Dr. Fraser- Point of View
January 29, 2010

The year ahead

Searchlight’s editorial of last week under the caption ‘Budget and Politics’ has really hit the nail on the head by capturing what is likely to be driving the nation for the rest of the year, well really until national elections are called. It is true that following the Referendum of last November ‘political matters quickly inserted themselves at the top of the agenda in 2010.’ Really the silly season has begun and the ‘Politics of the Budget’, I agree, will be particularly interesting.{{more}} One can certainly not disagree with the final paragraph of that editorial that “the performance of the government during the next 12 to 15 months will be crucial in its bid for a third successive term. It has been wounded by the referendum results and the thrust of the Budget and implementation of policies … will have great bearing on the outcome of the next elections.” Already we see some things playing themselves out. The removal of the $1 fee at the Grenadines Wharf is without doubt a recognition that the poor showing of the ULP in the Grenadines in November had much to do with the resentment felt by the Grenadines people about that fee that was imposed on them. It had little to do with the size of the fee and more to do with what it symbolised to them. Clearly, also, it had nothing to do with any elderly lady from Bequia persuading the PM to remove the fee. If the Government was persuaded that the fee was necessary and compelling, how can a plea from an elderly lady reverse it just like that? Was it not possible to convince her that this was in the best interest of the country, if those who imposed it were so convinced?

The demonstration by the two major political parties during the week is something we have to watch. Things could possibly have gotten out of hand, and one hopes that in future something of this nature would not be allowed to happen. We had known for a few weeks that the New Democratic Party intended to mount a demonstration in the vicinity of the Court House during the debate on the budget. Although the ULP did not have to seek permission, but simply to inform the police, I am of the view that the police should have prevented a counter demonstration in that area. Fortunately, things did not get out of hand as they could easily have.

I was tempted to say that the budget debate is the opening act of the political campaign but that would certainly be wrong, because it started with the Referendum in November. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Referendum was about the politics of the country and less about constitutional reform. Economic matters are undoubtedly going to play a central role in the outcome of the general elections and one has to wait to see if there is anything that the Budget has in place to turn things around quickly. There is little doubt, too, that the majority of citizens are feeling the effects of the downturn in the economy, and at this stage it matters little what prompted that downturn. My worry is that what could be considered the commanding heights of the economy appear not to offer us any hope, at least in the short run, for getting out of the economy mess we are in. Or are we not in an economic mess? I hope I am not misspeaking again. The Leader of the Opposition succeeded in putting strongly on the minds of the populace the significance of the national debt. Any economic hardships will in that case be blamed on the national debt.

I did not have an opportunity to listen to the Budget presentation by the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, nor the reply by the Leader of the Opposition. I am hoping that I will shortly have access to those presentations. However, one of the problems of having a budget at this time is that it would have been cast with the election very much in mind and this is not necessarily the best thing because short term goals will be given priority over the long term and real needs of the country.

The News and the ULP

I follow with a great deal of interest the verbal battle between the ULP and the News. In three of its columns, those of December 11, 23 and January 8, the ULP had focused on the News, accusing it of being backward and a propaganda organ for the NDP. In its Voice of the ULP column of December 11 it states: “Traditional and Honest readers of the News are rightly asking: Should we continue to buy or support an ostensible independent paper but which is in reality the mouthpiece in print of the NDP and the backward forces in our society?” On December 23rd it was on to the same theme: “If the News continues in its current role as a political rag for the NDP the public would assuredly cease their support of what was once a truly independent and credible newspaper.” Is the intention here to get ULP supporters and sympathisers not to buy the News? To have taken three columns to respond to the News by itself says something and leads us to ask what next? I will suggest that since the ULP is so angered by the stories carried in the News and presumably by its editorial, it could start by not allowing its weekly column to be carried in what it refers to as ‘a political rag’ for the NDP. It might be that a lot of loyal supporters buy the News to read the ULP column, but it can be accessed from the Vincentian.

But behind this verbal battle, one thing stands out and it is the ULP Government’s disdain for anyone who has an opposing view. Why must every opposing voice be considered NDP propaganda? Is it that there are two options, the politically correct one being to echo the voice of those in power or be relegated to propaganda arms of the NDP and the backward forces in society? Let there be dialogue, civilised dialogue. Let ideas contend. We need not sing from the same song sheet. To do that is not healthy, and certainly not in the best interest of our democracy.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.