Dr. Fraser- Point of View
August 27, 2010
The signals that we send in this political season

I was drawn to the editorial of the Searchlight’s mid-week edition which was captioned “Disaster Preparedness should be Taken Seriously.” I was particularly struck by the caption because it came at a time when the transfer of Teacher Otto Sam to NEMO was one of the talking points around the country. The editorial had nothing to do with Otto Sam, but questions the extent to which we take warnings about impending disasters seriously. Its point of reference was an announcement about a tropical wave that was approaching the country.{{more}} It suggested: “The average Vincentian more than likely did not pay much attention. Our good fortune over the years, where natural disasters are concerned, has lulled us into a false sense of security.” I share the concerns of the editorial and am also of the view that we do not take warnings, particularly of approaching hurricanes, very seriously. But there is another side to the story that must be told to balance that view. The transfer of Otto Sam from his position of headteacher at one of the country’s primary schools to NEMO must also be a matter of serious concern and must raise questions about the seriousness of those in authority. As far as we know, Otto has no training, and just as significant no experience, in matters related to Disaster Preparedness. His transfer comes at a time when we are into the hurricane season. Moreover, his transfer must be seen as a punishment and would obviously be seen as such by him. NEMO is or should be a serious organisation with a major responsibility, especially at this time. It is or should not be seen as a dumping ground or as a centre for punishment. So it is not only the average Vincentian that does not take Disaster Preparedness seriously. Those in authority obviously do not. As the headteacher of one of our schools, one expects that he would be placed in a senior position and will assume major responsibilities, that is, providing NEMO is not just a holding ground. While there might be nothing illegal about a transfer, the manner in which it was done and the place to which he was sent must raise certain concerns and questions in peoples’ minds. I am surprised not to have heard any reaction from the Teachers’ Union.

But the point that has to be made is that we are sending the wrong signals. We are into the hurricane season, and the role of NEMO is extremely important. We would want to know that we have in place there people who are trained, who take their business seriously and are there because they are committed to the work of the agency. There must also be credibility, and if NEMO or any other related body is to play a role in getting people out of that ‘false sense of security’, that body has to take itself and its work seriously in the first place. All of this is taking place in what we refer to as the ‘Silly Period’, and people would pull out the political signals and lessons from it. This adds to the turbulence of the political climate, with dark clouds hanging overhead as though signalling an approaching storm.

The Political Climate

The political climate has been degenerating since last year. I am tracing it from the period leading up to last year’s Referendum. One of the problems I had with last year’s Referendum was its timing. I was of the view that to have had it at a time when peoples’ attention was beginning to focus on the approaching general elections was to have made it even more politically partisan. In fact, it signalled the start of the election campaign, something that is still playing itself out. There really has not been a dull moment since, tempers are flaring and a lot of stupid things are happening. I guess that’s why this time is referred to as the silly season. People are, however, being sensitised, and arguably are graduating from the darkened theatre audience that Gordon Lewis had talked about. The state of communications technology today is making a difference and the peoples’ voices are always going to be heard. It appears to me that their participation in the Referendum gave them a sense that their voices mattered and that their votes could make a difference.

We sometimes accuse ‘Talk Radio’ of contributing to the heightened tensions in the society. It might be so, but it appears to be a phase we have to go through. There are enormous political conversations taking place on a daily basis, and despite some of the partisan nonsense that often comes through, there is a great deal of political education taking place. Voices that were never heard before are now given the opportunity to be heard and this means something to them. We might not necessarily agree with all that is being said, but of importance is the fact that people are expressing their feelings and some remarkable things are being said. The involvement of the Diaspora in the national conversation is particularly significant and raises questions about who really constitute the nation. The next few months will be very tense ones as the political season plays itself out. The heightened political awareness will continue to grow. The challenge now is to transform this in a very positive way to nation building, which is what our politics should really be about.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.