October 21, 2005

Independence Ahoy!

by Clement W. Iton

Come October 27, St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be engulfed by the atmosphere of its second carnival in quick succession as the euphoria of President Chen’s visit fades into oblivion under the halo of Independence Celebrations.

On paper at least, SVG will be independent for 26 years and once again Vincentians will be copiously regaled with boisterous acclaim of success stories. The politicians will hog the spotlight as usual and obsequious party diehards will don their colours just to be identified and be temporarily relieved of concern about the hardships of everyday life.{{more}}

If “independent” is taken to mean, “free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority” then SVG must chart a new course because as the saying goes, “beggars are not choosers” and further, “who pays the piper calls the tune.”

The Saint Vincent Constitution Order 1979 bestowed independent status on SVG as a nation but so far it is difficult to discern meaningful development of a spirit of independence in Vincentians en masse. The advent of party politics with absolute power being virtually the preserve of one man has produced a citizenry the majority of whom have literally abdicated the right to their own deliberate judgement in return for largesse when the party gains power-a situation which has been very much the case in the life of all regimes since independence. The Party tag shows itself practically everywhere, in the Public Service and elsewhere-not to mention the Local Authorities for which it is the premier qualification. The result is that even where there are provisions designed to preserve the independence of certain institutions which are products of the Constitution, for example the Public Service Commission, reality dictates otherwise and drives many incumbents into a state of subservience which ultimately destroys their capacity for independent judgement. Of course all sitting Administrations have run the gamut in denouncing their predecessors and glorifying themselves on achieving the highest level of good governance, oblivious of the fact that they too will become mere historical specimens leaving their skeleton in the closet for successors to put into public glare.

It cannot be denied that there is a dearth of independent opinion among Vincentians and in the light of this the political bosses have prevailed, wielding power willy-nilly to keep their subjects fearfully humbled. What is a lowly junior officer in the Public Service to do when he sees his Permanent Secretary peremptorily transferred or even sent packing without a posting? In actual fact since Independence there has been little or no change in the attitude of those who govern and as a result there is a stalemate in governance.

To a large extent this is attributable to the fact that there has been no change to the rules of the game. The 1979 Constitution is still supreme. As recently as February 28, 2005 the Constitutional Review Commission submitted its Final Report to the Speaker of the House of Assembly. The terms of reference of this Commission included, “(1) To do all and every act necessary to review the existing Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and to submit recommendations in the Reports to the House of Assembly regarding reforms of, and/or changes in, the existing Constitution.” However, after two years, at page 11, paragraph 41 of its Final Report it is submitted, “Your Commissioners have been unable to resolve the issue as to whether general elections should be held at fixed regular intervals, or whether Prime Ministers should continue to have the power to dissolve the National Assembly at will. This issue requires further contemplation before your Commissioners could feel confident in making a recommendation at this time.” On the one hand this submission by an eruditely led body manifests its apparent lack of capacity to formulate an independent opinion on a matter over which it was given full authority and on the other hand, in conjunction with other such evasive language, it tends to diminish the credibility of the whole review exercise.

Since independence all regimes have done their bit to change the geography of SVG-there has been massive outlay of capital on the Ottley Hall Marina, the Steamship Berth, Container Port at Campden Park etc. and soon to come are the Cross Country Road, International Airport at Argyle and Bridge over Dry River, hopefully none of which will join the list of white elephants. Whether a nation’s Constitution is cast in gold or presented on the lowest grade parchment is not a direct indication of the rich quality of independence which is experienced by even the lowliest of its citizens. Neither does the grandeur of military parades reflect the national pride of the people.

As Vincentians revel in the upcoming Independence Celebrations (which may bring them many significant announcements including the date for elections and even the name of the fair lady who will be SVG’s ambassador to Taiwan) they must commit themselves to heightening their consciousness of the right to independent thought as a block in the greater edifice – national independence.