February 8, 2011

Listening, at last?


In his address to the nation following the narrow election victory of the Unity Labour Party (ULP), Prime Minister Gonsalves made a solemn pledge to “listen to the people” even more intently during his party’s fresh term of office. He also committed himself to reconciliation and national healing in the wake of the contentious and divisive election.{{more}} There was some scepticism in response, since after the election of 2001 there was a call for a “togetherness” which never materialised, while post-election 2005, the Prime Minister failed to deliver on his promise to ensure greater accountability of government Ministers.

That scepticism increased in the weeks following the December 13 poll. As the Opposition, buoyed by its strong Parliamentary showing, stepped up its pressure on the Government, there seemed to be a hardening of the Government’s stance in response to public criticisms. In spite of the appointment of a Minister of National Reconciliation, there was little evidence of that precious quality emerging, neither along the lines of goodwill from the Government, nor in the interest of the National Good on the part of the Opposition. Speeches by the Prime Minister during the public swearing in of his Ministers and subsequent remarks in public, seemed to sternly rebuff the concerns of the Opposition.

The battles in Parliament, over the Budget and, moreso, during debate on the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code, suggest that confrontation, not reconciliation, is the order of the day. Indeed, whatever the strength of the Opposition, objections to the two amendments to existing legislation, the haste to proceed without soliciting wider public input belied the promise to listen to the people”. Besides the protests by the Opposition, there are many who do not necessarily share the perspectives of the Opposition, nor sympathise with their objectives, who may have misgivings of their own and deserve to be heard.

One such set of concerns was raised publicly by Queen’s Counsel and former Attorney General, Mr. Parnel “PR” Campbell. He could hardly be branded an Opposition activist, nor one who does not have the nation’s interest at heart. His insightful comments underline why it is even more important in the midst of the political fray to listen to others with no political axe to grind.

Now, following every indication that a tribal political clash was imminent, Prime Minister Gonsalves has allowed for a cooling-off by postponing Parliament. He has also announced that he is to take the route proposed by Mr. Campbell of a review of the proposed amendment to the Representation of the People Act (1982) by a Select Committee. This may not appease his opponents, still incensed by the hurried passage of the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code.

It will certainly be seen by the Opposition as a minor concession and no doubt, their protests will continue.

This action by the Prime Minister follows immediately on the heels of his change of heart two weeks ago in relation to the revocation of the exemption of stamp duties on deeds of gift, which he had announced during the budget debate.

Whatever their limitations, the recent actions taken by the Prime Minister are a step in the right direction.