoever to be criticised also, or that they have got something wrong, then cough up the info! Constructive Criticism is not the Crime!
That’s what Jesus would do. And he’d throw down some tables doing it.
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And most importantly - what do YOU think?
Have you experienced situations where you think there's been conflict of interest? (please don't slander or defame people, just give your experience or if you've found yourself in this situation and you've done the right thing, let us know)
What do you think about criticism? How can we constructively criticise and does it matter if we don't?

Were you at St. Lucia Carnival? What was your experience? What went well/badly?


  1. Finola, good morning. You make really good points regarding the value of constructive criticism but what I'm struck by primarily here love about is your passion for the country of St Lucia. Even though you don't currently live there, you still feel deeply about St Lucians' well-being.

    Enjoy Barbados' Crop Over carnival! I, too, am on the sidelines ... but will undoubtedly jump in come Monday's Grand Kadooment. Be safe, have fun, Finola!

  2. Well thought out, well crafted & well presented...Take a bow Finola!

    A common lament in St. Lucia is: "That couldn't happen in Barbados"...

    So I am really happy for your commentary as someone who has the good fortune of viewing life from both sides of the fence.

    The tragedy for me is that while I often hear the comment that I mentioned above ~ "That couldn't happen in Barbados" ~ problem is I have never once in St. Lucia heard anyone offer suggestions as to what we can or should do to achieve the same results as Barbados - if in fact those are the results we would like to achieve.

    As a country I see St. Lucia as poor, while as a country I see Barbados as rich...where poverty and riches have nothing to do with money, but instead with an outlook on life.

    But I see hope for St. Lucia as more and more St. Lucians share the view of wanting more than just a provincial existence, and this can only auger well for us all.

    One of my peers recently told me that "The problems that face us today are totally ours to deal with. We cannot leave them to our parents, nor to our children to fix."...And I thought ~ How True.

    I encourage all of us to ask ourselves these 2 questions:

    1. What do I want St. Lucia to be?

    2. What can I do to make St. Lucia a better place, not for myself, but for someone else?

    To me the answer is REALLY REALLY SIMPLE...if everyone treated their fellow-man better than they would like to be treated, St. Lucia, and the world, would be the most beautiful place in which to live

    What will you do today to make this dream a reality?...

  3. Yes Jane, I'm still a Lucian through and through:) And as I've been involved in arts development there all along, I can't help but still care:) It'll take a while for me to settle back into Barbados, but I promise once I do, I'll be including more of my Bim experiences here too.

    Hope you enjoy Kadooment - I do read all your blog posts - great for anyone interested in what there is to see and experience in Barabdos.

    Kirk - thanks for your detailed thoughts - I have to say, Barbados isn't without it's own issues though:) But indeed, history I believe, set Barbados up much better for being a well rounded 'rich' society - in St. Lucia we were so busy changing hands between the French and English that no-one ever got round to developing our society in all the diverse ways that make it 'rich'. Next thing you know we're in the 20th C and 'Independent' - whatever that means!

    I agree with you 100% - it is all about what you as an individual do - each time you stand up, it makes a difference and makes it easier for others to stand up too.

    Thank you both for your thoughtful comments - hope to be chatting with you more in the future:)

  4. Thank you for stopping by my blog. I don't know anything about St. Lucia, I had to look it up on a map. I enjoy learning new things and this peek into St. Lucia's politic's was very good.

  5. Welcome to the world of 'paradise' islands passions & soapboxes:) I did enjoy your blog too - well named, very passionate! Hope to see you again.