I listened to an interview given to I Witness News by Ronnia Durham -Balcombe after representing her client, Kenson King in Court on Monday last. Mrs Balcombe complained about her client having been kept in custody in excess of forty eight hours which she noted appeared to be a trend. But forty eight hours should really be the ultimate and her client should have been brought to Court within 24 hours or released on a bond, providing the charge was not a major one. Actually, on Saturday a day after he was taken into custody, one of his other lawyers, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste said that the police indicated that he would not be granted bail ahead of his court appearance on Monday. What is of interest is that King was arrested based on utterances he made in December 2021, about three months ago. So, the arrest at that time was a deliberate act! Asked about the conditions under which he was kept, she said that the situation was a dire one which she was not prepared to comment on at that time. Something is really rotten in the state. One gets the impression quite often that what is at stake is teaching a lesson to the person(s) held in custody, with the aim of frightening others who might want to speak out. If the person has broken the law let the Court decide but follow the proper constitutional procedures. This thing seems to be happening too often, for it is not the first time I have heard lawyers complaining about this!
One cannot divorce this from the fact that the ruling regime is celebrating twenty one years in office and took over six hours of parliamentary time last week Thursday to pat itself on its back. Under the Westminster system that we claim to be following, twenty one years is an inordinately long time to be in power. Professor, Selwyn Ryan who died recently had been a critic of the Westminster model of government, one in which the “Winner Takes All”. He said that there are those who describe the Eastern Caribbean model as one that is ‘paternalistic’, ‘authoritarian’, ‘abusive’ and ‘elitist’. It is as it applies in the Caribbean generally one of inclusion. He quoted from Oliver Jackman who described the political strategy of then Prime Minister, Owen Arthur as follows, “My politics, said the Spider to the fly, are the politics of inclusion. Come right in.” He quoted Vincent Beache, then Leader of the Labour Party as saying, “ . . . the judiciary here tends to give the benefit of the doubt to the government rather than to what the law actually says, and I think this is bad. I have known one judge in St. Vincent who said that he can never rule against government.” I suspect that this has changed!
Apart from our variant of the Westminster system the issue of the length of time a party and leader stay in power is a serious one. After a while there is the tendency to lose any sense of responsibility, of knowing why you are there, and of whom you are supposed to be serving. A lot is taken for granted because there is the feeling that you have gone through it all already. There is also a sense of ownership and of belonging. It becomes We- Them!
Things continue to be difficult and challenging. The disruptions and fallout from the eruption were met with positive and urgent responses from Vincentians in the diaspora and from sections of the global community that helped to keep us afloat. The war in Ukraine has brought its own challenges particularly with high prices of what we import. Our hopes seem to rest on creating a viable tourist industry with the establishment of hotels and the hope that visitors will be attracted to the country. But our total tourism product, including services and attractions for visitors need serious and urgent attention and new thinking. But most of all our productive services have to be given top priority. Hard times will continue, and dissatisfaction will grow. The government could respond either by involving the people or hitting out at those who dare to publicly voice their grievances and suggest a different pathway. This will be the real test. We have to always remember that even after 21 years the power rests with the people. It is for them to take control. Thanks to the people of Layou for reminding us, who are the owners of Jackson Bay!
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian